Here is the first part of an extensive conversation—well, as extensive as it can get in 30-plus minutes—that I had with Sikyong candidate Speaker Penpa Tsering. We met in one of Parkdale’s ubiquitous Tibetan-owned establishments, Shangri-la restaurant, where we discussed his Sikyong 2016 campaign so far, the state of Tibetan democracy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lukar Jam, Tibet Support Groups, Donald Trump, and Rob Ford, among others.
Yesterday, inside the cavernous hall of the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre (TCCC) in Toronto, Sikyong candidate Penpa Tsering began his public talk by stressing on the importance of harmony and unity, as a way of framing his campaign policy. In what eventually turned out to be a rambling three-hour speech that spanned everywhere and nowhere—a performance that at turns resembled a professorial lecture on the mechanics of bureaucracy, nostalgia for bygone times, and a church sermon—Speaker Penpa Tsering reinvigorated some of the charged proclamations that brought much notoriety to his campaign last year and, consequently, captured the attention of the Tibetan diaspora.
He also revealed new opinions (new for me anyway) that left me scratching my head and “stunned tweetless”, a term I used since I was live-tweeting the event in person. Right from the outset, he shared an opinion that may well prove to be a decisive turning point in his quest to be the new leader of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
A simmering dispute in the Tibetan diaspora came to boil this past week when organizers of the annual Tibetan National Uprising day rally in New York City publicly clashed with demonstrators that carried placards and shouted slogans containing the words “Free Tibet”. The opposing counterparts fell in two camps: those who advocate for Rangzen (Tibetan independence; absolute freedom from China) and those who favour Umay-Lam (Middle-Way Path or genuine autonomy; similar in some respects to Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two System” setup). The Umay-Lam supporters, it seems, wanted nothing to do with “Free Tibet” at this year’s rally.
Even though the point of contention in New York City on March 10, 2015, rested on what was and wasn’t permissible at the event, the discord points to a deeper issue: One that has been debated vociferously many times in India, and is finally wedging itself in the burgeoning Tibetan communities in North America. On the face of it, the question is about determining Tibetan sovereignty and the future of Tibet. What this incident points to though, is the more complicated question of who decides the future of Tibet.
More often than not, you’ll find us railing against taxes, gay marriages and the scourge of women ruining men’s lives.
Make of it what you will, but the conversations I’ve been having these past few weeks with other Tibetans about the Presidential election in America have revealed an annoying, persistent pattern. A pattern that congeals on a foundation of parochialism, delusion, and above all else, selfishness.
Many Tibetans here in Toronto are becoming increasingly numb to such news from Tibet. It used to be that the initial shock and horror of the news was followed by a call for action: protest, candle-light vigil, prayers, lobbying at the Parliament, etc. Now, many of us talk about the self-immolations over breakfast, we might make a comment or two about the parsimonious coverage from our news outlets, and then we go on with our lives. When previously every new report of self-immolation was a sign of an imminent judgment day for our struggle, now they barely register in our social media updates.