China's 'Post-Dalai Lama' Plan: India Needs a Clear Tibet Policy

China is trying hard to install the next Dalai Lama, a puppet in Communist Party's hands, despite zero credibility.

4 min read

China has been leaving no stone unturned to sell its claims — through various means — in installing the next Dalai Lama despite zero credibility.

They called the Dalai Lama a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and used indigestible derogatory remarks against him. However, in the hearts of six million Tibetans, he is a beacon of hope and the most revered person. As he turns 86 in July, the whole world waits to send him wishes on his birthday, except for Chinese authorities who wish to see his departure from this world as soon as possible, so they can install a puppet Dalai Lama for them — a futile and myopic vision.


What After Dalai Lama?

Today, Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) is one of the well-established exile governments around the world based on democracy. Some people call it a "bonsai democracy".

In fact, such set-up in exile is never a low-hanging fruit. It was envisioned by the Dalai Lama in Tibet and reaped fruit after six decades.

Many Chinese experts project challenges in the longevity of the Tibetan cause after the current Dalai Lama passes on. To China's dismay, the world's most powerful nation — the United States of America — passed a law last year recognising the status of CTA and its Sikyong — democratically elected political leader. It, somehow, sent a message to the Chinese government that Tibetan national movement will be embraced and continued even after the demise of the Dalai Lama.

China's Oppression & Tibetan Unrest

While the Chinese government failed miserably — even after six decades of occupation in Tibet — to win the hearts and minds of Tibetans, their attempts never rest. No matter how hard they tried, Tibetans have so far never resorted to any violent means in the course of the struggle.

Scholars like Brahma Chellaney appreciate the fact that "Tibetans have never taken up arms in sixty years despite China's repressive policies which led to the 156 Tibetan self-immolations" but he warns that "once the current Dalai Lama is gone, this approach may not continue".

His vantage point parallels with what Late Lodi Gyari — former special envoy of Dalai Lama — said in one of his speeches that "if the Chinese government can’t resolve the issue of Tibet while the Dalai Lama is alive, we don’t know what will happen if the long-kept anger of Tibetans bursts out."

Nevertheless, the very existence of the Tibetan cause is based entirely on the principle of non-violence — the most powerful weapon history has ever witnessed, which many struggling nations embraced and succeeded later. Hence, the Tibetan struggle is no exception at all.

Who's Next? The Leadership Vacuum Post Dalai Lama

Another key challenge, many suggest, is the charismatic leadership vacuum post-Dalai Lama.

The current Dalai Lama assumed political responsibility at the age of sixteen. At what age will the next Dalai Lama assume the charismatic leadership role is a difficult task to predict.

The Dalai Lama has already anticipated such a scenario and paved the way for secular leadership in 2011. After his retirement from political scene, Tibetans in exile had three rounds of elections and got more attention from the international community. But to fill the vacuum of charismatic leadership, post-Dalai Lama, Tenzin Lekshay, Director of the Tibet Policy Institute, suggested that the collective leadership of Tibetan spiritual lamas could be one of the alternative ways.

More importantly, Dalai Lama himself once told young Ling Rinpoche and 17th Karmapa that "when I die, you two will have to continue the cause".

It seems clear from here that collective leadership of the Tibetan spiritual lamas can fill the leadership vacuum until the next Dalai Lama is fully ready to assume that role.

Geopolitical Implications of Where the Next Dalai Lama Will Be 'Born'

Geopolitically, India may face some challenges if a puppet Dalai Lama pops up from China. Not only India but the whole Himalayan region.

It is highly possible that China could use the 'Dalai Lama Institution' as a political weapon to stretch their claws in these regions. China is well versed in creating narratives that even history can't trace.

In order to avoid such consequences, the current Dalai Lama — with foreseeable vision — hints that he would be reborn in a free country — many guess Taiwan as he traveled there several times.

Noted Tibetologist Claude Arpi thinks the rebirth will happen in a free country. According to him, Ladakh would be an interesting alternative because that will keep him close to Tibetan and Himalayan devotees. The Dalai Lama said that he would consult the high lamas of Tibetan Buddhist traditions and Tibetans whether the institution should continue or not.

The Dalai Lama's advice to the search committee should the institution continue goes thus:

"I shall leave clear written instructions about this. Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognised through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China."


India Must Act to Offset China's Plans

On the other hand, China is in full swing to glamorise its soft-power based on Buddhism. So, in the future, they can use this investment to seek recognition from Buddhist nations for China's Dalai Lama. Surprisingly, under China's implicit pressures, many Buddhist nations in Asia have already shut their doors to the current Dalai Lama's visits, whereas China's imposter XIth Panchen Lama is an exception. He visited Thailand in 2019 and gave a speech at a Buddhist University in Bangkok.

To deter China's weaponisation of the Dalai Lama and leadership in Buddhism, New Delhi must give more realistic attention to the "Son of India" — Dalai Lama like the US law on Tibet, which clearly states that China must not interfere in the selection of the next Dalai Lama.

Only then will China think twice before moving pawns towards Asia in general, and India in particular.

(Yeshi Dawa is former Academic Administrator of ILG at the Maharaja Sayaji Rao University, Baroda. He is currently an Affiliated Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute and host at Tibet TV. He can be reached at @yd_tweets. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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