Dharamshala — "As Sikyong, I open my doors to everybody. I don’t think anyone should say that I didn’t get to see the Sikyong because of ideological reasons," said Dr Lobsang Sangay, Dr Lobsang Sangay as Tibet's democratically elected political leader during an Exclusive Interview with the Tibet Post International (TPI). Dr Sangay, the current Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration, completed its five-year term in April 2016.
1) In the past four years during your tenure as Sikyong, what were some of your most memorable moments?
The day of my inauguration, His Holiness kindly graced the occasion and he said a memorable line. Sikyong Tara Rinpoche bestowed the political power to him when he was young, and today he is transferring that power to Sikyong Lobsang Sangay. That he said is long cherishable. And the elections. And the first few months, lots of anxiousness, traveling, meetings, it’s a new position and it’s a political position. So it’s hard to know how people will respond, how people will react. And now, hectic travels, but we have made contacts, so those are good.
So traveling-wise I have visited all the settlements, all the schools almost all elder homes. Literally I’ve been to almost all elder homes, shook hands with every elder in the room, been to every school, to spend time with children to tell them my story, to encourage them, inspire them. So over the past five years, since the elections until now, the public response has been very positive. Everywhere I’ve been people show up in large numbers; the airport, train station, or public gatherings, rallies, places like that, so that’s been a bit gratifying; you work hard, people will support you.
2) You just had a three day conference on education where you spoke about the need for parent intervention and support. Could you elaborate a little more on the priority for education and the efforts CTA has taken during your term?
This was the first ever parents’ meeting, so it’s a long speech. If you google that you’ll find a lot of speeches, because education is the number one priority. And we have invested a lot. The results can even be found in the class 12 results. 127 students getting 75% above four years ago, last year 321, this year 443. That’s a 250% increase.
Scholarship has increased from 9 million rupees ten years ago, to 40 million rupees now a days. So we have found that almost 84% of teachers and staff members didn’t have training, within the last 5 years, so in the next 18-24 months everybody will get workshop trainings, NCerts, everything. So we’re investing quite a lot of energy and resources in education, and it’s getting some results.
3) Could you tell me a little bit more on the challenges you’ve had to overcome? Do you have any unfulfilled efforts or regrets?
First, I think is this: When His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced he was devolving his power there was a lot of anxiousness and anxiety which kept people very nervous. But as you can see, over the past 4 years it has stabilized, everything has calmed down a lot. People say ok we can do this, we can take responsibility. That I think is the greatest collective achievement, because 400 years of the institution of Dalai Lama changed. It’s a major shift in Tibetan history.
To make a smooth transition is the greatest – not mine—collective achievement. Unfulfillment, yes. Because I still meet some poor people, some divorces, a husband and many wives, maybe the husband has passed away or left them, there are two or three kids. And they come to me, and I try to help them, send their son to school here, or to college with a scholarship. We do the best we can to help them. So seeing those people is quite painful. My family is also from a humble background.
I always put myself in their shoes, I can visualize it clearly. Had my father passed away early my mother would have suffered, and if they don’t give any help to my mother, I would be in deep trouble. So we always do the best that we can. Still I meet people and this is tragedy, tragedy. Death happens, sickness happens. But we have to confront it. And often when they come to me it’s almost like their last solution, this is it. If I can’t solve it, then what? So, these are still there. And ya know lots of people send me messages through Facebook and I wish I could respond to all of them, respond on time. So those are still there. Still lots of things to improve education upon. I’m never satisfied.
4) In terms of Tibetan women, what efforts are the CTA taking to help the progress of women?
Our society was a patriarchal society in Tibet. There was discrimination, there is no denying that. When we came to exile initially, we were patriarchal. However that has evolved over time, for the better. For example in high school there are more girls than boys, more girls graduating from class 12 than boys. Pass percentage, girls are better, going to college girls are better. Especially graduate. Almost 55%-45%, I think. Education wise, girls get more scholarships, proportionately there are more. In terms of staff members—new recruits – there are more or equal number of women joining CTA. But unfortunately its seniority—senior level, in terms of bureaucracy, who gets promoted based on seniority, there are very few women. They have to work longer.
Then they become additional secretaries’ secretaries. Now we have a few additional secretaries, several joint secretaries, many under secretaries. As they get into seniority there will be more women. In the Kashag, I appointed two women. Not because they are women, but because they are capable. They are handling two of the largest departments: International relations, both largest in funds and staff; and home, large due to the large number of settlements she has to run. So we’re doing the best we can. Now there is also the mother child project. Before, it was 45 days maternity leave, now it’s three months. We have made it universal. Also the after school programs and things like that, so we have made some improvements. These days there is no discrimination, anyone can join CTA, education wise they are doing better.
5) What about in terms of health benefits?
Of course. As soon as you give birth, you are given certain amount of money, milk, things like that. The mother child program is a big part of the department.
6) Your manifesto stated ‘Innovation, Unity and Self Reliance’ as the vision for your four year tenure as the Sikyong. What were the practical implications and the noticeable achievements that you saw in the community?
As Sikyong, I open my doors to everybody. SFT, National Democratic Party, Women’s Association, they bring their groups here, if they want to come, to bring students, I say come. When I say unity I don’t distinguish between what my ideological stance and their ideological stance, we can have a good debate. The door is open to anyone. I don’t think anyone should say that I didn’t get to see the Sikyong because of ideological reasons.
Innovation for example, Tibet Corps. We have extended opportunities for Tibetan youth around the world, including in India, people with skills to come and work with CTA for 3-6 months to a year. We provide a stipend, everything. They get exposure to CTA, they go back enriched, become better ambassadors. And then as I told you education being number one priority, we increased the scholarships. In a way that’s our biggest contribution. The youth are our future leaders, and they ought to get good education. RC renewal— 5 years. It has made their lives a lot easier.
Through high school they had to go to the police station every year to renew. Now, it has become very convenient, even for college kids. Now they have 5 years. They can go to college for 3 years, masters degree and then come to renew. We have made it convenient. Now we have launched an entrepreneurship program so we are giving them incubation, pre-incubation training, loans to run a business. This is open mainly to the youth. So this and the computer training, lots of skills. In fact we have one program, if you go we give any data feeding, skills and funds to run your own business. So for unemployed youth, we are giving them training and skills.
And then obviously, self-reliance. Once you get a high school degree, you stand on your own two feet and you get job. Professional degree you earn better, you become a better leader. Education is number one, our foundation. On top we are launching this big entrepreneurship program. So now we want to help those who want to do business. When we say self-reliance we simply don’t only mean career, also cost. Culturally we have to self-rely, realistically we have to self-rely, politically we have to self-rely, socially we have to self-rely. Hence, how we reach out to our neighbors, local Indian communities, local villages, make friends, that way we are approaching all aspects of Tibetan life.
7) During your four years, what is the progress made in the China-Tibet talk? How possible is a return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
In terms of possible dialogue with China, at the highest level, in 2011 the White House released a press statement after President Obama met with His Holiness, applauding the Middle Way Approach; they applauded, they supported. Just recently Donald Tusk European Council President told Chinese premier Xi Jinping in the press conference that through dialogue they have to solve the issue of Tibet.
And the foreign minister of the European Union went to China, met her counterpart and told them also. So you can clearly see the level of support for the Middle Way and for resolution through dialogue. As far as the return of His Holiness, if you look as far back as the ’87, ’89 protests in Tibet, the universal slogan has been we want to see the return of His Holiness.
142 self immolators. It’s the common aspirations of all Tibetans. So I say the same thing. The return of His Holiness is our universal and main objective. And if you don’t say it, if you don’t believe it, then you are not being a leader. It has to remain our aspiration. I said it before, I say it now, I will keep saying it. It should remain our ultimate goal.
And then as far as dialogue, there are a lot of things that keep happening, before it was dialogue with envoys, now it is dialogue without envoys. So all that is going on, efforts are being made. But then it’s just that dialogue is such that we would share, and we should not share. It’s very delicate and sensitive. Otherwise I don’t think there’s any lack of effort on our part. As long as His Holiness is there, efforts will be there. So now there is no lack of efforts.
His election in 2011 marked Dr. Lobsang Sangay as Tibet’s first democratically elected Sikyong, and Sangay supporters have helped to collect the following ten accomplishments achieved under his leadership.
1. Praise from His Holiness and recognition from the Tibetan people
Although the devolution of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s political authority marked a time of great transformation and anxiety, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay successfully champions the cause of the Tibetan people. Under his leadership, there has been a blossoming of a high level of awareness about, and trust in the Central Tibetan Administration, especially among people inside Tibet.
2. Creation of awareness and mobilization of international support for the critical situation in Tibet
In four years, he has visited over twenty countries and discussed the urgency of the Tibet issue with influential global leaders, including ministers, speakers and parliamentarians, Nobel Laureates and Tibet Support Groups. Sangay has appeared in major international news media, such as CNN, BBC, The New York Times, Globe Mail, Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Economic Times and the Washington Post.
3. A greater level of awareness and support for the Middle Way Approach
In June 2014, the Middle-Way Approach Campaign, orchestrated by the Tibetan government under the direction of the Sikyong, was launched, during which His Holiness released the campaign documents and the video. The launch included the opening of a website, dissemination of an eight-minute video and various print materials on the Middle-Way Approach in Tibetan, English, Chinese languages. The campaign was covered in 30 major international news media. Today many major world leaders unequivocally praise and support the Middle-Way Approach in resolving the issue of Tibet.
4. Efforts to promote Sino-Tibetan talks through various means
Believing that the best way to resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict is through dialogue, the current administration under the Sikyong increased the members of the Task Force on Sino-Tibetan Negotiation with Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche as its special adviser. EU President Donald Tusk publicly urged the visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for China to restart meaningful dialogue on Tibet. Major global leaders, including the foreign ministries of the US and Europe, have issued statements and passed over seventeen resolutions in support of a Sino-Tibetan dialogue.
The Sikyong continues to reiterate that he attaches more importance to the substance than the process of the dialogue and that there should be dialogue between the envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese counterparts, invoking pressure on China from Donald Tusk, European Council President, and other foreign diplomats and politicians.
5. Excellent relations with Indian leaders
The Government of India’s support is crucial to the Tibet issue, and the importance of the Tibetan Administration’s relationship with India can never be exaggerated. Since the Sikyong took office, his strong personal relationship with many Indian leaders has resulted in the successful implementation of several new innovative projects.
The Sikyong’s appearance at the swearing-in ceremony of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has signaled a powerful political message. The Sikyong has also personally met with chief ministers of many Indian states, including Karnataka, Orissa, Uttrakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh to discuss and resolve a range of problems and challenges faced by local Tibetan communities. Furthermore, the formalization of the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy 2014 by the Government of India, the renewal of RC for five years and invitations for the Sikyong to deliver lectures at various Indian universities show a high level of support for the incumbent Kashag under the leadership of Sikyong Lobsang Sangay.
6. Accomplishments in the field of education
The Sikyong has consistently said that education is the top priority for his administration. Significant investments include: initiatives to take over the administration of Tibetan schools from the CTSA; the distribution of an unprecedented amount of funds to fully implement the Basic Education Policy; the establishment of a special teacher training center to train holistic Tibetan teachers; visits to every Tibetan school and first-hand assessments of their situation; and organizing parent-teacher meetings to gain valuable feedbacks. All these initiatives have yielded outstanding results.
7. Two-fold increase in the Administration’s income
No works can be implemented without a sound financial base. For about fifteen years since 1999 the annual budget of the exile administration has been around one thousand million rupees. However, the annual budget for this year stands at two thousand million rupees. This increase shows that the CTA’s income has doubled. These funds are now being invested in education, sustenance of settlements, promotion of political knowledge, promotion and preservation of Tibetan religion, culture and language, promotion of Tibetan businesses, including sweater sellers, salaries of Tibetan teachers, raise (recently) in pensions, renovation and expansion of CTA offices, upgrades in CTA office equipment, building of recreational facilities, etc.
8. Projects to sustain Tibetan Settlements
The Sikyong has time and again reiterated that in order to ensure the long-term sustenance of Tibetan settlements, we must sustain the ownership of settlement land. The Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy 2014 formalized by the Government of India, which will soon be implemented by the states, has already opened a way to legalize Tibetan ownership of settlement land, including those grouped under scattered communities.
Public health constitutes a major factor in the overall development of a community. The Tibetan Medicare System has spent significant funds providing proper medical care to those in need of urgent medical attention, particularly the poor and the vulnerable. There are over 21,000 Tibetans who have enrolled in the Medicare System. The number of enrollment is expected to rise up to 50,000 in the next five years, hence covering not only the poor but a significant portion of middle-income families as well.
9. Fresh policy for proper rehabilitation of new refugees
A large number of new Tibetan refugees have been successfully rehabilitated in major Tibetan settlements today. A new land was purchased in Bir/Chauntra to rehabilitate 73 families of recent refugees from Tibet. Similar initiatives to rehabilitate new refugees are also being implemented in Bylakuppe and Mundgod in the South. The monthly stipend for former Tibetan political prisoners (or their immediate relatives) was doubled and new projects are initiated to build residential quarters for them. Similarly, a large number of families of former Tibetan political prisoners have been successfully rehabilitated in Australia.
10. Personal security of His Holiness and religious and cultural projects
The personal security of His Holiness is of paramount importance to the current administration under the Sikyong. In close association with the Government of India, the security detail of His Holiness was upgraded both in terms of personnel and high-tech equipment. Given the nature of works undertaken by the Department of Security, most of their major endeavors cannot be discussed in the public domain. The current administration has strongly dealt with the handful of Dhogyal followers who disrupt events and protest against His Holiness during his foreign visits.