The Illusion of Government

Gradually over the years since the Dalai Lama left his homeland, 145,000 Tibetans have moved from Tibet and made settlements in India, Nepal and Bhutan or settled further afield in exile communities throughout the world.268

The Dalai Lama himself, together with many of his closest followers, eventually settled in the old British hill station of McLeod Ganj, near the small Indian town of Dharamsala in northern India. The Tibetan town that has grown up around him there is now the principal Tibetan refugee community.

At enormous expense an administration was established in Dharamsala to maintain effective control over the widely-spread refugee population.269 This administration has become known as ‘The Government of Tibet in Exile’ though it has no legal status either within or outside India and is not officially recognised by any country, least of all by India.270

An official statement, published by the Department of Information of the Tibetan government in exile, reads:

‘In exile, the Tibetan Government has been reorganized according to modern democratic principles. It administers all matters pertaining to Tibetans in exile, including the restoration, preservation and development of Tibetan culture and education, and leads the struggle for the restoration of Tibet’s freedom.’271

There is a Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile (TPiE) (formerly called the ‘Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies’, and before that the ‘Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies), which consists of forty-six representatives. However, of these representatives only thirty are directly elected by the Tibetan people. The five major religious traditions (Gelug, Kagyu, Sakya, Nyingma and Bön) elect two representatives each, and the remaining six are direct appointees of the Dalai Lama. This in itself represents a breach of democratic principles, since only two-thirds of the delegates are directly elected by the people. The TPiE nominally appoints the members of the Cabinet (‘Kashag’ in Tibetan), but in practice these are often directly appointed by the Dalai Lama. And for a time in the early 1980s the Dalai Lama even took it upon himself to appoint unilaterally all delegates of the TPiE.272

Tsering Wangyal writing in the Tibetan Review in 1979 pointed out that ‘every important office-bearer in Dharamsala has to be approved by the Dalai Lama before formally taking his office.’273 In the same article he continued:

‘Despite the introduction in 1963 of some of its external paraphernalia, Tibetan democracy is yet to come of age. The Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies (The National Assembly), the most consciously democratic institution in the exiled Tibetan community, has at its last public appearance failed to alter its image of being an impotent body – subservient for all practical purposes to the dictates of the government (the Dalai Lama). … The experience so far has shown that the old-world values and ideas continue to dominate the positions of power in the Tibetan community …’

In the last fifty years, the Tibetan exile government functioning in Dharamsala has never faced an opposition party, nor even an individual who could be called an opposition member. It has never taken a decision contrary to the Dalai Lama’s position, and such an event is even considered to be inconceivable. With all authority (executive, legislative, judicial and religious) invested solely in the person of the Dalai Lama, this government has ceased to uphold any pretence of constitutional democracy.

The Tibetan government is the Dalai Lama, and the Dalai Lama is the Tibetan government. Behind the trappings of government with its illusion of democracy, the Dalai Lama’s position, with its central tenet, ‘L’etat, c’est moi’ (‘I am the State’), extends its domain of authority over all aspects of policy and decision-making. There is no decision of government that is not the Dalai Lama’s decision.

Because the Dalai Lama is commonly held to be an infallible being, the embodiment of a Buddha, it is not only inconceivable but would also be heretical to formulate a policy or make a decision contrary to his wishes. Furthermore, because it would again be an act of heresy to criticise the policy or decision of a supposedly enlightened being, all criticism and blame for the Dalai Lama’s mistakes are directed at the Tibetan government, which has no means of redress.

In this way, the so-called Tibetan government is blamed for all of the Dalai Lama’s mistakes, and the untarnished image of the Dalai Lama is maintained. This very convenient system has enabled the Dalai Lama, through the illusion of government, to destroy the reputation and activities of others, to intimidate and persecute them, and to instigate violence against them, all while maintaining a faultless public image, and knowing full well that all subsequent blame will be carried by his ‘government’.

In September 1995, an unprecedented ‘open letter’ from the Tibetan people to the Dalai Lama was given anonymously to an English woman travelling in Nepal. Called the Mongoose-Canine Letter (see Appendix 7), it revealed to Westerners for the first time another side of the Dalai Lama, one which was already an open secret within the Tibetan community. For the first time ever, the Dalai Lama and his government were publicly accused of such things as illegal international trading in arms; persecution and assassination; and of creating schism and disharmony within the Tibetan spiritual traditions and community.