Tibetan Parliament-in-exile discusses Karma Chophel controversy

Gyari Dolma answers questions during a session of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile in Dharamshala

Minister of Department of Home of Central Tibetan Administration, Gyari Dolma, answers questions during a session of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile in Dharamshala, India, on 20 September 2013. MP Karma Chophel is seated front row second right. Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal

By Lobsang Wangyal

MCLEOD GANJ, India, 21 September 2013

Following criticism within the Tibetan community over a statement by a Parliament member, the member decided to withdraw all his statements regarding the matter. His controversial statement had expressed the opinion that the Dalai Lama might be saying he is “seeking autonomy”, but has “independence” at heart.

Member of the Tibetan Parliament Karma Chophel has submitted a letter to the Dalai Lama seeking forgiveness for his statement.

On Thursday during the current sixth session Chophel stated that he had written the letter of apology to the Dalai Lama, and pledged not to speak on this issue in the future.

The whole of the afternoon session of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile on Thursday was occupied with a resolution motion by the Standing Committee of the Parliament in the House. The motion concerned views that the Dalai Lama had expressed during an informal meeting to Tibetan civil servants on 2 September.

The Dalai Lama had met all staff members above the rank of department officers at his residence, after the Kashag (Tibetan Cabinet) had requested the Dalai Lama for an audience for the purpose of encouraging the civil servants in their daily works.

The heads of the democratic institutions were also present, along with the heads of the autonomous bodies of the administration, general and civil service Commission.

Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile Penpa Tsering was among those attending the meeting and talked to Tibet Sun in an exclusive interview on Friday. He said that during the informal meeting the Dalai Lama expressed his views on various issues, particularly on the behaviour of civil servants in dealing with peoples’ grievances.

During the meeting the Dalai Lama elaborated on his three main responsibilities, particularly after the devolution of his political responsibilities. And he sought views from the civil servants as to the present condition and working of the Central Tibetan Administration.

In the second half of the meeting, the Dalai Lama elaborated on the reasons he chose to adopt the Middle-way policy — to seek autonomy for Tibet rather than independence.

“In the course of explanation, there were three references made regarding three people — Dhondup Lhadar (former Tibetan Youth Congress Vice President), Karma Gyatso (staff at the Radio Free Asia), and Jamyang Norbu (writer), who had expressed their dissatisfaction with His Holiness’ decision to change the name of the “Tibetan Government-in-exile” to “Central Tibetan Administration”, said Speaker Penpa Tsering.

“They felt that His Holiness, by changing the name, was responsible for not having a government in exile.”

“In those matters His Holiness expressed his anger at the low confidence that these people have shown towards the responsibilities that His Holiness has undertaken since the age of 16, in the last 60 years.”

Tsering said that under very trying and difficult circumstances, the Dalai Lama had brought the Tibetan Administration to its present position, whereby the Tibetan issue remained alive in the international community.

“So on those matters civil servants also were outwardly grieved, and many of these civil servants were shedding tears at that meeting. And that’s the issue that eventually spread in the Tibetan community.”

Tsering stressed that this was the first time that the Dalai Lama expressed the sentiments contained in his words: “There is this low confidence in me. Earlier I used to think that because the Tibetans inside Tibet has a lot of faith in me, I thought that I should remain alive till the age of 113. But since such things are occurring, I think it might be now appropriate for me to live up to the age of 108.”

“This was a matter of grave concern for all the Tibetans inside and outside Tibet. That’s why the Parliament made this resolution motion. Thirty members took part in this deliberation. Each and every one expressed their faith in His Holiness, and resolved to request His Holiness to commit himself to live up to the age of 113 and beyond. That was the first point of the resolution,” the Speaker said.

The second point of the resolution referred to the issue of how the Administration should handle such internal squabbles. Both the Cabinet and the Parliament, which represent the Central Tibetan Administration, pledged to confront such issues without any hesitation in future.

The third point of the resolution reflected on the Dalai Lama’s contribution to the world and to the Tibetan public. The Tibetan administration pledged to abide by the democratic polity that the Dalai Lama had endowed on the Tibetans. “We fully commit ourselves to work with much more effort than before to fulfill the aspirations of the Tibetan people in line with the democratic polity that we have adopted,” Tsering said.

This resolution is connected with a statement by one member of Parliament, in his private members’ clarification in the last House in March 2013. The member, Mr Karma Chophel, whose name had also been referred to by the Dalai Lama on 2 September, said that in terms of his interpretation of the Dalai Lama’s thinking — that “the Dalai Lama may be seeking autonomy, but he has independence in his heart.”

On those matters Mr Karma Chophel had also issued two press statements over the last few weeks. Those matters were also reflected upon by the members of the Parliament. The members were not happy with some of the references which Karma Choephel had made, saying that he had never ever mentioned such a thing in Parliament. And that if he had said such a thing at that time, none of the members had responded or spoken about it, the Cabinet had not spoken about it, nor had the public written about this matter to the Parliament or the Cabinet.

“Those were in a way completely untrue. We have made very clear opposition. And during the discussion here also the Cabinet said that what Mr Karma Chophel referred to as his issue being completely separate from this resolution motion is not acceptable to the Kashag. And many members also expressed their views on this. But Mr Karma Chophel also observed a certain level of dignified silence, and expressed his regret at having hurt His Holiness’ feelings, regarding what he had said in the House. And that he had written a personal letter addressed to His Holiness seeking repentance.”

Penpa Tsering said that the speaker decided, seeking the approval of the House, that Karma Chophel’s statements be receded. Of course the statements he had made in the previous House could not be removed from the records, since they had already been published, but through the recedement, the statements would not be referred to in future.

“Of course in any society, problems great or small emerge, and there has to be an end to the problem as well. People make mistakes, and he recognised his mistake, and he sought forgiveness and repentance. Therefore the Parliament took this decision, and the session went on till 7:30pm [on Thursday],” continued Speaker Tsering.

On asked how the Dalai Lama made reference to Karma Chophel during the informal meeting on 2 September, Penpa Tsering said, “When His Holiness spoke about why he decided to adopt the Middle-way approach, he referred to a parliamentary proceeding whereby Karma Chophel had made a personal clarification in the house in March.”

Tsering said that the Dalai Lama also made a reference to a question by a young Tibetan in Madison, US, on 16 May. The Dalai Lama had said “He’s (Karma Chophel) making me a liar, that’s not the truth. I believe in the Middle-way approach and I speak the same. There are no two thinkings about this.”

And the second instance, again, while speaking about reasons for adopting the Middle-way approach, “His Holiness said did he (Karma Chophel) not ask for review of the Middle-way approach in the past?”

In the third instance, the Dalai Lama had said, “Karma Chophel said that one of my prayers is seeking freedom for the whole of Tibet.” In reference to the stanza that Karma Chophel had quoted from one of His Holiness’ compositions, the “Words of Truth” prayer, the Dalai Lama had said, “What he (Karma Chophel) said was being used by Chinese. So it has come of use.”

Karma Chophel issued two press statements clarifying his position. Tsering said, “In the first press statement, in the first point, the meaning that I got from the words and the sequence that he had used, it was as if he is not at fault. And that whoever had informed His Holiness have resulted in His Holiness being hurt.”

The second press statement was in response to the Cabinet’s press release, which quoted what Karma Chophel had said in the House at that time. Karma Chophel had refused to accept that again.

Tsering said that just a few days before the Parliament session, Karma Choephel had made an application to the speakers, requesting the speakers to expunge the words that he had said in the House, apart from the written statement. In that he had said “in relation to what I have said in the House, that has resulted in hurting His Holiness’ feelings, and I seek forgiveness, and as a symbol of that I withdraw all my statements regarding this matter in the past. And as a future pledge, I decided not to speak on this in future.”

Penpa Tsering said that on that basis, the Parliament took this decision, but that they cannot act further on it, because they still don’t have a copy of Karma Choephel’s personal memorandum to the Dalai Lama. “Since we don’t know the content of that letter, we don’t know if he will be forgiven or not. That depends on His Holiness.”

“From our understanding, he has accepted that he made a mistake, and now he is seeking forgiveness. If he had not made a mistake, there is no reason for seeking forgiveness.”

“In regard to whether he made any changes to his first personal memorandum to His Holiness — that we don’t know.”

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