By Lobsang Wangyal
McLEOD GANJ, India, 19 May 2019
India concluded its mammoth general elections at 6pm today after a marathon seven phases of voting, in which 900 million people are eligible to vote. People of Tibetan origin born in India also took part to elect the next government in Delhi.
The people’s mandate will be heard on the 23rd when the EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) votes will be counted. Following the outcome, the party (or a coalition) that secures 272 or more seats of the total 543 in the Parliament will form the new government and elect a new prime minister.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) gave voting rights to Tibetans according to the Citizenship Act of India, which says anybody born in India between 1950 and 1987, and their children, are citizens of India by birth. In a circular by ECI on 7 February 2014 the regional election commissions were ordered to enrol Tibetans as voters.
Since then many Tibetans have registered to vote, and cast their first ballot in the Indian general elections in May 2014, in the year that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won and Narendra Modi was made the prime minister.
It’s not known how many Tibetans in India have registered to vote, as there are no figures available for the scattered Tibetans who live in small numbers across India, the majority of them in South India’s Karnataka state.
The number of Tibetans in India according to the 2009 census of the Central Tibetan Administration was 95,000, but many have left since then to other countries, particularly the US, Canada, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Australia.
The unofficial figure of Tibetans living in India is now less than 60,000, considering 15,000 Tibetans in New York City, another 15,000 around the rest of the US, 10,000 in Toronto, 8,000 in Switzerland, 7,000 in France, 5,000 in Belgium, and 3,000 in Australia.
“There weren’t a large number of Tibetan voters, but people did come, including monks,” said an election official at one of voting booths in Bhagsu where people from McLeod Ganj cast their votes.
Speaking to Tibet Sun, Tashi Dhondup said, “I don’t know much about Indian politics and who would make a good government, but I came to fulfil my duty to vote as now we have been given the right to vote.”
“I don’t think there will be change in the Tibetan issue, but there may be change in our daily lives. I voted for the party of my choice as I feel that party will make a strong government in Delhi.”
Tashi’s wife Wangdon expressed similar views, saying it’s good to fulfil their civic duty. They both have voted for the same party.
The Tibetan administration in McLeod Ganj neither encourages nor discourages Tibetans from becoming Indian voters. “The decision to apply for Indian or any other country’s citizenship is a personal choice. If you are eligible, you can apply. The Tibetan administration has no right nor does it intend to interfere in a person’s fundamental rights,” CTA President Lobsang Sangay had said.
The main contest in the elections is between the ruling BJP led by Modi and the Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi. BJP ran an aggressive nationalist and Hindu-first campaign in a country that has an 80% Hindu of India’s 1.3 billion people, hoping to secure a second straight term.
The Congress party campaigned for bringing the country’s ailing economy under control through a minimum income guarantee scheme, Nyuntan Aay Yojana (Nyay), that will assure up to Rs 72,000 a year or Rs 6,000 a month income to 20 per cent of India’s poorest families, waive loans for farmers, and generate employment for youths.
It is a pity that common Tibetans living in India are bound by so many conditions in order to make it difficult for them to seek Indian citizenship. But those in high places have all got one foot in some other country. If we look at Tibetans in high positions they all have either got some other country’s citizen, or have their wife or husband in some other country.
How can a foreigner become a member of Tibetan parliament or cabinet? While many of these foreign Nationals hold on to their land and houses in the Tibetan settlements, poor Tibetans living in India are asked to forfeit their rights to live in such Settlements if they become Indian citizens. Utter nonsense!
Voter ID’s barcode is barely visible and it’s not a piece of public information to share. You should blur that Barcode area of these 2 individual’s ID.
Lets us not go deeply into the legal matters to discuss whether or not it is right or wrong for the Tibetans to vote in India, during the election. We need to be very grateful to the people and govt. of India, for being so kind and generous to us since coming here in the early sixties.
Let us all work in good faith and not raise issues that will have negative repercussions on our struggle and day-to-day life. We already had suffered so much from the Chinese invasion of Tibet, and life in exile has been very difficult for our parents until a few years ago when we started seeing a bit of prosperity in the exile community.
This is not the time for internal squabbles and dragging each other for unwanted and endless controversies. Why make our own lives miserable by exposing our weaknesses to the outside world. Let’s be more kind to each other and help our countrymen. It seems much of our energy and intelligence is wasted to criticize others and make people’s life unhappy and sad.
Yesterday in an interview with the Times of India news by Mr. Lobsang Sangay the de-facto Prime Minister of Tibetan Government in exile in relation with Tibetans who has opted for voting rights in India has said and I quote: “Our priority is Tibetan refugees and Central Tibetan Administration is concern about the welfare of Tibetan refugees only”.
If the voting right of Tibetans in India curtails acknowledgment from their own governance in exile then we believe such denouncement would be equally applicable to those Tibetans who has applied and have become citizens of United States, England, Canada, Australia and other European countries alike.
If Mr. Sangay’s CTA doesn’t endorses Tibetans who voted in India, then those intellectual Tibetans in India would not acknowledge him as Prime Minister of the exile government with an obvious reason that he himself being an American Citizen at first place but also governing them. In the interview he talked about the endorsement of only Tibetan refugees, not those who voted & opted for another citizenship, while he himself has ordained the American nationality but also has become the prime minister of the exile governance, which we believe is complete cynical.
The Charter of Tibetan government in exile Art 8 and Art 13 clearly states about who can be the citizens of Tibet and their obligation under.
The Tibetan parliament in exile needs an urgent amendment in its Charter concerning its citizenship clauses, making it unambiguous or else it will be subjected to individual’s interpretation of usage and practice.