NEW YORK CITY, US, 6 September 2020
In this write-up, I have laid down four key parameters that I used in identifying a candidate for the upcoming 2021 Sikyong election. Based on these four parameters, I have shown that my candidate for the 2021 Sikyong election is Kasur Ngodup Dongchung (hereafter known as KND) and argued why I believe he meets all my parameters much more impressively than others. I must mention at the outset that neither do I have any personal relationship with him, nor do I have any other intention in endorsing and supporting him. My sole motivation in endorsing KND is my firm desire for our dignified long-awaited return to our homeland.
Upcoming 2021 Sikyong election
Since our first general election for Kalon Tripa in 2001, the overall learning curve of the Tibetan community on the practice of democracy in exile has been an upward trend. However, just as infants learn to walk by falling several times, there were some worrying trends, particularly during the third (2016) general election for Sikyong. I hope we have learned our lesson now.
Now that the second term of incumbent Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay is coming to an end, our exile community is getting prepared to vote for the next Sikyong and Chithues [Members of Parliament]. Democracy as a form of government is meaningless without vote, and vote without careful analysis puts democracy in peril. For instance, the Nazi Party became the largest political party in the 1932 national parliamentary elections in Germany.
Ever since I started voting, I have taken my voting privilege and responsibility with utmost seriousness, and have always voted out of my conviction rather than the influence of others. I have often voted for Sikyong candidates outside my cholka [province] as long as the candidate meets the criteria that are important for the office. The candidate’s phayul [place of birth] does not count even a bit in the framework of my analysis. A careful study of the experiences of different exile political entities in the past will show you that factionalism within the exile community is the worst obstacle to attaining exile’s primary political aspiration. I am acutely aware of this danger and always refrain from getting involved in such internal schisms. I firmly believe that we all should do the same if we genuinely desire our dignified return to Tibet soon.
My four parameters
In my framework for choosing the right candidate for the post of Sikyong, there are four key parameters that I consider to be the most important: (1) Whether or not the candidate’s political stand aligns with that of His Holiness’ vision of Tibet; (2) The candidate’s ability to retain the loyalty of Tibetans inside and unity of Tibetan outside Tibet; (3) The candidate’s ability to garner international support for the Tibetan cause; (4) The candidate’s organizational skills to run the functioning of CTA effectively.
Who is my Sikyong candidate and why?
Albeit with differences in duration, I had the privilege of having working relationships with most of the Sikyong candidates for 2021, and personally knew other candidates that I did not have a working relationship with. I know that all of them are highly-capable individuals with unwavering commitment for the future of Gangchenpa. This makes my task a little bit difficult to come down to one candidate. After careful consideration, I decided to go with Kasur Ngodup Dongchung as my candidate for the 2021 Sikyong election. I will try to reason out why KND is my 2021 Sikyong candidate based on the four key parameters that I stated earlier.
First parameter: His Holiness’ vision of Tibet and Kasur Ngodup Dongchung
Given the facts that His Holiness is in his advancing age and that the winning candidate may be running CTA till 2030 (if we are not able to return to Tibet), the need for a new Sikyong who thoroughly understands the vision of His Holiness is critical beyond description. Among visible Sikyong candidates, none can claim more years of service to the CTA and His Holiness than Kasur ND. For most of his life, beginning when he graduate with honors in political science from Delhi University in 1977, KND has served CTA and His Holiness with utmost dedication and sincerity, and continues to do so. Because of his lifelong service and commitment to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the CTA, I have full confidence that he understands the vision of His Holiness to the core.
Another important aspect within this parameter is the role of Sikyong as a key individual responsible for the resolution of the issue of Tibet through mutually acceptable negotiation. As one of the longest-serving members of the Taskforce on Sino-Tibetan negotiation, KND’s nuanced understanding of Sino-Tibetan negotiation will be critical when an opportunity for negotiation with arises. Hence, I am of the firm view that KND scores the highest on this first parameter.
Second parameter: Tibetan unity and Ngodup Dongchung
I cannot stress enough the importance of this criterion, i.e., the candidate’s ability to retain the loyalty of Tibetans inside and unity of Tibetan outside Tibet. There are two components in this criterion: (1) Loyalty of Tibetans inside Tibet and (2) the Unity of Tibetans outside Tibet (in exile). While both are important, the first one is the central pillar of our struggle. If loyalties of Tibetans inside Tibet are no longer with exile Tibetan establishment, there is no basis for our struggle. For that reason, His Holiness always stresses the importance of trust and commitment of Tibetans inside Tibet on His Holiness and the CTA.
Similarly, all the exile Tibetans unanimously agree and often use the phrase “དོན་གྱི་བདག་པོ་གཞིས་ལུས་མི་མང་ཡིན།” [Tibet belongs to Tibetans in Tibet] If one sincerely believes in this sentiment, no other candidate can claim to have a better understanding of Tibetans inside Tibet than KND. With his life at risk, KND in 1983 undertook a secret mission to Tibet to institute communication between underground Tibetan activists in Tibet and CTA. Many of these contacts continue to this day.
From the exile entity’s point of view, this insider-outsider nexus is central to achieving the exile’s political goal. I cannot think of any better indicator for a candidate’s association with Tibetans inside Tibet then the support for the candidate from former political prisoners. If you are an intelligent observer of current Sikyong candidates, you will see that the candidate with the highest number of supporters who were former political prisoners in Tibet will surely be KND.
The second component of the second criterion is ‘unity of Tibetans outside Tibet (in exile)’. In recent times, we have had a few incidents in our exile community that make all of us worried and often emotionally distressed. There is no point in blaming one or another. However, we must keep the lesson that we have learned from those experiences, and look forward to a future where our struggle is devoid of factionalism, mainly based on one’s phayul [region]. I am confident that KND will lead us toward that end.
Third parameter: Ability to garner international support for our cause
Let me be honest here — this, I believe, is not KND’s strongest point. At the same time, it is also unrealistic to expect a perfect Sikyong candidate who has all the necessary skill sets. I am not sure such candidates exist at all in any part of the democratic world. Regardless, in the grand scale of things, I do not see that this will be much of an issue, because all the critical matters related to our struggle (domestic or international) are thoroughly discussed in bi-weekly Kashag meetings. Consequently, his many years of experience as Kalon have equipped him with a thorough understanding of our struggle in both domestic and international contexts.
Fourth parameter: Organizational skills to run CTA effectively
While working for CTA for over 40 years (and counting), KND has worked in different capacities and levels. In the process of his long service, all his associates and colleagues speak highly of him. His honesty, sincerity, and down-to-earth nature have won him many friends, particularly among many of India’s intelligence and political communities who are critical in forming India’s policy toward the exile Tibetan community. If you know anyone who worked under or with him at CTA, do ask them about him, and you will know what kind of a person KND is.
In a nutshell, if anyone finds any inaccuracy or trace of dishonesty in my write-up, I sincerely welcome your corrections/suggestions. However, if you find my argument convincing, I urge you to use your precious vote wisely and support Kasur Dongchung Ngodup for the upcoming Sikyong election. Bod Gyal lo!
About the author
Tsewang Rigzin is a Research Fellow at Columbia University Population Research Center and Doctoral student of Social Policy at Columbia University. He is also the author of a bi-lingual book, Exile Tibetan Community: Problems and Prospects, published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2016.