BYLAKUPPE, India, 24 September 2020
Penpa Tsering, born to an ordinary Tibetan family and schooled at CST Bylakuppe settlement, was recognized as a distinguished student in his class. He was also a self-disciplined child who used to take up responsibilities for farming and other domestic chores during morning and evening, along with his regular schooling during the day.
For three years since 9th grade, he served responsibly as school captain. In addition, he also took and assisted the responsibilities pertaining to class administrative outstandingly. The then principal of the school, Madan Tharlam, commended him, saying she has never seen as able and competent a captain in her more than 37-year career, which establishes that Penpa Tsering was an intelligent person with high leadership skills since childhood.
The best all-India Tibetan student award was given to Penpa Tsering when he was in class XII. And accordingly, he won the scholarship for college from the Department of Education (DoE) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). He studied economics honours for his college degree. The current practicing account system of the CTA was initially formulated by Penpa Tsering.
Along with his regular studies at Madras university, he helped local Tibetan sweater traders to do their business better. He successfully managed to cover the financial shortage of his education by working at a restaurant from 7 to 11 in the evenings after class. Those days a Tibetan attending class during day and working at night time was quite rare. By doing such a self-reliant approach, PT instilled new hope in his parents. Seeing that, with great expectation, his father said, “In future, after the completion of your studies, you should go and serve in the CTA under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and lead the new Tibetan generation.”
For a few years after completion of his studies, he did business to support his family. Then came 1994 when he turned towards the ranges of Dharamshala where His Holiness the Dalai Lama resides, keeping in mind the words of his father. Penpa Tsering was at that time just an ordinary son of an ordinary family. He had no influential backing from any politically and socially authoritative officials. Nor did he hold any authoritative family titles with high social status that could have any special impacts. Starting to serve politically with such an ordinary background in the prevailing political environment of the time is understandably challenging.
Then coincidentally, at an annual audit meeting of the Domey General Committee, he solved an account-related problem the committee was facing, which impressed everyone around. He was instantly appointed Secretary of Domey General Committee, which he served for two years. After that, as hoped by the Domey public, he was elected to the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th terms of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, scoring even the highest votes on some terms.
In 2008, the assembly elected him as Speaker, and he outstandingly accomplished the responsibility. Even then Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche recommended him for Kalon nominee. In the 2016 general election, people from all three provinces supported him with high voting numbers, although he lost to the incumbent Lobsang Sangay.
In 2016, as recommended by His Holiness, President Dr Lobsang Sangay appointed Penpa Tsering the North America Chief Representative. At an occasion during an auspicious function in America, His Holiness in front of some high ranking officials said: “he [indicating Penpa Tsering with a tapping on his shoulder] is a man with good modern education and any support to him would be highly appreciated.” Such a remark from His Holiness is indeed a priceless and historic acknowledgement.
During PT’s short tenure as Chief Representative of North America, he managed to host the celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on Capitol Hill, with more than 300 high-ranking politicians and officials present. Not only that, his initiation led to a team of eight from both Democrat and Republican parties, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, visiting His Holiness in Dharamshala, demonstrating the unwavering support of the American public and the government to Tibet. Such are indeed unprecedented accomplishments.
Another significant accomplishment is that within a short period of one year and two months, he managed to lead the Tibetan public of North America (from all three provinces) on the path of unity. For instance, two collaborative general meetings among the various Tibetan Associations scattered across North America were held to promote unity and integrity among Tibetans. Also, he effectively coordinated with many non-sectarian Tibetan Buddhist dharma centres to promote religious and cultural values of Tibetan Buddhism through collective efforts.
Two general meetings to review the syllabus of Tibetan language class, a weekend programme in North America, were held for refining the contents to suit the students’ needs better and more effectively. An All-Associations-Collaborative nationwide programme to raise and promote the Tibet issue was formulated in the December of same year, but due to his unexpected early termination he was not able to execute the same. While leaving the office, he appealed to the public to carry forward and execute the programme as planned, from which we all can understand what kind of responsible and public-spirited man he is; and how much Tibetan society has lost due to his early termination, and how much benefit society can gain from his service if we choose to elect him to power this time.
So these are some accounts of his contributions and accomplishment in the past, for which he has received considerable acknowledgement, recognition, expectation, and respect, from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, Tibetan Parliament, and the general public, which give indisputable evidence of his ability to lead us in the future.
Let us have a look at some of his works in the areas of: (A) foreign policy and (B) administration.
(A) Foreign Policy:
- Within one year of serving as director of the Tibetan Parliamentary and Policy Research Centre (TPPRC), PT successfully revived, in 2001, the Indian Parliamentary Representative for Tibet Support Group.
- Experience: He participated in the 3rd and 4th general body meetings of the International Tibet Support Group, which strengthened lasting ties.
- Method: As house speaker of the 13th Assembly of Tibetan People Parliament, PT successfully revived and resumed the International Tibet Support Group General Meetings, which hadn’t been held for eight years.
- Formulation of Rules and Regulations: After being elected in 1997, with highest vote score, to the 12th Assembly Commission of the Tibetan Parliament, he raised for the first time in parliament session the requirement to revise and reformulate the basic foundation of CTA accounting practice with convincing reasons. However, though this was impressive and appreciated, no concrete result was achieved at that time.
- With the election of Prof Samdhong Rinpoche to Kalon Tripa at 13th Assembly Commission, the Prof Samdhong Rinpoche who was chairing the committee endorsed a model prepared and presented by Penpa Tsering and conferred legal recognition for execution.
- Awareness on Democracy: Visited different settlement locations for years, ever since the adoption of constitution in 1991, to conduct around 36 workshops to promote awareness of democracy among the public, achieving considerable success in local administration system and democratic progress overall.
- Relation between New Generation and CTA: Organized annual tour to Dharamshala for students of 11th grade from 17 schools and other college-going students, conducting workshops wherein all the ministerial departments of CTA were introduced one by one, which helped ignite awareness, aspiration, and development of public spirit to serve CTA.
- Locations Visit by Parliamentary Representatives: With the election to House Speaker, in 2003 passed resolution of house representative visit (to India, Nepal, Bhutan), a long-pending programme was effectively implemented, with 17 settlements (in India, Nepal and Bhutan) receiving representatives visit which enabled the locals to address their problems and challenges. That helped in building people’s confidence in the system.
Four great strategies and other policies he professed in his manifestos of 2016 Sikyong candidate cover in great detail administration, economy, culture and education and Tibet-Sino dialogue. His basic principle is to never give up however challenging the circumstances.
All the above are based on Penpa Tsering’s speeches of past and recent times, after careful and thorough research. In case there is any factual error or inaccuracy, kindly pardon me for the same and I invite your kind correction wherever required. Thank you!
Translated from Tibetan to English by Kunchok Gyatso, LLM, Sr Legal Associate, Exigent Group Limited, Bangalore, India.
About the author
The author is a monk studying Buddhist philosophy in Hardong Khangtsen of Sera Je Monastary (University), Bylakuppe, Karnataka, South India.