Tibetan Affairs

Lama Politics And Possible Implications For India

Surya Gangadharan New Delhi, India 15 October 2018

Sometime next month, Dharmshala will play host to an important congregation of Tibetan religious heads whose main agenda, reportedly, is to find an answer to the question: after the Dalai Lama, who or what? The religious heads represent the four sects or schools of the Tibetan religion of which the Kagyu is considered the second most important. The problem is the Kagyu sect is divided between two persons claiming to represent it—Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje.

Odder still is the fact that neither is in India but both found time to link up in some rural area of France with the avowed aim of healing the division in their order. They even issued a “joint statement” proclaiming their intent. Their reunion apparently came as a complete surprise (or shock) to the Indian government. It’s not clear if the Dalai Lama knew and if he did, was the government or its agencies informed?

What makes this curious is the fact that for long, Trinley Dorje who fled China-controlled Tibet to India with his family in January 2000 was suspected of being a Chinese plant. His movements were restricted. But in the 17 years he spent in India, he was never reported involved in any subversive activity. So common sense suggests his departure may have been authorised at the highest levels of the Indian government. It is speculated the U.S. may have asked India to “loan him” for their own games against China.

Trinley Dorje is recognised and accepted as the head of the Kagyu sect by the Dalai Lama (also by China). Not to be missed are reports he resides in New Jersey on a farm estate gifted by a Chinese-Taiwanese couple. He has made comments and observations critical of the Indian government. He has even threatened not to return to India although in an interview to Radio Free Asia less than two months ago, he hinted he may come in November.

It is claimed by some that Trinley Dorje’s departure from India has undermined the “united” Tibet front against China. If he fails to turn up in November, it would be seen as another rebuke of how India treated him. While there have been reports of his involvement in dubious deals, no case has ever been registered against him and the Enforcement Directorate had exonerated him in a money seizure case.

His presence in India is considered critical given that the Dalai Lama is ageing and there is a need to figure out who will succeed him. “Since 2011, the Dalai Lama has only talked of a successor,” notes Dr Srikanth Kondapalli of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. “He has not talked of reincarnation which could leave the field open for all kinds of manoeuvring. Incidentally, China insists that the next Dalai Lama should only be decided by reincarnation and this year some top Chinese leaders including Premier Li Keqiang have visited Tibet.”

Can the Karmapa succeed the Dalai Lama? The Panchen Lama can succeed him or “recognise” his successor but he remains under custody somewhere in China and therefore not accessible. About the Karmapa, opinion is divided. Some say he cannot since he belongs to a different sect. Others say he is young, has a large following and can unite younger Tibetans who may otherwise fall prey to radical groups.

At a time when Tibet seems to have fallen off the international agenda (perhaps even in India), Trinley Dorje may be able to strike an accommodation with China. He speaks Mandarin and has not been known to criticise Beijing. So there could be many advantages in having him home. There are reports he is being given land in Dwarka in Delhi for a monastery. More important is how the government and its agencies deal with him in the future. His presence at the Dharamshala congregation in November could be a turning point.




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