The Dalai Lama announced on March 10 that he will step down as political leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, India. “As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power,” he said in a prepared speech. “Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.” At present, the 14th Dalai Lama has a dual political and spiritual role. He will now retire as political leader, while retaining his function as the head of the Gelup School of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibet’s spiritual leader. The announcement came on the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. During the next session of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile on March 14, the Dalai Lama will formally propose an amendment to its constitution—known as the Charter for Tibetans in Exile—allowing him to devolve political authority to an elected prime minister, to be known as the Kalon Tripa.
Tibetan groups across the diaspora reacted with appeals to the Dalai Lama to reconsider his move and remain in power. The Chinese foreign ministry dismissed the announcement, calling the Dalai Lama a “religious crook,” who is trying to splinter China. (Reuters, CNN, Orissa Diary, March 10)
Ironically, the officially atheist Chinese state rejects this move towards secularism and is appealing to a Tibetan fundamentalist position by insisting that the new Tibetan leader can only be chosen through reincarnation—as long as the cosmic forces of reincarnation submit to the will of Beijing bureaucrats. Last month, Beijing’s State Administration for Religious Affairs disclosed plans to enact a new law forbidding the new Dalai Lama to be reborn anywhere but on Chinese-controlled soil, and giving final say to Chinese authorities when the time comes to identify his 15th incarnation. (Newsweek, Feb. 20) This is obviously a reaction to fears that the new Dalai Lama will emerge from the Tibetan exiles in India, who bitterly reject Beijing’s control of their homeland.