By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
On March 23, 2012, Lodi Gyari, the Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, issued a statement that was carried on the websites of both the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT). Between the lines of this obviously-important message, it is possible to see the continuing evolution of Tibetan democracy, as political power has passed to an elected leadership that, to some extent, is still finding its way.
Gyari’s March statement demands to be read beside his November 2011 statement. The November statement was, to all indications, a diplomatically-worded rebuke of the CTA’s elected leadership, and in particular the new Kalon Tripa, Lobsang Sangay. Responding to some bold and perhaps ill-advised claims that the Kashag (Cabinet) has the right to appoint envoys to negotiate with Beijing, Gyari essentially declared that, as His Holiness’s envoy, he does not work for – or report to – the CTA.
From the perspective of China’s refusal to have anything to do with the CTA, Gyari’s public move was arguably necessary to salvage any future Tibetan dialogue with Beijing (as we previously wrote). This November statement embarrassingly implied that the new CTA leadership made a blunder that needed to be cleaned up.
Four months later now, Gyari’s new statement is far more conciliatory. It goes to great lengths to illustrate the hope that the Tibetan people have placed in Sangay, and the importance of “helping him succeed.” Gyari even goes so far as to paint a touching portrait of the ten thousand Tibetans who traveled from Tibet to the Kalachakra teachings in Bodhgaya, whom Gyari describes as having tremendous enthusiasm for the democratically elected Tibetan leader.
Gyari pledged that “We will certainly do everything we can to assist Kalon Tripa Dr. Lobsang Sangay and the Central Tibetan Administration.” He concluded his message by repeating, “the success of Dr. Lobsang Sangay and the Central Tibetan Administration is crucial for fulfilling the vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We must all maximize our efforts at this critical time. I ask you to join me.”
Decoding the Message
Gyari’s message has two central points. First, the Tibetan people have placed their hope in Sangay’s success. Second, we must all maximize our efforts to help him succeed.
The message conspicuously lacks a third point: i.e. confidence that Sangay is necessarily up to the task at hand. Just four months ago, the normally diplomatic Gyari very publicly issued a statement that appeared to show Gyari cleaning up mistakes made by the CTA leader. Given this, it would have been reasonable to expect a later message of support for this same leader to include a statement of confidence. Gyari’s omission therefore seems hard to miss.
One could reasonably read Gyari’s message, therefore, as this: whatever one thinks of the capabilities of the new prime minister, he now carries the hopes of the Tibetan people and he needs everyone’s help.
Certainly that generous statement of support should be applauded. On the other hand, coming from the mouth of an experienced senior official, the implication of this offer to help could also be that the new leader needs it.
Presumably, such help includes critiquing the leadership when it makes mistakes, as Gyari arguably did in November. That is certainly consistent with democratic values, which hold that government works best when the public freely voices their opinions, and the leaders listen.
The open question is whether there is any deeper reason behind Gyari’s decision to re-open the issue definitively dealt with by his November statement, namely, decision-making power over the dialogue process with China.
Postscript: Is There a “Dr.” In the House?
As a postscript, it is notable that, of the three times Gyari mentioned Sangay by name (the same number of times that Gyari mentioned His Holiness), Gyari always referred to Sangay using his academic title of “Dr.” and twice called him “Kalon Tripa Dr.” This is not insignificant, especially since it has not been consistent ICT practice to do so in the past (see, e.g., here and here).
For readers unfamiliar with the back-story, Sangay is the unusual politician holding a doctoral degree who prefers to be referred to as “Dr.” in addition to his political title. It is highly uncommon to string multiple titles together. For example, Manmohan Singh would not be referred to as “Prime Minister Dr. Singh”.
Additionally, it is not typical that politicians are called “Dr.” at all. The generally accepted practice is that academic titles are used in an academic capacity. (That is why TPR referred to him as “Dr. Sangay” when we reviewed his scholarly work.) This practice holds true for the Ph.D., as well as other doctoral degrees like the Ed.D., D.Phil., Dr.P.H., and S.J.D. (the degree that Sangay holds).
For example, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was called “Secretary Rice” in her official capacity, even though she holds a Ph.D. After returning to teaching at Stanford University, she would be entitled to be called “Dr. Rice” if she wanted, although her official webpage rather modestly refers to her only as “Rice”.
This back-story is provided to illustrate that, when Gyari pointedly used Sangay’s preferred but unusual double title of “Kalon Tripa Dr.”, he was apparently making a conciliatory gesture, bolstering not just the office of Kalon Tripa but also its current occupant.