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Lobsang Sangay, the new Kalon Tripa, or Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, poses in front of a scroll painting at the International Campaign for Tibet building in Washington April 27, 2011. Tibetan exiles elected the Harvard law scholar as their political leader. The handover of power will give the prime minister's role greater clout as the region seeks autonomy from China and could stave off a possible crisis of leadership in the event of the Dalai Lama's death. Lobsang Sangay, the new Kalon Tripa of Tibet’s government-in-exile, says he feels that taking over the political responsibilities of the Dalai Lama is his leh, or karmic destiny. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Lobsang Sangay, the new Kalon Tripa, or Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, poses in front of a scroll painting at the International Campaign for Tibet building in Washington April 27, 2011. Tibetan exiles elected the Harvard law scholar as their political leader. The handover of power will give the prime minister's role greater clout as the region seeks autonomy from China and could stave off a possible crisis of leadership in the event of the Dalai Lama's death. Lobsang Sangay, the new Kalon Tripa of Tibet’s government-in-exile, says he feels that taking over the political responsibilities of the Dalai Lama is his leh, or karmic destiny. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

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Meet the heir to the Dalai Lama Add to ...

While his supporters lauded the Dalai Lama's decision to democratize his people's leadership, at a time when autocrats around the world are brutally clinging onto power, a few outspoken critics believe now is not the time for him to go. “I see nothing wonderful in a shepherd abandoning his flock midway through the desert,” says Llasang Tsering, a former president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, who refers to himself as “the resident devil” of Dharamsala because he dares to voice a different view from the Dalai Lama's.

Mr. Tsering believes that it is time for Tibetans to admit that the Dalai Lama's Middle Way has not worked and change to more confrontational tactics. “China has no need to negotiate with a bunch of poor refugees,” he argues. “People are dying for true freedom in Tibet and they need international support. They need it now before it is too late. Tibet is not just about the fate of six million people, it is about control of the roof of the world, an area two-thirds the size of Europe with vast mineral reserves, where all the major rivers of Asia have their source and where China has untold numbers of strategic missile bases.”

But given China's economic clout and the fact that Beijing threatens ill-defined consequences for any country that agrees to formal contact with the Dalai Lama, a sudden wave of official support for Tibet by the international community seems a forlorn hope. Despite being feted as a man of peace, not least by adoring Hollywood stars, most of the Dalai Lama's contact with foreign leaders is in an informal capacity as a religious figurehead. This spiritual back door will not be open to Mr. Sangay.

In addition to battling international indifference, Mr. Sangay will also have to contend with increasing tensions between older and younger Tibetans.

Growing numbers of the younger generation – increasingly frustrated, tech-savvy and radical – now support full independence. “Tibetan youngsters are increasingly educated and aware of their rights. They are fed up of Tibetans being depicted as some kind of exotic tribe,” says Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan writer and freedom activist.

Still, Mr. Sangay insists he will stick to pacifist principles in tackling the leadership challenge he now faces. “Look what Gandhi achieved with his non-violent movement. I do believe eventually Tibet can succeed too. If it does, this will be the most beautiful story of the 21st century,” he says, throwing his arms in the air as if in supplication.



Christine Toomey is a freelance writer based in London.

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