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New way, Sangay
The charming new prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile , Lobsang Sangay, has won the hearts of both the youth and the elderly. Now, he wants to fire up the 'Free Tibet' movement by using technology, and even fashion.
He tweets, updates his Facebook status regularly, watches cricket at the Dharamsala stadium. Lobsang Sangay is not your typical politician. But on Monday, at the Tsuglagkhang Temple in McLeodganj, he was sworn in as the Prime Minister or 'kalon tripa' of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
The 43-year-old law graduate - who became the first Tibetan to enter Harvard Law School - is known for his prudence and mature perspective on the Tibet problem. Foreign policy experts expect him to balance the radical approach of the exiled youth with his natural caution, yet without alienating them. He aims to consolidate their energy and enthusiasm to steer the struggle to a more pragmatic and conclusive end.
Sangay says he is willing to support any forum that is pro-Tibet - even the Miss Tibet-2011 contest. The beauty pageant, now in its 10th year, has always raised the hackles of the older generation of Tibetans, who find it frivolous.
"I will show solidarity with any group that I find has an impact. The Miss Tibet contest may have attracted some controversy, but the feeling for Tibet is genuine. I will give it space. I am open to any method, as long as it is not illegal, to attain the goal. We can even have a Miss Tibet-USA and Miss Tibet-Australia, " says Sangay. His willingness to try out new methods of resistance, however, doesn't imply a disconnect with his community's past. He understands the history of his people very well. "The Chinese believe young Tibetans will not have the fire to continue the movement once the older generation is gone. They think that the young have not experienced the pangs of separation from their motherland. They are wrong. We are in as much pain, and in exile, as our parents, " he says.
Sangay has never visited Tibet, but he's no stranger to its troubles. His grandmother died while she was trying to cross the border following Chinese aggression;one of his uncles was killed and an aunt, who was pregnant, was forced to commit suicide. He can never forget how his father, who was a monk, had to become a guerilla fighter.
The memories live on in his heart and they keep him going. The days of his childhood spent in a Tibetan camp in Darjeeling, and attending a school for refugees, are still fresh in his mind. "We had chawal and dal twice a day. The rice used to have stones in it. From a refugee school to Delhi University to Harvard, and now the prime ministership, it has been an interesting journey, " he says. And the journey is not unique to him. "My story is of every Tibetan, " Sangay said right after his swearing-in ceremony.
The charismatic leader already has Tibetans talking. If the youngsters are listening, the elderly are impressed by how he has bridged the generation gap and ensured a continuum. And the PM, who doesn't mind fixing his own television set at home, is loved for his down-to-earth approach.
"Despite his achievements, he is modest, " says Keytor, a friend who has known him for 23 years. "I think this is because he understands the suffering of his people. " He says Sangay has always been interested in social work. "During his DU days, he would visit Tibetan refugee camps and do community work. "
Another strength is his pragmatism, a quality Sangay imbibed while growing up in exile. If rabblerousing is what one would expect of a young PM leading his people to freedom, then Sangay is different. He'd rather bring about an ideological change than just a political one. About his plans to tackle Chinese aggression, he says: "I have met hundreds of Chinese scholars at Harvard. Some were obnoxious, a few arrogant and still others ignorant. Of course, there are liberal and moderate Chinese. I found many of them had formed their opinion on Tibet based on Chinese propaganda. They believe Tibetans are barbarians and live in caves. Among Tibetans born in exile, few have interacted with Chinese. But when the Chinese heard me talk at various fora, they went back with a different perspective. "
When he formed his cabinet, he picked four young members and retained three from the older cabinet. His choice showed the respect he has for the sacrifices made by older Tibetans, and a desire to carry their work forward with effective management methods and the use of modern communication tools.
Much before he was sworn in, Sangay began working on a project - the Tibetan Corps. It's an initiative that seeks to link professionals in the Tibetan diaspora with volunteering and pro-bono service opportunities in administration, social work and Tibetan associations in the West. "It's also a way to unite the Tibetan community, " he says.
Sangay is not afraid of setting new rules for the fight. "His is a curious mind;he always wants to learn more. As a kid he would do odd jobs, along with his studies, to contribute to the family's income, " says Keytor. Now, he is all set to contribute to his community's struggle to realise their only dream - going back to their homeland.
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