McLeodganj (Dharamsala): Tibetans in Dharamsala, living in exile for long in the second capital of Himachal Pradesh, are divided over securing voting rights in India. Some of the Tibetans feel that exercising their vote in India could dilute their struggle for freedom while others say that the Tibet movement is in their hearts and voting can't deter them from their struggle. Although Tibetan voters are around 1,000 in Dharamsala, contestants in the fray for the November 9 Assembly polls cannot ignore this small segment as the presence of some powerful candidates has made the contest tight. The main candidates are Urban Development Minister Sudhir Sharma of the Congress and former minister Kishan Kapoor of the BJP.
Among others contesting the elections as independent candidates are Ravinder Rana from the Gorkha community, Vikas Choudhry, a UK-returned journalist and Pankaj Kumar, a contractor with a NSUI background. The Gorkha community has been a traditional vote bank of the Congress and has a substantial presence in the constituency. Rana, being from the community, is spoiling the chances for Sharma. Kumar is also damaging his prospects. Kapoor is banking on his Gaddi community which accounts for around 15000 voters. With around 69,000 voters in the Assembly, Choudhry is leaving no stone unturned to woo the voters across the constituency by projecting himself as the best alternative to the Congress and the BJP.
Choudhry, who studied humanities at Birmingham University, claims to have worked with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's core team during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He is attracting voters by campaigning on a tractor, which is also his election symbol. Besides these five major contestants, the presence of seven other candidates as Independents has made the electoral battle interesting. In the 2012 Assembly polls, Sharma had defeated Kapoor by 5,000 votes. Sharma, a close confidant of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, is seeking votes on his development work. He claims that due to his efforts the Central University of Himachal Pradesh and an IT park have been sanctioned but Kapoor hits back at him in a poster war, saying when will these turn into reality.
As per the Election Commission some 1,000 Tibetans have registered themselves as voters ahead of the Assembly elections. In a close contest, these 1000 Tibetan voters who will cast their vote for the first time, may prove decisive in electing their MLA. With the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) leaving the decision to cast votes on their wisdom, the Tibetan community appears to be divided. Phurbu Tolma, an official at the Election Commission of CTA, expressed her apprehension that voting would affect their ongoing struggle for a free Tibet. "We want to go back. Voting right will affect our struggle," she said. But Thinley Jampa, a social activist, and Rinchen Gyal, an official of CTA, are of a different view.
"Through voting we would mingle with Indians and would tell them about our struggle. This is not going to deter us. Freedom of Tibet is paramount," Jampa, who runs the Tibet United Society, told IANS.Echoing the same view, Rinchen said, "Voting rights is a facility while free Tibet is our right. There is no base in the claims that voting in Indian election would divert us from the goal. Many Tibetans are living in different parts of the world and have got citizenship there but when it comes to our cause they don't hesitate in giving their blood." The rules allow all Tibetans born in India during 1950-1987 to get voting rights. Their importance in these elections can be understood from the fact that RSS leader Indresh Kumar held an hour long meeting with Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama in Dharamsala on November 4 in an apparent bid to woo the community votes. (IANS)