from "Setting the Records Straight#2"
which was published here earlier)
Rights Did Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches Have Over Rumtek?
answer this question, it is necessary to understand something about
the legal structure of Tibetan monastic administrations.
each high lama has his or her own labrang , or administration, to
govern the monasteries and other properties under his control. The
Karmapas have had their own labrang which has always been separate
from the labrangs of other high lamas. Situ Rinpoche led the Palpung
Labrang while Gyaltsab led his own Chogong Labrang, named respectively
after each rinpoche's traditional monastic seat.
the Tibetan system, lamas from one labrang had no administrative
authority in another administration. Thus, the two rinpoches, Situ
and Gyaltsab, would never have been able to legally gain control
of Rumtek Mona stery, which was part of the Karmapa Labrang rather
than part of either of their own administrations.
the only way open to lamas to take property from an outside labrang
would be, simply put, to conduct a kind of coup d'état there.
They found a powerful ally in the Sikkim state government of NB
Why Did the Sikkim State Government Assist the Rumtek Take-over?
believe that Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches secured the assistance
of Chief Minister Bhandari's government by making two large contributions
to his party totaling $2.5 million.
We believe that an initial payment of $1 million was made to Bhandari
before his police went into Rumtek. While we lack direct evidence,
the indirect evidence for a large advance payment seems very strong.
The Indian Constitution established India as a secular state and
prohibits government officials from interfering in religious affairs.
So, we have to wonder, why would Bhandari violate the Constitution
and assist Situ Rinpoche's group in seizing Rumtek? We can come
up with no other explanation than that Situ Rinpoche bribed Bhandari
to do this.
However, we do have direct evidence that another payment was made
by Situ Rinpoche's group to Chief Minister Bhandari after Rumtek
was seized by Situ Rinpoche's group in 1993. This payment was delivered
by the Taiwanese millionaire Chen Lu An, a follower of Situ Rinpoche.
The payment was for $1.5 million. This donation has been documented
by newspapers and government investigators in both Gangtok and New
Delhi . The ensuing scandal led to investigations by the New Delhi
government against Bhandari that helped bring about Bhandari's ouster
How Could a Whole State Government Be Bought?
is an understatement, as Terhune says, to call Chief Minister Bhandari
“a controversial figure.” History shows that the Sikkim government
during the Bhandari years, from 1979-1995, was perhaps the most
corrupt in India . Through a combination of payoffs and intimidation,
the chief minister ran Sikkim as his own private fiefdom.
Sikkim , stories of those bold enough to risk Bhandari's wrath during
this period abound. First, there was the opposition leader, Madan
Tamang, who dared to circulate pamphlets accusing Bhandari of corruption
and womanizing. In response, Mandan was arrested and died in custody.
His body was later found in bushes alongside the Rongpo River .
Shortly after this, a reporter in Siliguri, RK Baid, published a
story detailing some recent examples of corruption in Bhandari's
administration. After this, Bhandari sent undercover police into
the neighboring state of West Bengal —outside of their legal jurisdiction—to
kidnap Baid and bring him to Gangtok. There he was held in prison
and tortured. Afterwards, he was offered an amount of money said
to be as high as five million rupees to sign a statement denying
that he was kidnapped or mistreated. This reporter later opened
a hotel in Siliguri using this hush money.
Finally, Hamelal Bhandari (no relation to the chief minister), an
attorney in Gangtok, took it upon himself to circulate posters again
criticizing the chief minister's actions. In responses, he was abducted
by party bullies, taken to prison, tortured, and then thrown naked
off a truck the next day onto the main street of Gangtok. He was
lucky to escape with his life.
was the atmosphere of open corruption and intimidation in the state
in the eighties, that these heinous acts and many others were well
known to the Sikkim public. Yet, all were afraid to take any action
since they knew that the police were his personal enforcers and
any action in the courts would be punished.
Against this background the elections of 1989 took place. Bhandari's
systematic campaign of intimidation had so terrified the opposition
that no other candidates stood against his party—something quite
unusual in a democracy as lively as India 's. Sikkim is one of India
's smallest states, with a population of only 400,000, and the couple
hundred opposition leaders who might have run for office were easy
to intimidate. As a result, Bhandari's party won all 32 seats in
the Sikkim parliament, giving him a third term in office with unprecedented
power over all branches of government, including of course, the
judiciary. All of these events are a matter of public record in
Didn't the Karmapa Charitable Trust File Its Case Sooner?
Though Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches' group seized Rumtek with Chief
Minister Bhandari's help in 1993, the Karmapa Charitable Trust did
not successfully file its first case against them until 1997, a
full five years later. Why the delay?
Even before Bhandari's rule ended, there were those who were bold
enough to file cases against his new friends Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches.
Karma Gunbo, a former member of the Sikkim parliament and a devoted
student of the late Sixteenth Karmapa, filed a case in Gangtok District
Court in 1993 against Situ Rinpoche for forging his Karmapa-prediction
letter. Once Chief Minister Bhandari was informed of this, he arrested
Karma Gunbo's family, including wife and children, and held them
in prison for two weeks during which they were subjected to physical
and psychological torture.
Meanwhile, perhaps to ensure that they would not make trouble for
Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches, Bhandari initiated an intimidation
campaign against all the trustees of the Karmapa Charitable Trust.
He expelled from Sikkim the two members who were not Indian citizens,
Shamar Rinpoche and Topga Rinpoche. And against the two trustees
who were residents of Sikkim , TS Gyaltsen and JD Densapa, both
formerly high officials in the state government, Bhandari sent thugs
to stone their houses and cars.
Minister Bhandari's campaign of intimidation against the trustees
was successful. JD Densapa in particular became so afraid to file
a case in Gangtok that he attempted instead to file the case at
the High Court in New Delhi in 1994 on behalf of the monastic community
of Rumtek led by Ngedon Tenzin. The High Court responded that since
this was a civil case, it should be submitted in the local state
court, in Sikkim (the case was not in fact dismissed as Terhune
stated in her book). Filing in Sikkim of course was out of the question
while Chief Minister Bhandari remained in office.
How Could a Case Be Filed in 1997?
1992 was the beginning of the end for Bhandari. While Bhandari began
interfering in Rumtek's affairs, PK Chamling, one of Bhandari's
ministers, began to plan a campaign to replace the chief minister.
He publicly accused Bhandari of corruption and began to refer to
him as a “dictator.” In response, Bhandari arrested Chamling's assistants
and tortured them in prison. Fortunately, Chamling himself escaped
and went into hiding.
this time, Shamar Rinpoche's secretary, Khedrub Gyatso, met with
Chamling to offer his support, presenting a loan to assist with
Chamling's election campaign, and requesting Chamling's future assistance
in regaining Rumtek for the Karmapa Charitable Trust. Chamling,
however, had quite a different character than Bhandari. He responded
that he was not in a position to remove Situ and Gyaltsab's monks,
but that he would guarantee that the Karmapa Charitable Trust would
receive a fair hearing in the courts.
“Once Bhandari is defeated, then the courts in Sikkim will be approachable,”
Chamling said. “You should then file a case in the court. My duty
is to defeat Bhandari--to end his dictatorial rule and return democracy
to Sikkim --let you file your case in Sikkim and then pay you back
the money you have loaned me. This is my job for now. I will not
remove Situ Rinpoche's monks from Rumtek—that would be illegal,
and I am determined to abide by the law.”
Chamling began working with the New Delhi government to put pressure
on Bhandari for his cooperation with the Taiwanese millionaire Chen
Lu An and for shady dealings with the Chinese government. Pressure
continued to mount and the central government asked more and more
questions that Bhandari could not answer. By August 1995 things
had gotten so bad for Bhandari that he was forced to resign in disgrace.
This was an event of such import to the Karmapa controversy that
devout Buddhists in Sikkim said at the time that Karmapa's protectors
must have inspired Chamling to conceive his coup.
But still the Karmapa Charitable Trust could not file its case because
its trustee JD Densapa was afraid that Bhandari's party would return
and exact revenge. Tired of waiting, in August of 1996, the legitimate
monks of Rumtek held a hunger strike to call on the state government
to restore them to their monastery. New Chief Minister Chamling
invited 40 senior lamas to his residence for a conference. There
he suggested that there was “no point in sleeping on the road” and
continuing their protest. The government could not legally remove
the monks of Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches from Rumtek. Instead, their
only remedy was to request a court order to return them to their
Secretary of the International Karma Kagyu Buddhist Organization