Dharamsala Tibetan exiles played down on Monday speculation of a challenge to the Dalai Lama's "middle way approach" to China, at the start of a special meeting to discuss their policy of pushing for autonomy in the region.
"A change in policy need not come from this meeting," the Tibetan cabinet-in-exile said in a statement. "If a change in basic policy is considered necessary, there is a way that is democratic and which has the mandate of the Tibetan people."
Hundreds of Tibetans are attending the six-day meeting at the seat of the government-in-exile in northern India, in what could result in a change to their spiritual leader's stance of pushing for autonomy rather than independence for Tibet.
Many are frustrated at the lack of progress in talks with China, which in early November again rejected a long-standing demand for autonomy at the eighth round of talks between Chinese officials and envoys of the Dalai Lama.
"It is difficult to conclude if such tremendous efforts by His Holiness have brought any positive results," the cabinet's statement said, though it added that the Dalai Lama had followed the "middle way" with the full mandate of the Tibetan people.
The 73-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, who called for the meeting in September but who will not personally attend, recently hinted his "middle way" for Tibet had failed, and speculation has grown he wants to step back from day-to-day political leadership.
The speaker of the Tibetan government-in-exile told Reuters the cabinet has consulted thousands of Tibetans inside Tibet ahead of the meeting for their opinions on policy.
More than 5,000 of those asked called for a change to the "middle way" approach, 2,000 said it should continue as it is, while 8,000 said they would follow any future decision taken by the Dalai Lama, Karma Choephel said.
Beijing had pressured the Indian government to prevent the meeting of exiles from taking place, the speaker added. Around a thousand people gathered at a school in Dharamsala on Monday for the inaugural ceremony of the meeting, carrying a framed picture of the Dalai Lama.
The Tibetan government-in-exile offered prayers and made effigies to counter the belief this Monday was a "black day" in Tibetan astrology, an astrologer told Reuters.
The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959, was hospitalised with abdominal pain in August and underwent gallstone surgery in October. He says Chinese rule stifles religious and cultural freedom in Tibet and skews wealth and opportunities away from poor Tibetans while encouraging influxes of Chinese migrants.
Chinese officials last week said while the door to Tibetan independence or semi-independence would never open, the door to talks was always open. Beijing vilifies the Dalai Lama as a traitor and earlier this year accused him of orchestrating a deadly wave of unrest in Tibet ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
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