Myanmar And Daw Aung Suu Kyi: The Liberal Pragmatic – Analysis


Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National League of Democracy (NLD), the principal opposition party in Myanmar was on a visit to India from November 13-18, 2012. It was in many ways on less than a state visit but for the ceremonials of inspection of guards at arms and a banquet. The Noble Laureate demonstrated qualities of a pragmatic liberal balancing needs of real politic while supporting the path of individual and collective freedoms.

This was evident in snippets of her interaction with the Indian political leadership, at the Nehru Memorial Lecture on the occasion of the birth Anniversary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru that she delivered on November 14, 2012 and the couple of media interviews that she gave during her stay in Delhi. Her overall response to the transformation in her country including the limits, approach towards the military which had kept her in detention for years and India which from having staunchly supported her struggle for democracy and freedom at one time succumbed to the nuances of regional power play to counter China’s rising influence.

The pragmatic is reflected in Aung Suu Kyi’s approach towards transition in the country from a military junta ruled state to a controlled democracy and a mixed economy. Remarkably self assured she seems to have adjusted well with the former military leadership led by President Thein Sein, holds no acrimony against the uniform and in fact is using the legacy of her father, a top ranking officer of his time to advantage to establish an emotional bond with the uniformed. She is also holding out a warning to the outsiders who are overly optimistic of Myanmar’s transition that it is not irreversible and there could be major hiccups. This could also be a warning to the military that she can swing opinion in its disfavor in case there is a back step from the current state of reforms.

Acutely aware of the limits of her freedoms she has refused to take on the military in the most critical issue in the country at present the Buddhist majority and Rohingya minority clashes in Rakhine province adjoining Bangladesh. She is strictly following state policy that Rohingya’s don’t have rights of citizenship and has even rebuffed the advice of HH Dalai Lama.

She has defended the Army stating that it has been firing not just at the Rohingya but also the Buddhist in the interview with Mr Karan Thapar on CNN IBN. In the same interview she declared herself as a completely political animal and refused to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing so to say as many political leaders project themselves. It is this refreshingly candid approach that has possibly won her many admirers.

Correct in her relations with the outside world, she has visited Thailand, European countries, the US and then India. This is the trajectory of support that she perceives she gained during the period of her detention. Thus India came much lower in her itinerary of engagements outside Myanmar.

At the same time she did not hold any recriminations against India’s policy and only indicated that she was saddened with New Delhi’s approach and reached out for reestablishment of relations. Most appropriately she referred to the liberal pacifist leaders of the past Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru as her inspiration. In her Nehru Memorial Lecture she even mentioned Subhas Chandra Bose who raised the Indian National Army in Burma during the Second World War and in collaboration with the Japanese sought to evict the British by force an option which the Indian National Congress had rejected thus making the legacy somewhat disputed

For India reestablishing bonds with Myanmar’s political leadership is important for it has been ‘spanked,’ in the past by many liberal global leaders including US President Barack Obama in his speech in the Indian Parliament in 2010 for abandoning Suu Kyi and the NLD. India’s shift in policy supposedly to prevent the country falling in Chinese arms may appear somewhat silly today but was dictated by the reality of the late 1990’s. This also underlines misreading of the military leadership in Myanmar which while playing ball with China ensured a perceptible distance so that sovereignty of the country was never compromised.

Suu Kyi’s pragmatism denotes that India being an immediate neigbhour cannot be ignored despite past disappointments and may also act as a counter weight not just against China but also the West given the over enthusiasm with which Myanmar is being embraced today. This has provided India the opportunity to reengage with the entire spectrum of Myanmar’s polity from the military junta to the NLD and will serve the country well in a future scenario where the party and leadership may emerge as important stake holders in Myanmar’s governance structure.

Aung Suu Kyi’s pragmatic liberalism is a win-win policy for the present but the challenges in the future are more than evident with issues as Rohingya questioning her credentials and commitment. A woman of great character and courage hopefully she should outlast her opponents in Myanmar both in and out of uniform.

Rahul Bhonsle

Brigadier (Retd.) Rahul K. Bhonsle manages a strategic risk and knowledge management consultancy – — focusing on strategic culture and security trends in South Asia, future warfare and human security.

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