By C. S. Kuppuswamy
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited India from 13-18 November 2012. During the visit, in New Delhi, she met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Vice president Hamid Ansari, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Minister for External Affairs Salman Kurshid, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and speaker of Lok Sabha Meira Kumar. She paid homage by laying wreaths at the Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi and the Samadhi of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
She delivered the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture 2012 “Discovery of Nehru” on 14 November 2012 at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi. She was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Prize in 1992 which she could not receive in person.
In an unscheduled visit, she went to the Myanmar Embassy in New Delhi on 15 November 2012 where she was received by the Charg’e d’ affaires.
She paid a visit to her alma mater-Lady Shri Ram College on 16 November 2012, where from she had graduated in 1964.
On 16 November 1962, she met the Burmese community in New Delhi at Vikaspuri, where most of them are located. Some Burmese residing near the Indo-Burma border travelled more than 2000 miles to hear Suu Kyi (Mizzima News 17 November 2012).
Towards the end of the visit, she had also been to Gurgaon for visiting The Energy & Resources Institute, to Anantpur District (Andhra Pradesh) to study the socio-economic transformation of people in villages through government schemes and to Bengaluru to visit the Infosys.
It was more or less a state visit but for the absence of honour guards and banquets. It was also more of a homecoming for her as she stayed in Delhi in the early 1960s when her mother Daw Khin Kyi served as Myanmar’s Ambassador to India. She last visited India in 1987 to join her husband Michel Aris in Shimla where he was studying. Rahul Bhonsle, a political analyst writes that “The Nobel Laureate demonstrated qualities of a pragmatic liberal balancing needs of real politic while supporting the path of individual and collective freedoms”.
She was candid, though cautious and diplomatic in all her addresses at the various fora in Delhi. Here are some excerpts from Suu Kyi’s speeches on varied subjects such as democracy in Burma, her Indian connections, politics, national reconciliation, the ethnic issue, the sectarian strife in Arakan etc.
“Politics is about people and people are about relationships, whether at a private or public level. The two Indian leaders to whom I feel closest are undoubtedly Gandhi and Nehru because many of the challenges they faced along the path to independence are the ones we have been facing over the course of our struggle which will mark its quarter century next year”. (Nehru Memorial Lecture)
India’s Myanmar Policy
“I was saddened by the fact that India had drawn away in our most difficult days but always had faith in our lasting relationship” she said. “Friendship should be based between people and governments; governments come and go”. “We hope that in the last phase of our struggle India will stand by us on the path that they were able to proceed on many years ago”(At end of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial lecture)
“I think he (Gandhi) would have stood by us…He would have insisted that India stand by us because that was the kind of man he was. I think Mahatma Gandhi would have been very vocal about his disapproval” (In an interview with Karan Thapar, CNN)
Recent Developments in Myanmar
“Not to be over- optimistic, at the same time to be encouraging of what needs to be encouraged ; because I think too much optimism doesn’t help because then you ignore what is going wrong , and if you ignore what is not right, then from not right it becomes wrong”(In an interview to an English daily)
“Democratic rights are precious. Many things you take for granted here, we are fighting for in Burma. Many of our young people don’t know what campus life means, there is no life outside the classrooms of Burmese universities” (In her address at the Lady Shri Ram College)
“The definition of freedom has never changed for me. To be able to speak up and resent what is not right is genuine democracy. That is what freedom is for me”. (In an interview to Times of India in Andhra Pradesh).
Ethnic Groups and National Reconciliation
“First of all, we will have to recognise the aspirations of the ethnic nationalities. If we go beyond material development—I think the perception is that if you provide enough development they will be satisfied. It is not like that. They have their sense of identity and traditions and aspirations. These must be recognised. The important thing is to look for a political settlement. This again comes back to the constitution. The constitution, as it is, is not going to satisfy the aspirations of the ethnic nationalities”, (In an interview to the Outlook).
“In our Union, we should not think that one region’s problem is not related to ours. In fact it is related to the whole country. Wherever a problem takes place, we need to look at its effect on the entire country. That is why we need talks along the lines of a ‘Second Panglong Conference’ that brings the various ethnic groups together in achieving unity—a unity that comes from our hearts. I mean a conference that will promote the ‘Spirit of Panglong” (In her address to the Burmese community in Delhi)
Her Fondness for the Army
“Well, I am a little surprised, because I have always said I have great affection for the army which, after all, my father founded. If they are criticising me now for talking fondly about the army—though I don’t like what they do or what they have done in the past—I still am fond of the army. If they have woken up to the fact, it means that they have not been listening to what I have been saying for the last twenty or so years. I am well aware that you cannot go into politics without opening yourself up for criticism. It is just part of life”, (In an interview to the Outlook)
Amendment to 2008 Constitution
“I think some of the most important sections will have to be amended before the 2015 election, if 2015 is going to establish us firmly on the road to democracy………Yes, not because it bars me from running for the office of the President, but (because) I think it’s not right that any Constitution should have been framed with one person in mind” (In an interview to The Hindu).
On her becoming the President
“I would like my party to win because it has the people behind it, and in that respect, I’d be prepared to take over the position of the president. Not so much because I want to be President of a country but because I want the President of the country to be elected through the will of the people”. (In an interview to The Hindu)
For the Indian Investors
“Myanmar is rich in energy resources, but also needs investment. We look for responsible investment that is not only sensitive to the environment, but also secures the future of our country,” (during a visit to TERI).
“I would like India to focus attention on strengthening local government. We are a union made up of many ethnic nationalities, and I would like would-be investors to focus on how to bring us closer together as a union but at the same time, to be fully aware of the fact that development is no substitute for democracy. And that aspirations of our ethnic nationalities go beyond mere development”. (In an interview to The Hindu)
Obama’s Visit to Myanmar
“It is certainly not long overdue, nor is it premature. The US has been a good friend to the movement for democracy in Burma. Whatever they are doing they are doing with the intention of promoting democracy, rather than endorsing any particular regime”. (In an interview to the Outlook)
There was much euphoria on the visit in the Indian media which rarely covers the happenings in Myanmar. The awareness of the Indian people and media in particular about Myanmar, an important neighbor, which was very low till recently is picking up thanks to the visit of PM Manmohan Singh to Yangon in May this year and the current visit of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Though she has been very eloquent and forthright in her views, she was non-controversial and exhibited the qualities of a seasoned politician. She never indicted the army for all its past atrocities as she is fully aware that its support is very much essential for achieving her goals. Her remarks were more generalized than pointing fingers at any one in particular.
Some Indian analysts have rightly pointed out that despite her ‘sadness’ on India’s engagement with the erstwhile military government and the current civil government (filled with military personnel in civil dress), India should continue with its Myanmar policy in the best interests of the country.
However the likelihood of her becoming the head of state after the 2015 elections should be borne in mind and people to people contacts maintained and the democracy movement encouraged with due credence to her views.
Thanks for reading Eurasia Review. For more of our reporting make sure to sign up for our free newsletter!