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Mainstream, VOL L No 48, November 17, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Discovery of Nehru


Wednesday 21 November 2012, by SC


The grace, dignity, candour and transparency with which she spoke while delivering the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture in the Capital yesterday (November 14), that is, on the occasion of our first PM’s 123rd birth anniversary, indeed marked her out as “one of the most remarkable figures of our time” as Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi aptly described Burma’s iconic pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Kuu Kyi, extending her a “most heartfelt welcome”.

For those of us, who have followed with admiration (tinged also with some trepidation) her every move since her beptism of fire in 1989, Suu Kyi was and remains an enduring icon precisely because of her extraordinary resilience in the face of heaviest of odds braving allround repression perpetrated by one of the most brutal and ruthless military regimes the world has known. And she provided ample evidence of that in her moving address with the simplest of words as well as her most dignified impromptu observations following her formal speech—wherein she boldly and honestly expressed her sadness, albeit temporary, when she found India drawing away from the Burmese struggle for democracy.

“I was saddened to feel that we had drawn away from India, or rather that India had drawn away from us, during our very difficult days, but I always had faith in the lasting friendship between our two countries, faith in the lasting friendship between our two peoples,” she told the gathering at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan. Thereafter she laid emphasis on “friendship between peoples” to qualify “not friendship between governments”, because—as she added to warm and prolonged applause—“governments come and go and that’s what democracy is all about”. One did not miss Sonia Gandhi enthusiastically joining in the applause.

In her formal speech she gave instances of Jawaharlal Nehru’s influence on her especially during her years of incarceration in the desolate atmosphere of house arrest in Rangoon. How an ailing Kamala had told her husband never to give even an informal assurance or undertaking to keep away from politics for the rest of his prison term in order secure his release to tend to her. This left a deep impress on Suu who said:

After my release from my first term of house arrest, I made public speeches to supporters who gathered in the street outside my garden at weekends. On one such occasion, I spoke of the above episode and urged the families of democracy activists to cultivate Kamala’s forti-tude and dedication. Such are the exigencies of dangerous causes.

She also recalled how she had copied a long paragraph from Nehru’s Autobiography [relating to law and order under British rule—an achievement based on widespread fear and coercion—in contrast to law and order as spelt out in Rajtarangini, the Kashmiri epic bby the poet Kalhana, grounded on dharma and abhaya—righteousness and absence of fear] and hung the sheet of paper in the entrance hall of her house that was frequented by securitymen with ‘Jawaharlal Nehru’ written in large red letters “not just in acknowledgement of authorship but as a defiant name flung at all who had a warped view of law and order”.

The concluding words of her formal speech were all the more eloquent and moving underscoring her immeasurable closeness to India and its people:

Today, as I thank all of you for honouring me with the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Prize (which was conferred on her way back in 1995 when she was still in detention in her motherland—S.C.), I would like to express my deep appreciation for the leaders of India who became my most precious friends because their lines helped me to find my way through uncharted terrain. The discovery of Nehru was also a discovery of myself.

It is good that Suu has been allowed to come to India and deliver the lecture as well as meet the people, notably her friends, and travel around the country. But as one had stated earlier, one has followed her moves with admiration tinged with “trepidation”. That is because of past experience. Way back in May 1990 Suu’s National League for Democracy had won a landslide victory in a historic election. At that time this writer had observed:

...the remarkable victory of the NLD is a tribute to the democratic aspirations of the people of Myanmar. But the NLD still faces many uphill tasks ahead. Despite its protestations, the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) will seek all means to prevent a smooth transfer of power (which anyway is conditional on the framing of a new Constitution by the legislature). The attempts to block an early drafting of the Constitution are expected to be stepped up in a bid to nullify the popular verdict. This is where democratic opinion across the world (that was instrumental in compelling the military rulers to hold the elections), and India in particular with its democratic credentials, must effectively intervene and give a fitting rebuff to the machinations of the blood-thirsty despots clinging on to power in Yangon (Rangoon).

That ‘effective intervention’ did not take place and the military Generals had their way in crushing the people’s aspirations and overturning the democratic verdict to return Burma to the dark age.

Can that happen once again? The fear behind that question refuses to leave one’s mind even now. For how can one trust the military Generals notwithstanding all the ‘changes’ that have taken place of late?

Meanwhile some of the security experts in our country are continuing to warn us to ‘avoid the romanticisation of Aung San Suu Kyi’. One of them in a signed piece has also presented a ‘pragmatic perspective’ for our persual and acceptance: “We must strengthen our relations with her and her party and build on the emotional links of the past without allowing the realpolitik links with the (Burmese) Armed Forces to rust.” In other words, running with the hare and hunting with the hound, a delicate balancing act bordering on opportunism, that strikes at the root of democracy as upheld by Jawaharlal Nehru.

Such ideas fail to grasp the inexorable march of history in our easternmost neighbourhood (amidst all such problems like the fate that has currently befallen the hapless Rohingyas in the Arakan province). The basic truth is that whatever happens in the near future the people’s democratic urges cannot be suppressed for all time. Suu Kyi’s struggle is bound to triumph in the end. Despite the lurking doubts in one’s mind, her public pronouncements in New Delhi have only reinforced that conviction. This country of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru must positively respond to the appeal implicit in her words: “We have not yet achieved the goal of democracy, we are still irying, and we hope that in this last, I hope, and most difficult phase the people of India will stand by us and walk by us.”

And by doing so we shall be able to rediscover Nehru for our own benefit while offering our best homage to his abiding memory.

November 15 S.C.

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