Friday, May 24, 2013
Last Updated: 24 May 14:33 PM IST
19 November 2012
Despite Manmohan Singh’s attempts at course correction, Aung San Suu Kyi’s ability to mention her disappointment with India’s attitude of aloofness from Myanmar’s plight without sounding bitter is a testimony to her political maturity, writes ml kotru
When it comes to putting on display cultural arrogance, we Indians must rank among the loudest. True, there is something in our cultural heritage that make us feel taller than others but experience tells us that our self-appointed culture vultures wouldn’t hesitate to put a wholly Indian colour on anything.
I had the mortification of listening to one of them some years ago, a former professor of Physics at Allahabad University, holding forth for nearly an hour at the Central Hall of Parliament, on how “we” had mastered aviation and nuclear technology in times dating back to the age of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The Vimans carrying our Gods and their consorts were nothing other than today’s aircraft; the Brahmastras of Mahabharata were the present-day version of nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction. The worthy spoke very eloquently in shuddh Hindi, as was to be expected of our own senior BJP leader and former Union minister Murli Manohar Joshi. For us non-believers it was good fun, made that much more enjoyable by the regular flow of coffee from the Central Hall canteen.
I was reminded of Mr Joshi’s peroration the other day when Mr Karan Singh, an eminent scholar and a cultural heavyweight, chose to describe Burma as a part of India before it had attained freedom. This was while proposing a vote of thanks to the Myanmarese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi at last week’s Jawaharlal Nehru memorial function. Mr Singh obviously forgot that Burma was made a part of India purely for British administrative purposes; the British did initially, as World War II unleashed itself in our region via Japan, try to set up a major Army post in Rangoon but changed their mind and the headquarters of the Allied Forces were shifted to Singapore instead.
Burma (Myanmar) attained its independence in 1948 followed by civil war, Rangoon itself being besieged by rebel armies. And finally came the military takeover with Gen. Ne Win taking charge to usher in the “Burmese Way to Socialism” which faded into the background when a new military leader, Gen. Than Shwe, began consolidating his hold. Soon thereafter, Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy began its anti-Army campaign.
Unpopular as it was it remains unexplained why the junta decided to have elections in the country in 1990. Ms Suu Kyi, to the Army’s disgust, emerged the outright winner with 60 per cent of the national vote. She did not get power but she did get the Nobel Peace Prize the following year, the junta having decided against yielding power to her. Ms Suu kyi was put under house arrest. World opinion may have favoured Ms Suu Kyi but with an unyielding military in power there was little the world could do, apart from imposing sanctions mostly inane.
Years later Ms Suu Kyi has again been permitted by the army to take a place along with some of her colleagues in the country’s Army-dominated parliament. And this may be why Ms Suu Kyi revealed during her brief Indian visit her irritation with friendly countries such as India for having turned their backs on the Myanmarese people and allowing the Generals to have a run of the country.
That’s also the prime reason for her to have repeatedly expressed her disappointment with the Indian government during last week’s visit to Delhi. She did not fail to mention the deemed Indian indifference to her people’s plight when the Indian Prime Minister, on his visit to military-ruled Myanmar, unlike many other distinguished world leaders, chose not to call on her, instead opting to receive her in his rooms provided by the military government.
This did not go down well with Ms Suu Kyi and hence her pointed references to the fact during her visit to New Delhi that relations between the peoples of the two countries should be put on a higher pedestal than inter-government relations. For her part, she did not hesitate to recall how Jawaharlal Nehru, whose personal guest her father Gen. Aung San had been, had ordered two proper military uniforms made for the visiting Burmese freedom fighter then en route to London. Ms Suu Kyi, who was just two years old at the time, remembers how Nehru had asked that the thin cotton uniform worn by the General be replaced with a proper warm military uniform befitting the Burmese leader. Two sets were made overnight and Gen Aung San cut a very impressive figure when he left for London. This was soon after Myanmar had attained freedom and was almost simultaneously slipping in to a civil war.
On her first visit to India in over four decades ~ remember she studied at New Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College from where she graduated in Political Science ~ both Ms Suu Kyi and her hosts did try to put an end to an uncomfortable past. Full credit to Ms Suu Kyi that she did not allow her stated “disappointment” with India to cloud her overall feelings for this country. India was not among the front rank of those to condemn the military junta’s role in imprisoning and later in trying to isolate her politically.
It irked her to see India, which sees itself as a beacon of democracy in the world, nearly abandon her during her long incarceration. It speaks of her maturity when she mentions the disappointment which India’s attitude of aloofness from Myanmar’s plight caused without sounding bitter. India has, after China, become one of Myanmar’s most important business partners. That may well be the reason why India chose to go the extra mile in warmly owning, as it were, the Myanmar leader as someone whose friendship this country valued very highly. That also explains why she was accorded a reception normally reserved for heads of state, including a dinner by the Prime Minister, and high-level interactions.
For the record, Ms Suu Kyi has said that she was asked in New Delhi repeatedly about her “expectations and disappointments” on her visit to the country and “ I have thought about it carefully and realised that expectations and disappointment are not something we can indulge in” adding that she had indeed been saddened by India’s conduct. It is on record that India cooperated for decades with the military rulers of Mynamar as it tried to tackle the insurgency in the North-east and to counter Chinese influence in resource-rich Myanmar.
Mr Manmohan Singh, in fact, was seen carrying out a course correction when he met Ms Suu Kyi during his visit to Mynamar in May, also delivering the invitation from the Congress president to visit India. Government sources do not hesitate to admit that while supporting the ongoing political transformation in the country India continues to do a balancing act, as it looks upon Myanmar under President Thein Sen as its gateway to not just Asean countries but also to China. This has also been conveyed to Ms Suu Kyi ~ not very convincingly, to be sure.
As a political activist and a committed democrat, Ms Suu Kyi is not the kind of person who would want to understand how a junta and a democracy can co-exit. That may be why she kept on repeating this past week the disappointment she has faced in trying to understand the Indian government’s position vis-à-vis the military regime in Mynamar and hence her emphasis for greater understanding at the people’s level.
The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor of The Statesman, Delhi