Homecoming. Reconciliation. Loss and nostalgia. Expectations and Disappointment. These are all grand tropes, encapsulating a miniature universe of emotions and meanings. And these words are not the kind one would normally associate with politicians, but they are more in tune with questing spirits, specially the chosen ones who have dived to the depths of despair only to journey back, incandescent with hope. Myanmar’s iconic leader Aung San Suu Kyi is an epitome of this restless questing spirit and insatiable hunger for freedom. She has been in India for the past few days, and has been feted like a head of state, with the ubiquitous media chasing her whereever she goes, but what has left a deep and enduring impress is a glimpse of her “pilgrim soul,” that she spoke about, quoting her favorite poem of W.B. Yeats.
“How many have loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And the loved the sorrows of your changing face”
There were weighty issues on the table when she interacted with the Indian prime minister and his senior ministers like the tortuous process of national reconciliation, the space for dissent and the prospects of stability in her energy-rich country that is still recovering from decades of oppression wrought by the once all-powerful junta. And she spoke honestly about all these complex issues, making it clear to India and the world that democracy has not been achieved in Burma yet even as investors smell money in the opening up of that country and there is still the long difficult road ahead.
India, which had once distanced from her struggle for democracy in the late Eighties and early Nineties due to compulsions of realpolitick, energy security and the Chinese dragon’s foray into her backyard, was now rolling out the red carpet for the same indomitable Suu Kyi, but there was not a trace of glee or self-vindication in her bearing or utterances. Instead, what one saw was deep-down humility, a resolute determination to traverse the hard road she has chosen, and the radiant spirit of forgiving and moving ahead.
Expectations and disappointment, she said, are not something people should “indulge in”. “I was saddened to see 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 based on lasting friendships between our two peoples,” Suu Kyi said in a deeply moving speech in New Delhi Nov 14. “Governments come and go, and that’s what democracy is all about, but people remain,” she said.
Suu Kyi underlined that Myanmar had still not reached the goal of democracy and said that in “this last, I hope, and most difficult phase, India will stand by us and walk by us as we proceed on the path that they were able to proceed upon many years before us”.
India had supported Suu Kyi in her fight against the military junta in the 1980s and early ’90s, but rejigged its policy in the mid-90s, pursuing the path of pragmatism and realpolitick. Two key factors that prompted India to revise its pro-democracy stance were the activities of rebels from northeastern states who established shelters on the India-Myanmar border and a marked increase in Chinese influence and investment in Myanmar.
Moving beyond vagaries of politics, Suu Kyi, who studied in Lady Shriram College in New Delhi when her mother was an ambassador to India in the 1960s, showed undisguised love and affection for the people of India. Returning to her alma mater on a pleasant Friday morning (Nov 16), Suu Kyi said she was “partly a citizen of India.”
“Coming back to LSR is not just coming back home, it is coming back to a place where I know my aspirations have not been wrong. I have learnt that my faith in the oneness of human aspirations is justified. I’m coming to a place where I can feel that my hopes have not been in vain,” she said.
The Nobel laureate, who spent decades under house arrest and continues to wage a ceaseless struggle against the military junta in Myanmar, shuns compromise just as she “despises the lies of the state whose buildings grope the sky.” “Principles must always exist in politics. Unprincipled politics is the most dangerous thing in the world. If you compromise on your principles, I think you’d better stop engaging in politics,” she said.
It’s not the language of one has come to expect from politicians in these power-mongering times. But then Suu Kyi is no power freak: she is the questing journeyman with a song of freedom on her lips and the very song itself. You got to be the song you sing. “To be loved for one’s questing spirit is to be loved in the best possible way and to be given understanding and support through the hardships of a long struggle is never to be alone,” she said memorably in New Delhi. In the dark, the eyes begin to see, as a seer said.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.