It is one of the ironies of the modern times that even if we search and search, it is difficult to find in India, any person of stature and eminence, to whom we might feel like seriously listening to. In my young days, we had so many people from almost all fields of life, who had donated a major part of their lives for a cause. They had given up prospects of a cozy life or had gone to jail fighting for a cause, which was dear to their lives. We had social reformers like Dhondo Keshav Karve or Political personalities like Vallabhbhai Patel. We had great freedom fighters like V.D.Sawarkar. We had men of letters or litterateurs like P.L.Deshpande or P.K.Atre. Just compare this galaxy of persons from yesteryear, with the dwarfs we have around now except for the possible exception of a previous prime minister, and you would realize what I am trying to say.
On international scene today, we do have couple of persons, for whom I have great feeling of respect. One such person is obviously “the lady” from Burma, Madam Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent almost 15 years of her lifetime in prison, fighting for democracy and opposing the oppressive rule of a military junta in Myanmar. I was looking forward to hear her, during her recent visit to India as the leader of opposition in Myanmar's new democratic setup. This week, when I saw an announcement on one of the local TV channels that they would be carrying her speech live, I was glad and listened to her delivering the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial lecture on Wednesday, 13th November 2012.
Madam Suu Kyi is no doubt a great speaker. Being a politician, she has perfected the art of taking her thoughts straight to listeners. Her English is perfect and so is her diction. She speaks with a crisp pronunciation that is easy to understand for Indians. This could be because of her education in India and the time she spent as a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies between 1987 and1988 with her husband. In her speech, she spoke about the influence of Indian leaders, like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the principles that guided India’s freedom struggle and how they inspired her as she continues to strive for a democratic Myanmar. According to her, the thoughts and actions of leaders of the Indian independence movement, inspired the movement in Burma and that their pro-democracy movement was firmly based on non-violence.
In a very interesting way, she linked the milestones in her life to Nehru like her reaching Oxford for higher education the same year as Nehru died, being placed under house arrest for the first time the year of his birth centenary, grappling with the predilections, uncertainties and dilemmas the same way as he did when he was incarcerated.
Talking of her house arrest, the pro-democracy leader said among the ‘maps’ that used to see her through the years that headed into the unknown were Nehru’s autobiography and ‘Disovery of India’ and quoted what she learnt about “law and order” from Kalhan’s Rajtarangini, the 12th century historic chronicle of kings in Kashmir.
I do not know whether she did it purposely or not, but she failed to mention any leaders of present day India even as mildly inspiring. A sad commentary on the quality of leadership we have today.
Perhaps the best part of her speech was about friendship between nations. She said that ever since her arrival in India she was constantly asked about her expectations from India and the two words that have been persistently mentioned are “expectation” and “disappointment” in the context of her visit to India and about India not standing by Myanmar. She said; “Expectation is not something we can indulge in, disappointment too is not something we can indulge in. I have been saddened to feel India drawn away from us during our difficult days,”She was “saddened” by India’s stand, particularly because she felt close to India and added that had Mahatma Gandhi been alive he would have been “vocal” about his “disapproval” of India’s stand regarding her country. “I think Mahatma Gandhi would have been very vocal about his disapproval. He would have stood by us ... he would have insisted that India stand by us because that was the kind of man he was,” she said. In spite of this saddening of her mind, she still remains hopeful, because she believes that lasting friendships between nations should be based on people, not governments; governments come and go and that is what democracy is all about.
What about future? Madam Suu Kyi minced no words. Her forthright reply was that she has no hesitation about contesting for the presidency in the next election due in 2015. She said “I don’t have any hesitations. What is democratic politics about if we don’t try to win for our party and if my party wins, obviously I would like to be the leader of that party which means the leader of that government.”
This great leader of the Burmese people, who was introduced to the listeners as a person endowed with fearlessness, integrity, moral and intellectual courage, perseverance, freedom from anger and bitterness, came to India, after a long time. She saw modern India and must have wondered, whether modern day India, now led by dwarfs, can really be helpful in betterment of the life of her people through the path of dialogue and national reconciliation.
I think that India is extremely lucky to have a true friend like Madam Suu Kyi in Burma. India must help her to achieve her goals.
17 November 2012