'Distant' India made Suu Kyi unhappy

New Delhi kept quiet during difficult days

Myanmar’s iconic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday subtly gave vent to her unhappiness over New Delhi’s policy of engagement with the military junta, instead of supporting the pro-democracy movement in her country.

Sending out a message to New Delhi, the Nobel laureate democracy activist said that relations between India and Myanmar should be based on friendship between peoples, and not the governments, of the two countries.

“I was saddened to feel that we were drawn away from India, or rather India was drawn away from us during our most difficult days, but I always had faith in the lasting friendship between our two countries based on lasting friendships between our two peoples,” said Suu Kyi, whom the military junta of Myanmar had kept under house arrest for almost 15 of the 21 years between 1989 and 2010. She was delivering the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture – 17 years after she was in 1995 awarded the prestigious award instituted in the name of the first prime minister of India.

The chairperson of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy is currently on a tour to New Delhi, a city where she spent several of her early years. She lived in New Delhi when her mother Khin Kyi was the envoy of Myanmar (then Burma) to India. She studied in the Convent of Jesus and Mary in New Delhi and graduated from the capital’s Lady Shri Ram College in 1964. She will also travel to Bangalore.

During a visit to Myanmar last May, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed to Suu Kyi an invitation from Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who also heads the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, to come to India and deliver the lecture.

“This is what I wish to emphasise again and again. Friendship between countries should be based on friendship between people and not friendship between governments,” Suu Kyi said, adding: “Governments come and go, and that’s what democracy is all about, but people remain. And as long as our people remain bound in understanding and mutual respect, the friendship between our two countries will last far into the future.” With many of her teachers and old friends joining New Delhi’s political luminaries in the Vigyan Bhavan to listen to her, Suu Kyi recalled her father Aung San’s close association with Jawahar Lal Nehru, her childhood memories of Delhi and how “Discovery of India” penned by “Panditji” had given her company during her “lonely” days under house arrest.

“She exemplifies all qualities he (Nehru) most admired - fearlessness, integrity, moral and intellectual courage, perseverance, freedom from anger and bitterness and unqualified devotion to betterment of the life of her people through the path of dialogue and national reconciliation,” Sonia said, introducing Suu Kyi before the latter delivered the lecture.

Suu Kyi, who leads Myanmar’s National League for Democracy, had a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the latter’s residence earlier in the day. “Our good wishes are with you as indeed with your struggle for democracy. We admire you for the indomitable courage you have shown,” official sources quoted Singh telling the Myanmarese leader. They discussed a variety of issues including the national reconciliation process and the process of democratisation underway in Myanmar. Official sources said that Singh had welcomed the progress made by Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s President Thien Sein.

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