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Beauty & the beast

columns Updated: Aug 01, 2010 01:34 IST
Karan Thapar

Have you observed how India is easily roused by military dictators in Islamabad but is unconcerned about those that strut and fume in Rangoon? The Pakistani variety stick in our throat. The Burmese were hosted to a special State visit last week. You might even have noticed General Than Shwe, with his rows of shining medals, as you were stuck in traffic while His Nibs drove past.

Now I’m not complaining about the splendid hospitality laid on for the tin pots from Burma. Reluctantly I’ve come to accept — although not agree with — the argument that the swaggering generalissimos, who keep their own citizens in a state of abject and often hungry terror, claim to contain our Ulfa, NSCN and other rebels and, therefore, serve India’s national interest. Sadly, even though I disagree, most of you probably believe that interest is better served securing the support of military dictators who have savagely crushed democracy at home rather than standing by the lady they’ve kept in jail for almost 15 of the last 21 years.

The question I want to ask is did the Indian government, so proud of ruling the world’s largest democracy, raise Aung San Suu Kyi with her captor? And if they did, what did her jailor say? In fact, let me go one step further, did our democrats attempt to use such influence as they have to encourage the be-ribboned tyrant to turn the key and let her go?

I don’t know the answer but I fear it’s probably no. For the last decade we’ve effectively forgotten Aung San Suu Kyi and the cause she stands for. No longer is the voice of the world’s largest democracy heard loudly and clearly in her support. If we do speak, its sotto voce, mumbled and probably with a sprinkling of compliments for the generals in case they take it amiss.

I think it’s reprehensible and shameful that India’s democracy can’t find a way of supporting a lady who is today one of the world’s symbols of the fight against tyranny. Other than Mandela, I can’t think of anyone who has made a greater personal sacrifice for the cause of democracy and liberty. Nehru and Gandhi pale in comparison. In the years since 1989, when she was first jailed, Suu Kyi has been unable to see her husband, who died of cancer, her two sons or her grandchildren. She’s lost her family but remains devoted to her cause. We seem to have forgotten that Suu Kyi grew up in India, was educated in Delhi and once considered India her second home. In 1992 we gave her the Nehru Prize.

We’ve also forgotten that lasting relationships are built among people and not governments. Than Shwe and his bully boys may rule the roost today but they cannot continue forever. One day the Burmese people will be restored to their rights. On that day Suu Kyi will be their rightful leader. Of one thing I am certain, even if she dies in jail or is forever kept out of elections, Than Shwe and his cohorts are not the future. It lies with Suu Kyi or, at least, with her cause.

Alas, we seem to be unable to see ahead. We also don’t believe in helping friends. So I wonder how Suu will look on us when the situation changes? Will she forgive our neglect? Our silence? And our expedient support for the oppressors who’ve kept her locked up?

The views expressed by the author are personal