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Is Suu Kyi the new Mandela?

india Updated: Jun 20, 2012 21:08 IST
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Hasn’t Aung San Suu Kyi suffered enough? On her first visit to Europe for 24 years, she attended a concert in her honour in Dublin on Monday, where she was treated to a performance by, yes, Riverdance. A step too far, surely. The concert was organised by Bono, and attended by a host of celebs — Bob Geldof of course, Vanessa Redgrave (ditto), Joely Richardson, Roger Moore, Seamus Heaney. Who else could get Moore and Heaney to the same do?She was greeted at the airport by the Irish foreign minister when she arrived in Bono’s private jet, and later met the president. Everyone wants a walk-on part in the Aung San Suu Kyi road show.

She has now moved on to Britain, where she will address both houses of Parliament on Thursday, meet David Cameron and foreign minister William Hague, and have an audience with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Or, rather, they will have an audience with her. Bono pronounced himself “star-struck” after meeting her, which is surely true of everyone, with the possible exception of her hero, the DJ Dave Lee Travis, whose show on the BBC World Service she used to listen to while under house arrest in Burma.

Suu Kyi is this decade’s answer to Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela — a saintly figure whom every politician and celebrity wants to touch in the hope that some of the sanctity rubs off. Wherever she goes, she is showered with awards and honorary degrees — she picked up her Nobel peace prize in Norway at the weekend, was given the freedom of Dublin on Monday, and gets an honorary degree from the Oxford University, on Wednesday. It must all be very wearing, but she shows unfailing courtesy and charm. “This will be one of the unforgettable days of my life,” she said of her Dublin visit.

There is no denying her star quality. It shines out of every photograph, and may be one of the reasons public figures want to be photographed with her. Her sculpted beauty and serenity make them glow, just as Mandela’s good humour and snazzy shirts seemed to energise the people he met. Cameron and Hague look unusually handsome and dignified standing beside her in a luxuriant Burmese garden; Hillary Clinton’s heartfelt embrace strikes just the right note of compassion and respect at a press conference in Norway before they flew to Ireland, Bono watches her with benign fascination.

These are tough times for public figures — especially politicians adrift in an age of austerity — and little wonder they cling to this personification of goodness. If you can’t be photographed running round with the Olympic torch, a snap of you next to a beaming Aung San Suu Kyi is not a bad substitute.