We are uniquely privileged to have witnessed the rise of three extraordinary peacemakers in our lifetime: Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. Mandela won his war and stepped back. The Dalai Lama is in constant struggle against the mighty Chinese. Suu Kyi’s fight for democracy has, in a sense, only just begun.
It’s not a coincidence that the lives of all three have been touched by India and its message of pluralism, peace and democracy. Looming large on the consciousness of all three is Gandhi and his creed of nonviolence.
Suu Kyi’s light, yet warm, reference to Jawaharlal Nehru in her historic address to the British parliament this week is further symbolic acknowledgement of that debt and her commitment to democratic reforms.
“Our by-elections were held on April 1 — and I am conscious there was a scepticism this would be an April Fools joke,” she told MPs. “In fact it turned out to be an April of new hope.”
Outside the London School of Economics this week, UK-based Myanmarese supporters of Suu Kyi spoke nostalgically about the Congress and Nehru. The UPA’s engagement with the military regime, they stressed, must not come at the cost of helping build institutions that will ensure enduring political reforms.
China too loomed over her visit, and although she took care not to criticise it, her 30-minute-long close-door meeting with the Dalai Lama is certain to set alarm bells ringing in Beijing.
In January 1947, Suu Kyi’s father Aung San — the hero of the nation’s independence fight — stopped over in New Delhi on his way to London. He consulted with Nehru before reaching a historic agreement with Prime Minister Clement Attlee on independence for Myanmar.
Sixty five years on, Suu Kyi’s struggle is trickier. In 1947, Britain was an imperial power in decline. Today, Suu Kyi wants to attract investments from all sources, including rising China, while seeing through her commitment to democratic eforms — hopefully, with the support of Britain and India.