Sunday, November 14, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi

Today is Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru's 121 birth anniversary, celebrated in India as Children's Day. Nehru's moral position on many international issues were a cause of much irritation with India amongst the Western Powers who felt India's Prime Minister spent far too much of his time pontificating. Whatever be the truth behind those sentiments, there is no doubt that India's moral standing in the world, particularly amongst the newly independent or soon to be independent countries of Africa and Asia owes much to Nehru's uncompromising stand on freedom and democracy.

Aung San, the celebrated Burmese nationalist and freedom fighter, like many others of his ilk, was a close friend and admirer of Nehru. Today, Nehru's birthday, I cannot help feeling that he would have been deeply overjoyed that his friend Aung San's uncompromising daughter had been released from house arrest after a total of about 15 years. Nehru spent over 10 years in jail and became Prime Minister of an independent India at the age of 59. Aung San Suu Kyi is today 65, somewhat older than Nehru when he became Prime Minister, but considerably younger than Nelson Mandela when he was freed. Nehru's encouragement and blessings, had he been alive, would have been with her, as she continues to fight the corrupt and despotic military regime in her country. Unfortunately, present day India, as Shashi Tharoor put it (see my last post) no longer has the soul to consider this an important event. Not a single statement has emerged from the bureaucratic mandarins of the External Affairs Ministry.

A set of pictures and a couple of videos can be seen at the New York Times website.

5 comments:

truti said...

Rahul, also score one more for the way Gandhi showed us. Gandhi never claimed to invent satygraha or anything else, he only showed us what it involves and what we must do to be satyagrahis, howsoever imperfectly. This is also the time to revisit Orwell's tribute to Gandhi. Although I am sure you have read the essay, so bear with me as I post an excerpt,

At the same time there is reason to think that Gandhi, who after all was born in 1869, did not understand the nature of totalitarianism and saw everything in terms of his own struggle against the British government. The important point here is not so much that the British treated him forbearingly as that he was always able to command publicity. As can be seen from the phrase quoted above, he believed in "arousing the world," which is only possible if the world gets a chance to hear what you are doing. It is difficult to see how Gandhi's methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. Without a free press and the right of assembly, it is impossible not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your intentions known to your adversary. Is there a Gandhi in Russia at this moment? And if there is, what is he accomplishing? The Russian masses could only practise civil disobedience if the same idea happened to occur to all of them simultaneously, and even then, to judge by the history of the Ukraine famine, it would make no difference. But let it be granted that non-violent resistance can be effective against one's own government, or against an occupying power: even so, how does one put it into practise internationally?

In the 60 odd years since Gandhi's passing satyagraha has if anything proven to be an effective means of bringing about better societies. Beginning with the Civil Rights movement in the US - which achieved what the bloody civil war did not a 100 years earlier, the collapse of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe, and the ending of apartheid, have all been brought about through means that are better described as peaceful. Even China which 21 years ago crushed its students in Tiananmen Square, today listens to its people, and actually sits by as what we would call morchas, and gheraos are organised every now and then. Pakistan has seen a military dictator - Musharraf - being booted out by people power. And now Burma. That leaves, North Korea and Saudi Arabia and a few others, maybe Sudan, Somalia.

Rahul Basu said...

truti: Orwell obituary (or assessment if you wish) of Gandhi was perhaps one of the most balanced I have ever read. There was no attempt to turn him into a God like figure as we keep doing nowadays.

However, I think you are celebrating too early. Suu Kyi has only been released, it's going to be a long haul to get rid of the present day dictators in civilian clothing. depressing thought....

truti said...

Rahul,

It's one of his finest essays. Could not agree more.

vbalki said...

I too am inclined to be somewhat pessimistic about Burma's chances of seeing democracy again in the foreseeable future. Too many powerful forces against it, and China's massive shadow looming so close by...

As for our MEA mandarins maintaining silence: maybe they're now over-compensating for their overeager (and unwelcome) garrulity under the Nehru dispensation. Whatever it is, the failure to apeak out boldly and firmly against totalitarian barbarism shows lack of spine. And it's not as though the ill-will our enemies bear towards us is going to diminish as a result of this forbearance.

ansumali said...

Well, what you say about San Suu Kyi that celebration on release is premature is unfortunate but very right. Now that Junta has support from China, India, Singapore and Thiland who can stop them?
Behaviour of all four is shameless on this issue.