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Time to Avoid Romanticisation of Aung San Suu Kyi

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is presently on a visit to India where she grew up and studied as a teen-ager. Her widowed mother was posted as the Myanmar Ambassador to India. She delivered the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture at New Delhi on November 14,2012. She was interviewed on November 15 by Barkha Dutt of NDTV and Karan Thapar of CNN-IBN. Before her arrival, she gave a detailed interview to Nirupama Subramanian of “The Hindu”.

2.Her lecture and three interviews have made a positive impact on public mind and highlighted her affection for India and her understated regret that during the long years she was under house arrest, India avoided taking up vigorously the cause of the human rights of the Myanmar people. India’s security and power considerations and not our concerns over the rights of her people influenced our policy priorities and options. In her reply to one of Barkha’s questions, she stated that she understood that Indian interests influenced Indian decisions towards her country and its military Government.

3. There is no need for us to have a guilt complex for having allowed realpolitik considerations to influence our priorities and decisions when she was under house arrest. Suu Kyi herself is a practitioner par excellence of realpolitik.

4. After she was released following an agreement with President Thein Sein and got elected to her Parliament, her priorities in respect of foreign visits have been Thailand, European Union, the USA and India. She intends going to China last. As between India and China, her priority is to India. As between the West and India, her priority has been to the West. Recent reports from Myanmar speak of a certain disillusionment in sections of the Myanmar political class over her perceived preferences for the West as against Myanmar’s Asian neighbours.

5.Since she became politically active, she has been focussing on two issues—- keeping up the pressure on President Thein Sein and his Government to keep moving on the road to internal democratisation and external opening-up and keeping up the pressure on the West to remove the remaining economic sanctions and the curbs on Western investments in Myanmar.

6. One can’t help forming an impression that in the matter of investments, she prefers investment flows from the West. She has no objection to investment flows from India but is concerned that this could lead to pressure from China for more Chinese investments.

7. In matters of interest and concern to India, her policies and pronouncements have been marked more by discreet silence than clear articulation. She has avoided a clear articulation of her views regarding the human rights of the Rohingya Muslims. This is an issue that in the medium and long term could have an impact on our Muslim community in the North-East. She has not uttered a word on the question of compensation for Indian businessmen who were driven out of Myanmar in the late 1950s and 1960s after seizing their property.

8. What I have enumerated above would show how she has had no qualms over taking decisions and advocating policies on the basis of her perceptions of Myanmar’s national interests and the interests of herself and her party.

9. If we had taken realpolitik decisions in the past on the basis of our perceptions of our national interests, there is no reason to let a gnawing feeling of guilt affect our future policies. Myanmar is an important buffer state between India and the Yunnan Province of China. If there is another military conflict with China due to the pending border dispute, the policies and attitudes of the Myanmar Government will have an impact on our ability to counter the Chinese designs.

10. We have two important national interests in Myanmar—- the security-related interests arising from the counter-insurgency situation in the North-East and our border dispute with China and our economic interests arising from the need for connectivity with Bangladesh and the ASEAN countries.

11. We have to identify those sections of the Myanmar society and administration which will be favourably inclined towards paying attention to these interests and strengthen our links with them. At present, only the Myanmar Armed Forces and the Government dominated by them have a positive comprehension of our interests and have been inclined to take notice of them.

12. Suu Kyi and her National League For Democracy have not shown such comprehension and such inclination. It will be unwise on our part to dilute the links that we had built up with the Armed Forces and the Government dominated by them just because of our affection for Suu Kyi and our tendency to romanticise her.

12. We must strengthen our relations with her and her party and build on the emotional links of the past without allowing the realpolitik links with the Armed Forces to rust. (15-11-12)

(The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: Twitter @SORBONNE75)

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