News / Asia

Burmese Pro Democracy Icon to Visit India

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, arrives at Rangoon International airport before departing for India in Rangoon, Burma Nov. 12, 2012.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, arrives at Rangoon International airport before departing for India in Rangoon, Burma Nov. 12, 2012.
Anjana Pasricha
— Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives Tuesday in India - a country that disappointed Burmese pro-democracy activists by building close ties with Burma's military rulers in recent years. The visit will help India counter criticism that it had abandoned its commitment to the return of democracy in Burma.   
 
Aung San Suu Kyi is no stranger to India. She attended college in New Delhi while her mother served as ambassador to India about 50 years ago. She has described Indian independence leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru as great influences on her.

New Delhi joined the world in calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi during the initial years of her detention by the Burmese military rulers. But it made a dramatic turnaround in its policy toward its neighbor in the mid 1990s, and began engaging Burma’s military rulers.  

Photo Gallery: Aung San Suu Kyi

  • Burmese citizens residing in South Korea greet Aung San Suu Kyi upon her arrival at a hotel in central Seoul, January 28, 2013.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the media as he embraces Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after they spoke to the media at her residence in Rangoon, November 19, 2012.
  • Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, waters a sapling after planting it in Govindapuram village, north of Bangalore, India, November 17, 2012.
  • Burmese opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi pays floral tribute on the birth anniversary of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, at his memorial in New Delhi, India, November 14, 2012.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, September 19, 2012.
  • Burma's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi holds her Congressional Gold Medal after it was presented to her by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (2nd L), at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, September 19, 2012.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, meets with Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the State Department, Washington, September 18, 2012.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi, center, arrives for the Peace Nobel Prize lecture at the city hall in Oslo, June 16, 2012 to thank the Nobel committee for the prize she won in 1991.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi addresses about 4,000 people gathered outside her house in Rangoon, Burma, June 1, 1996.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi is surrounded by security guards and newsmen as she walks out of her lakeside house in Rangoon, Burma, Juy 14, 1995.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi addresses crowd of supporters in Rangoon, Burma, July 7, 1989.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi addresses crowd of supporters in Rangoon, Burma, July 7, 1989.
  • Swiss Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga, left Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, center, and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Bern, Switzerland, June 14, 2012.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi during an election campaign rally in Thongwa village some 50 kms from Rangoon, Burma, February 26, 2012
  • Aung San Suu Kyi is presented with flowers by cheering Karen refugees at Mae La refugee camp in Tha Song Yang district, Tak province, northern Thailand, June 2, 2012.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi, center, and elected lawmakers of her National League for Democracy party take an oath during a regular session of the Lower House at parliament in Naypyitaw, Burma, May 2, 2012.
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron and Aung San Suu Kyi share a light moment during their meeting in the compound of her lakeside home, April 13, 2012, Rangoon, Burma.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy party, April 2, 2012, Rangoon, Burma.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to journalists during the press conference in her residence in Rangoon, Burma, March 30, 2012.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi, right, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton react after speaking to the press at Suu Kyi's residence in Rangoon, Burma, December 2, 2011.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi and her youngest son Kim Aris pay respect to her father, the late Geneneral Aung San, at the Martyr's Mausoleum in Rangoon, Burma, July 12, 2011.

Human rights 

As India dropped its earlier condemnation of human rights violation in Burma, Burmese pro-democracy activists stopped seeing New Delhi as a force for democratic change in their country.

“In the past, pro-democracy activists were so disappointed. I really expect that India can do more, India should do more," says Alana Golmei, coordinator at the Burma Center, Delhi. "There are lots of questions…what will come out of this. Will India be sincere enough?”  

India’s courting of Burmese military leaders was influenced by its neighbor’s strategic importance. Burma is rich in resources such as oil and gas that India needs. New Delhi wanted to counterbalance China, which had reached out to the isolated regime and made deep inroads into the country. New Delhi also needed Burma’s help in controlling insurgent groups that operate along the common border in India’s northeast.  

But as Burma undergoes a political transformation, New Delhi wants to repair ties with the pro-democracy movement. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on a visit to Burma in May, met Aung San Suu Kyi and invited her to deliver the prestigious Jawaharlal Memorial Lecture in New Delhi this Wednesday.

Planned meetings

Her five-day visit to India will also include meetings with top Indian political leaders, and a brief meeting with Burmese activists in New Delhi.  

The Indian foreign ministry has called her visit an opportunity to build upon the positive momentum in bilateral relations. It says the visit is part of India’s policy of hosting high-level Burmese leaders.
 
Bharat Karnad at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research says that India is likely to do a fine balancing act.   
 
“It is going to be very, very warm, very personal, extremely effusive, but the Indian government is not going to get into taking positions on Aung San Suu Kyi’s own political future or that of her party," notes Karnad. "I don’t think the Indian government will want to risk once again alienating the Burmese generals by going over the top as it were.”
 
Image makeover

However, Burmese pro-democracy activists hope that Aung San Suu Kyi's visit will not just be part of an image makeover by New Delhi. They want India to play a larger role in helping Burma along the long road to political change.
 
India has offered to assist Burma's democratization process, train its parliamentarians and build the capacity of institutions like the National Human Rights Commission. Burma has sent local journalists to India to see how a multi-ethnic, Asian democracy can function.
 
A former member of parliament of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League of Democracy, Tint Swe, has lived in New Delhi in exile for the last 20 years. He feels the visit provides a ray of hope.
 
“Why not Indian government approach to Burma change? We want the best things from India including business, including trade, including investment," Swe says. "Number one is the democracy ideas. India’s business in Burma should be more transparent, more responsible for Burma. We need good education from India.”
 
This is the message that Aung San Suu Kyi is also likely to give in India. Her visit will also be tinged with nostalgia. She will visit her former college in New Delhi - now one of the country's most prestigious. She will also travel to India's information technology hub, Bangalore, and rural areas of Andhra Pradesh to look at rural development and women's empowerment programs.

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