Aung San Suu Kyi
History is not always written by winners, but no matter who writes it, Aung San Suu Kyi will be given a central chapter in the history of modern Burma. Even the military junta, which usurped her 1990 election victory and worked hard to erase her name and that of her father — the country’s independence hero, General Aung San — from the official records, could not dim her popularity. Therefore it is not surprising that despite a total news black-out by the government which involved the intense censorship of the Internet, hundreds of people gathered in front of Ms. Suu Kyi’s house earlier today to celebrate the latest release of the woman whom Vanity Fair dubbed ‘Burma’s Saint Joan’.
Like the Maid of Orleans, her rise was incidental and meteoric — Suu Kyi was pushed into politics in 1988, the year she returned from Oxford to Burma to look after her dying mother, and the same year a pro-democracy uprising in Burma was brutally suppressed. Although she was born into a political family, she barely knew her father, who was assassinated when she was three. She grew up detached from harsh realities of the military rule in Burma — a childhood spent riding with Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi; an education at St Hugh’s, Oxford; an internship with U Thant, the Burmese Secretary General of the United Nations; a marriage to a brilliant young academic to whom she had been introduced by Lord Gore-Booth, the former British ambassador to Burma; a honeymoon in the Himalayas, where her husband was tutor to the ruling family of Nepal.
She jumped into the politics in 1988, sensing that the junta, which had controlled Burma in one way or another since 1962, was finally weakening. Seeing a threat, the junta arrested her shortly before she led her party into a landslide victory in May 1990. Hoping that she would return to obscurity from which she had been plucked dramatically by the 1988 Uprising, the junta kept her under house arrest for the most of last two decades. The effect, however, was just opposite; awards and international accolades followed. For her message of hope and non-violence, she was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1991. People from Nelson Mandela to Vaclev Havel had called for her release. (The above photo, one of the most iconic images of a leader even whose face was banned in Burma, was taken by Nic Dunlop in 1996, just a year after Ms. Suu Kyi was first released from house arrest. Defiant looking, with her arms folded and her head turned reluctantly towards the lens, the Nobel Laureate glares at one of the reporters who had an argument with her).
Without delving much into deeply complicated politics of Burma (even this name is contentious), this writer would like to make an editorial judgement here. I have been to Burma (where I witnessed perils of reporting from such a country first hand), and deeply respect Aung San Suu Kyi’s convictions and courage. However, to this writer, she remains an incomprehensible person; her refusal to negotiate with the junta places her at odds with Gandhi and Mandela, two of her heroes. Her call for economic sanctions by the West merely opened Burma to more rapacious Chinese and Thai companies; many who were elected with her in 1990 were politically inexperienced and probably no better at tackling the country’s deep rooted problems vis-a-vis corruption, poverty, insurgencies and drug trafficking than the current regime. Ms. Suu Kyi, herself, has never held a government office before, and remains deeply divorced in her Leftist ideologies from the realities of the world that has dramatically changed since the last time she ran for office.