The Role of the Individual in History and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (Part – II)

In the Asian Social Structure, which predominantly enjoys a joint family system since its civilizational growth, one can easily find an importance of the Headmen as an individual in the family. And if we consider a family leader being a dominating micro unit of the society, then its chain itself generates a natural social-political values which venerates heroes and great men like – Gandhi, Bogyoke Aung San, U Wisara, U Ottama etc. in history like- Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has sacrificed her personal comforts for the peoples cause. Even in the context of World History, a famous Scottish historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle was apt in his assertions that, “ Yes, from Norse Odin to English Samuel Johnson, from the divine founder of Christianity to the withered Pontiff of Encyclopaedism, in all times and places the Hero has been worshipped. It will ever be so. We all love great men, love venerate, and bow down submissive before great men, nay; can we honestly bow down before anything else?” (7) Another famous historian Arnold J. Toynbee in his classical work – “A Study of History”, rightly points out that, “In a general way it is evident that a society in process of civilization articulates itself through the individuals who ‘belong’ to it, or to whom it ‘belongs’… and ‘these individuals who set going the process of growth in the societies to which they ‘belong’ are more than mere men. They can work what to men seem miracles because they themselves are superhuman in a literal and no mere metaphorical sense.” (8)

However by proposing the importance of the individual in history, my intention is not in any way to prove that, commoners and other factors hasn’t got any role in the history of a nation and world, without which writings of history would show only one side of the coin or half truth. But it doesn’t mean by accepting certain roles of other factors in history to define complete construction of history on the theory of Plekhanov, that, general factors always control actions of great individuals like Gandhi and Suu Kyi. So by accepting Plekhanov, it would be also presenting only half picture of the construction of history, if it negates importance of the individual in history like SPDC in Burma. Asian and even world history has proven time and again, that heroes of history are different than commoners. And these different persons like – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, George Washington and Suu Kyi etc. are not born every year in any nation’s history to truly ameliorate the condition of their people. It is true that sometimes circumstances and general conditions of the history play an important factor in the decisions of a great men, when they begins their journey towards greatness. But it doesn’t mean that always a great man in history can succumb to circumstances and other factors happening around him in his role to perform as a hero of the society as proposed by Plekhanov. So if military junta in Burma thinks that by keeping Suu Kyi in house arrest and NLD at bay, they would break the leadership, than they have wrongly analyzed the role of the individual in history like Plekhanov.

Plekhanov’s thesis could be correct for a moment, when we analyzes the beginning of a career of a great men, when they are not great and only social activists in their long walk towards greatness. And it can not be true for great persons like – Gandhi and Suu Kyi (Present Status), when they attains great hood (Although I’m sure about that, if anyone ask a question to Suu Kyi that, do you consider yourself as a great person of history?…She would definitely reply that I’m not great, like – Gandhi, who never acknowledges himself that he is a Mahatma and great person). Suu Kyi’s un-fledgling convictions towards the ideology of non-violent political struggle of Gandhi and insurmountable courage of personal sacrifice of remaining away from her late husband & sons for the people of Burma has already completed her journey & test of being great in the world history.

It is an interesting similarity between Gandhi and Suu Kyi that neither of them planned their political career. Gandhi’s visit to South Africa and Suu Kyi’s Burma, were more related with family matters which turned out to be political one with the prevalent unjust situations. Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Burma, in the last days of March 1988 to see her ailing mother at Rangoon. But the democratic uprisings and demonstrations of 8th of August 1988 and thereafter her memorable speech at the large rally at the Shwedagon Pagoda on 26th of August 1988 indicated that she would play a crucial role in shaping the political destiny of Burma. And ninety-five years before Suu Kyi’s visit to Burma, Gandhi equipped with a British law degree takes a voyage for South Africa in April 1893 to find a career as an advocate to give a better life to his family in India. Gandhi’s visit to South Africa was initially a one-year contract with Dada Abdullah, a Gujarati merchant to sort out his Lego-business problem. Although with the racial discrimination prevalent at that time in South Africa and dictatorial suppressive rule made his one year contract into almost two decades of struggle to ameliorate the conditions of oppressed people in South Africa. Even Gandhi ji at that time had never imagined this great role of responsibility to perform in his life. (9)

So when Suu Kyi and Gandhi started their political career, they were not aware about their future role to play in their nation’s history. At that time, as I proposed earlier; that, they were activists, having sketchy idea of their future plan of actions and properly fit into the theory of Plekhanov. But when their constant pursuit and convictions for truth attains greatness and comes out of the activist’s role, then they control human actions and general factors of history. And it is not like Burma’s ruling military junta’s thesis that, “She is like a fly caught in a web because she has been binded with the strings of the awards.”

For a moment, if we take a peep into the golden pages of Indian Nationalist Movement. We can find a very illustrative example of a larger nationalist movement in the context of the role of the individual in history, in which Gandhi unaffected by the advice of his equally great political compatriots’ like – Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose etc. suddenly withdraw the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22) after the Chauri Chaura (a small village in Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh State in India) incident on 05th February 1922 due to his personal unflappable convictions towards non-violence (Congress Working Committee hastily summoned at Bardoli on Gandhi’s insistence officially ratified 12th February 1922 to withdraw the movement). Although from outside, it appears that particular Chauri Chaura incident or general factor of history like – Plekhanov’s thesis played an important role in decisions of Gandhi but if we analyze it minutely then, it was his own consciousness towards his well derived political strategy and ideology influenced the decision to withdraw the Non-Cooperation Movement, since almost all congress party members were against withdrawal. As decision taken solely by Gandhi came as shock to many Indian national leaders, Subhas Chandra Bose (later leader of Indian National Army or Azad Hind Fauj) called it a “national calamity”, Jawaharlal Nehru mentions in his autobiography his “amazement and consternation” at the decision, and illustrious Marxist leader M.N. Roy saw in it a weakening of the leadership rather than of the masses. (10) Many in the country thought that the Mahatma had failed miserably as a leader and that his days of glory were over. They couldn’t understand why the whole country had to pay the price for the crazy behaviour of some people in a remote village (11) like Burma’s ruling military junta’s doubt & slandering on Suu Kyi reflected in the New Light of Myanmar.

Although despite Burma’s ruling military junta’s governing council – SPDC’s abuses against her in the media, she had been always supportive of the unity of the people of Burma and national defence forces popularly known as Tatmadaw like a great individual. In a BBC interview on 24th April 1989, Suu Kyi reiterated that it was not the intention of the NLD to cause a rift between the Defence Forces and the people, and we do not want the Defence Forces to break up.” (12)

Even in the case of another great individual of Burma’s history – U Wisara’s one hundred sixty six day fast against the rule prohibiting monks to wear yellow robs during imprisonment in 1929 at Rangoon Jail and thereafter his death on 19th September 1929, symbolizes individuality of greatness rather than reflections of Plekhanov criterion of outside factors and prevalent rule in Burmese Jail. As this rule was not only applicable in 1929 and others had been also affected by this draconian law. But it was only U Wisara having a personal belief to the certain cause stood like Jatin Das of Bengal, who died in similar fashion (on 64th day of his epic fast in jail) few days before U Wisara on 13 September 1929 on the issue against the prevalent horrible conditions in jail and for the treatment as a political prisoner & not as a criminal during colonial rule. (13)

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who had continuously refused the chance to leave Burma to see her dying husband – Michael Aris in March, 1999 and her other family members, because she couldn’t abandon & leave her people, itself proves her as a great individual in the history of contemporary Burma beyond Plekhanov’s theory of historical construction.



7. Allan Nevins, The Gateway to History, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York, 1962, p.323

8. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, Abridged by D.C. Somervell, Oxford University Press, New York & London, 1957, pp. 209-212.

9. This idea of comparison between Suu Kyi and Gandhi came while presenting an academic paper at Sweden, year & date of the event is not proper to disclose at present moment.

10. Bipan Chandra, Amales Tripathi, and Barun De, Freedom Struggle, National Book Trust, New Delhi, India, p. 133.

11. Bipan Chandra , Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, K.N. Panikkar, and Sucheta Mahajan , India’s Struggle For Independence 1857-1947, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1989, p. 192.

12. Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1995, p. 340.

13. Rajshekhar, Myanmar’s Nationalist Movement (1906-1948) And India, South Asian Publishers, New Delhi, 2006, p.48.


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3 Comments on “The Role of the Individual in History and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (Part – II)”

  1. […] Burma Review refutes Plekhanov’s observation that individuals are merely the product of the general social environment, and compares the lives of Gandhi and Aung Suu Kyi to prove this point. It is an interesting similarity between Gandhi and Suu Kyi that neither of them planned their political career. Gandhi’s visit to South Africa and Suu Kyi’s Burma, were more related with family matters which turned out to be political one with the prevalent unjust situations. Posted by bhupinder […]

  2. Aung Kyaw Says:

    “She is like a fly caught in a web because she has been binded with the strings of the awards.” The aforementioned quote only reveals the extent to which the military government is afraid of her influence. I read one article (I can’t remember where), that stated that mentions of “Nobel Peace Prize”, “Aung San Suu Kyi”, and the names of other awards she has received are censored by the Press Scrutiny Boards. Interesting parallels and comparisons you draw between Gandhi and Suu Kyi–I would have never thought of comparing them.

    Thanks for your wishes! I accidentally deleted your comments when I tried to remove the spam, but I still received the e-mail.

  3. ben kingsley bio Says:

    ben kingsley bio

    Man i love reading your blog, interesting posts !

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