Sonia Gandhi, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Quest for Democracy in Burma (Part: I)

On 16th of April 2007, the Supreme Court of India bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan sought opinion from the Central government ruled by India National Congress (INC) Party coalition and Election Commission on a petition filed by (Rashtriya Mukti Morcha) the political detractors of INC President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi that, whether a person of foreign origin could be appointed to hold a public office or not? However, accusations & attacks on Sonia Gandhi (the wife of former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi) on the issue of foreign origin is not new like – Burma’s ruling military junta (tatmadaw) known as State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) allegations of foreign allegiance on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991 noble laureate & leader of National League for Democracy party and winner of May 1990 election. The allegation against Sonia was first raised in March 1998, when she got elected as an INC President to save Congress from faltering, after seven years of her husband’s assassination at Seriperumbudur on 21st May 1991. Although, Congress spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi described it as “normal legal process” for the notices issued by the apex court to the Election Commission and the Centre in the matter and pointed out that it has neither made any observations nor passed any order. CPM politburo member, Mr. Sitaram Yechury said that even the Supreme Court had earlier held that as of now, any foreigner who has become an Indian citizen could hold a constitutional position. (1)

India’s much loved and adored popular Congress leader, Sonia Gandhi like Burma’s Daw Suu Kyi didn’t face any accusation of having foreign allegiance, when they were not in politics. Even, when Sonia married to Rajiv in 1968 and thereafter, seldom questions were asked, that an Italian Citizen is living in the Prime Minister house, where most of the important decisions related with the security of the nation took place. However despite some minor dissimilarity with Daw Suu Kyi of having Burmese origin and married to a British Scholar – Michael Aris, and Sonia Gandhi, as an Italian married to a celebrated Indian leader – Rajiv Gandhi has one strong similarity of facing repeated fascist allegations of foreign connections from their political opponents scared of losing state power. Although another painful difference exists that, Sonia Gandhi and her party is free to defend herself among people of India but Daw Suu Kyi is suffering under prolonged house arrest together with restrictions on NLD, even after repeated appeals from international community and UN Secretary General – Ban Ki-moon and earlier Mr. Kofi Annan to free her. (2)

Whether Sonia Gandhi and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are Foreign Cohorts?

However, interestingly both ‘People’s Queen’ didn’t see socio-political democratic values in their respective nations as their political enemy perceives & propagates. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s suffering under prolonged house arrest has been alleged apart from foreign allegiance by military rulers as – “She is not a nationalist, but a liberal opposing the national cause, who thinks highly of the western democracy and who is a foreign cohort…Daw Suu Kyi at present is like a Cat that cannot lift the Elephant’s head. It further compares, Daw Suu Kyi’s condition with “Crows”, and it propagates that, “Naturally, crows are wicked. They have the habit of snatching. They usually caw loudly in the sky if one of them is captured. Likewise, some western powers and the destructive elements from inside and outside the nation are drumming up support for Daw Suu Kyi demanding for her release. Once the Burma Communist Party (BCP) was a threat to Myanmar. But now, Daw Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) pose the most dangerous threat to the nation.” (3) So, UN Secretary General’s – Ban Ki-moon & earlier Kofi Annan, leadership of EU nations, US, UK as well as India and those member countries of ASEAN and world community who demand for release of Daw Suu Kyi from house arrest are like “Crows” in the view of military junta in Burma.

Sonia Gandhi had earlier also refuted the said allegation that she pose a threat to national interest and security. As Sonia Gandhi herself refutes the charges of security threat as, “I was the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi when she was Prime Minister for sixteen years and wife of the Prime Minister for five years, how did I suddenly become a security threat. Further she strongly says that, “Jis Din Main Indiraji Ke Ghar ‘Bahu’ Ke Roop Me Aayi, Usi Din Main Bhartiya Bani, Baki Sab Technical Hai (The day I came into Indira Gandhi’s family as daughter-in-law, I became an Indian. Rest everything is technical.”(4) Sonia Gandhi taking inspiration from Gandhian principles of simplicity like – Suu Kyi accepting Gandhi as her political Guru, has formulated the Code of Austerity and Ethics for Congress party members in 2005, in which only the Governor and the Chief Minister should be entitled to red lights and siren on the vehicles. And the number of official vehicles with each Minister should be restricted to one and use of official vehicles should be restricted to the area of jurisdiction together with discontinuation of STD/ISD free phone facility on government exchequer at their residences.(5) Sonia Gandhi’s deep commitment towards India could be found when we see her priorities as – removing poverty, unemployment and solving the problems of the farmers together with ameliorations of Dalits, the backward classes, the minorities and the women of India.(6)

However different from the perception of military rulers in Burma, Daw Suu Kyi’s commitment to the nation, to her father – Bogyoke Aung San as inspiration besides Gandhi and Nehru, is reflected from many of her statements, work & visions. She states briefly dedicating her autobiographical work – “Freedom from Fear and other writings” to her father and states, “In honour of Bogyoke Aung San…When I honour my father, I honour all those who stand for political integrity in Burma.” (7) Daw Suu Kyi’s relations with western civilization are more related with the vision of India’s great nationalist leader – Jawaharlal Nehru’s internationalism. Which could be found in her acceptance message sent to the organizing committee after receiving “1993 Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding” in 1995, and she says, “Pandit Nehru’s contribution to international understanding go beyond the part he played on the world stage during his lifetime to narrow the gap between diverse culture and differing ideologies. His spirit contribute to reach out to people struggling to establish universal human values in a world increasingly preoccupied with material power. During my years of detention the words and works of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru were a constant source of inspiration and support. I count these two great Indians among my most revered guides, mentors and friends.” 8

Although, Daw Suu Kyi many times reposed her faith & inspiration on the socio-political values of two great Indian leaders apart from her inspiration of – Bogyoke Aung San, the role model’s of Eastern civilization. However, nations of Asia including India are engaged in constructive engagement with military junta, skirting the issue of her release and national reconciliation. It is more painful to see that, Government of India, which awarded the 1993 Jawaharlal Nehru Award For International Understanding to Suu Kyi, doesn’t mentions a word about the award and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Ministry of External Affairs website details on bilateral relations with Burma. Probably nations of Asia are scared of being branded as “Crow” by military junta of Burma. However, recent stand taken by Malaysian Foreign Ministry parliamentary secretary, Mr. Ahmad Shabery Cheek, that, “Malaysia and other ASEAN members had made a stand not to defend Myanmar, if the country’s issue was raised at any international conference” (9) is a welcome step for new resurgent Asia.

(Continued…)

Endnotes:

1. SC lens on quota & Sonia – Court: Can Foreigner Hold Public Office, The Times of India, (English Daily) 17 April 2007, Front Page News, Patna Edition, Bihar, India.

2. Ban Ki-moon calls on Myanmar to release all political prisoners, UN News Service, New York, 14 January 2007.

3. Maung Cetana , She who turned alien or danger to the nation, The New Light of Myanmar, 05 July 2006.

4. Rajshekhar, From Annie Besant to Sonia Gandhi: the changing place of women of foreign origin in Indian Politics, Irra-Ganga, Vol.1, No.2 &3, June-July 2003, Vikaspuri, New Delhi, p.174.

5. Ministers, MLAs flouting Sonia’s directive on ethics, The Hindu (English Daily), 19 October 2005, Delhi Edition, p.4.

6. Removing poverty, unemployment, major concerns: Sonia, The Hindu (English Daily), 13 February 2005, Delhi Edition, p.8.

7. Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear and other writings, Penguin Books India (P) Ltd., New Delhi, 1995, she has dedicated the book to her father.

8. Jawaharlal Nehru Award Ceremony, Thursday, 16 November 1995, From the web site of Burma Library: accessed on 19 April 2007.

9. ASEAN Will Not Defend Myanmar at International Fora – Ahmad Shabery, Bernama New Agency, Kualalumpur, Malaysia, 20 April 2007.

(Continued…)

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