NEW DELHI—Burma’s main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged India to strongly support her country’s nascent democratic transition during her Jewarharlal Nehru’s Memorial Lecture on Wednesday evening.
“I hope, at this most difficult phase, the people of India will stand by us and walk by us as we proceed on the path that they were able to proceed upon many years before us,” she said. Suu Kyi visited the memorials of Indian independence leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru prior to her speech on Wednesday.
The 67-year-old criticized India for not supporting Burma’s dissident movement during the recent past and expressed disappointment that “the world’s largest democracy” had not stood strongly by her throughout the years of struggle.
“I was saddened to see that we had drawn away from India, or rather that India had drawn away from us during our very difficult days, but I always had faith in the lasting friendship between our two countries based on lasting friendships between our two peoples,” she said.
India supported Suu Kyi and Burma’s democracy movement until the early 1990s, but suddenly changed tactics and tried to engage with the ruling military government in order to wipe away insurgencies in its northeast which reportedly had hideouts across the Burmese border.
In 1992, the Jawarhalal Nehru Award was bestowed upon Suu Kyi and the relationship between New Delhi and Burma’s ruling junta turned bitter. However, bilateral ties quickly blossomed as India adopted its “Look East Policy” in economic, politic and military affairs.
Suu Kyi highlighted that the friendship between the two countries is cemented in friendship between the nations’ peoples which can last far into the future.
“Friendship between countries should be based on friendship between peoples and not friendship between governments. Governments come and go, and that is what democracy is all about, but people remain,” she said.
In her speech, Suu Kyi described Burma’s transition by emphasizing that the country had not yet reached the goal of democracy. She mentioned the friendship between her father, Burmese independence hero Gen Aung San, and India’s first Prime Minister Nehru, and how both Gandhi and Nehru inspired her political life.
The Nobel Laureate also revealed that she experienced an awakening through the book “The Discovery of India,” which was written by Nehru in jail. She also recalled her childhood days studying at Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi while her mother, Khin Kyi, worked as Burmese ambassador to India.
“I’d like to see the old places, the places where I spent time as a teenager,” she told The Hindu newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. Suu Kyi last visited the country almost four decades ago, shortly before she was placed under house arrest for the first time in 1989.
The National League for Democracy chairwoman’s itinerary includes a meeting with Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid and Lower House Speaker of Parliament Meira Kumar on Thursday. She is also due to visit to her old college in New Delhi on Friday. Students, teachers and friends were in the audience during her lecture on Wednesday.