Suu Kyi hopes India will stand by Myanmar in democracy struggle

Myanmar`s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

New Delhi: In a deft balancing act, Myanmar`s opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday said while New Delhi had once "drawn away" from the struggle for democracy in her country, she hoped that India will now stand by her in "the last difficult phase" ahead.

Suu Kyi, on a six-day visit to India where she studied, her first visit to the country in a quarter century, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discussed the process of national reconciliation and democratisation in her country.

India has rolled out the red carpet for Myanmar`s pro-democracy icon - part of diplomatic outreach to build across-the-spectrum linkages with the energy-rich Southeast Asian country which has embraced democratic reforms after decades of the all-powerful junta rule.

The talks between Manmohan Singh and Suu Kyi lasted for half-an-hour. "The two leaders also had one-on-one talks without aides," Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry, told reporters here.

In his interaction with Suu Kyi, the Prime Minister lauded her "indomitable courage" and her life-long struggle to bring democracy to her country during which she spent years under house arrest.

"Our good wishes are with you as indeed with your struggle for democracy. We admire you for the indomitable courage you have shown," the prime minister told Myanmar`s opposition leader.

"The two discussed a variety of issues, including the national reconciliation process underway in Myanmar and the process of democratisation in this context. Prime Minister welcomed the progress made by Daw Suu Kyi and President Thien Sien," said sources.

There was a meeting of minds as both Manmohan Singh and Suu Kyi pitched for greater people-to-people relations and agreed to explore greater exchanges between parliaments and judiciary of the two countries.

This message about forging a people-driven relationship was later reinforced by Suu Kyi in her eloquent speech while delivering the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture.

The speech was laced with nostalgia for youthful days she spent in a college in Delhi, fervent idealism that sustained her during years of oppression, and a guarded optimism on the way ahead.

She also obliquely critiqued India`s drawing away from the democracy movement led by her in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but in the same breath hoped that India will now stand by and walk by the people of Burma in the last difficult phase ahead.

"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," Suu Kyi said in a deeply moving speech.

"Governments come and go, and that`s what democracy is all about, but people remain," she said.

In a realistic vein, Suu Kyi underlined that Myanmar had still not reached the goal of democracy and said that in "this last, I hope, and most difficult phase, 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".

India had supported Suu Kyi in her fight against the military junta in the 1980s and early `90s, but rejigged its policy in the mid-90s, pursuing the path of pragmatism and realpolitick.

Two key factors that prompted India to revise its pro-democracy stance were the activities of rebels from northeastern states who established shelters on the India-Myanmar border and a marked increase in Chinese influence and investment in Myanmar.

Stating that her movement was rooted in the non-violence practised by Mahatma Gandhi, Suu Kyi said the influence of Nehru on her was less well known.

"Nehru`s book `The Discovery of India` written while he was in jail, was also a discovery of myself," said Suu Kyi, who is in India after a 25-year gap.

Suu Kyi studied at the Convent of Jesus and Mary School and graduated in political science from Lady Shri Ram College, one of Delhi`s most reputed colleges for women, when her mother was Burma`s envoy to India.