Democracy in Burma?

“The pro-democracy leader emerged from her lakeside mansion in Yangon to rapturous supporters alongside, not police armed with guns and tear-gas.”

A frail face with flimsy features, there is nothing so beautiful or even grotesque about her that can attract eyeballs, save a composed attention of others for that matter. A flower pinned to her hair, her soft, graceful voice betrays the rebel in her. Aung San Suu Kyi, known to all as ‘the Lady’ is undoubtedly Burma’s uncrowned queen.

Daughter of Aung San (the architect of Burmese independence who was assassinated when she was a mere two-year old), a political leader and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in the year 1991, Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the last 21 years of her life under house arrest. She spearheads the nation’s “second struggle for peace,” doing so with inexorable dedication and unimaginable determination.

Though her work and contribution towards trying for a democratic government has been exemplary, this has not come without a heavy price tag for her. But as is said, success is not the result of one individual’s efforts. It is the result of combined efforts of many, and they are to be equally credited for the same. Diagnosed with prostrate cancer, Suu Kyi’s husband was away in UK while she was fighting her battle for democracy in her native country. But he never doubted her ambitions, and never thought less of them either. Her fear of not being allowed to return to Burma once she’d left the country was too great to be with her husband during his final moments. He respected her decision even as he breathed his last.

Freedom to Suu Kyi has been paramount. To be able to breathe the unfettered air of her land, to be able to meet her sons, to be absorbed in the explosion of technological advancement, of which she had missed like an era, Suu Kyi defines freedom as none of these and yet much more. “I was always free as I never feared anybody or anything. Freedom from fear is the most important of all types of freedom,” she said. Locked inside her house, she was free to read, listen to the music and even watch BBC. “I was as free as ever. It is now that I am in fetters, as I don’t even have the time to breathe,” she laughs.

Amidst the unbridled sway of emotion and frenzy in the people of Burma, Suu Kyi is touched by all of these, but more so by the fact that these people are not the ones who dwell in ostentatious mansions or enjoy luxuries. These are people who are not well off. Their happiness and support despite their hardships, laughs contemptuously on the Junta’s face, proclaiming the victory of Suu Kyi’s call for democracy already. “The military cannot pretend to be unaware of what the people want. A government formed by coercion and not mandate, will fast crumble,” she says.

So how does the battle end? In whose hands does Burma eventually rest- the NLD or the military Junta? In Suu Kyi’s words, it is democracy that shall prevail in the end, and this can only be attained by way of a revolution…a revolution that is devoid of bloodshed and that triggers a radical change that does not pass unnoticed…one that forces people to stand and appreciate. Such a revolution that is not just supported by the Burmese, but people worldwide. It is then that Burma would be the dynamic democracy it deserves to be.

As to how and in what form Suu Kyi will mobilise people and what action it would elicit, remains to be seen. But for the time being, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi has brought hope to millions fighting against authoritarian rule. Nothing reveals the potential brittleness of such regimes more than the power of particular individuals who come to symbolise challenges to the system. Several states have struggled and are still struggling because they have not generated a figure who could be the locus of national reconciliation. Aung San Suu Kyi projects a spirit of idealism and morality that thaws the heart of repression and sends out a message of empowerment, confidence and freedom – lessons that hold immense potential to spur debates, at home, in the neighbourhood and overseas.

Dipti Jain

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