Manmohan invites her to deliver the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial lecture
After two decades of having turned its back on Aung San Suu Kyi, India finally took steps towards making amends to the iconic leader of Myanmar's movement for democracy.
On the last leg of his visit to Myanmar on Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Ms. Suu Kyi during a brief stay in this city.
Describing her life and struggle as an “inspiration,” he expressed the hope that she would play a “defining” role in the ongoing process of national reconciliation, and invited her to visit India. The invitation he delivered to her came from Congress president Sonia Gandhi to present the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial lecture that is held annually in November.
Ms. Suu Kyi, who is leaving Myanmar for the first time in 24 years on Tuesday night to travel to Thailand for the World Economic Forum on East Asia, said she was “gratified” to receive the invitation to deliver the lecture. She expressed the hope that she would be able to take it up “before too long.” She is travelling to Britain and Norway in June.
She spoke fondly of her family's association with Jawaharlal Nehru, recalling that her parents were “great admirers” of him and other Indian leaders, “but we were particularly close to Panditji as I was taught to call him from a very young age.”
If Ms. Suu Kyi, the 1992 recipient of the Jawaharlal Nehru Prize for International Understanding, had any hard feelings about being abandoned by India soon after that award during her long years under house arrest, she showed no signs of it. But she did underline that “our democratic goals” could contribute to peace and stability in the region. She also emphasised that friendship between the two countries could be built only through friendship between people.
Ms. Suu Kyi made these remarks when she and Dr. Singh appeared side by side to make brief statements to the media after their 45-minute, one-to-one meeting at a hotel.
“I am very happy at the prospect of closer ties with India because I think we have much to learn from each other and we have much to contribute to peace and stability in this region, because our goals — our democratic goals — work on the basis of peace and stability, and these are what we shall aim towards,” she said, as both leaders stood behind a small table decorated with red, white and yellow roses.
She thanked Dr. Singh for taking the time out to meet her.
“I hope,” she said, “that there will be greater exchanges between our two peoples. As I said to the Prime Minister, true friendship between the countries can be based only on friendship between our peoples, and this is what I hope we will be able to achieve.”
Indian officials defended as a matter of protocol Dr. Singh's decision to meet her in the hotel, where the Nobel laureate called on him, instead of his calling on her, as other world leaders have done, at her famous lakeside home in Yangon that was also her prison during her years of house arrest by the military regime.
Unlike Western democracies, India was continuously engaged with the junta in Myanmar. Officials said that as Prime Minister, Dr. Singh was not misplaced in receiving Ms. Suu Kyi, a parliamentarian and the chairperson of the National League for Democracy, the country's main opposition party.
She arrived at the hotel in an ordinary car, with barely any security for the meeting.
In his statement, Dr Singh said India was “proud of our long-standing association” with her and her parents. “Madam Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's life, her struggle, and her determination have inspired millions of people all over the world. Our sincere belief is that in the Process of National Reconciliation which has been launched by President Thein Sein, Madam Suu Kyi will play a defining role,” Dr. Singh said.
He later told Times Now television that “during my meeting with her, I learnt a great deal on what empowerment is about.”