New Delhi: Myanmar’s opposition leader and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was made familiar with the intricacies of democratic processes on Thursday when she met the speakers of India’s upper and lower Houses of Parliament.
Suu Kyi is on a six-day visit to India—the world’s largest democracy and a giant neighbour of Myanmar with which it shares long historical ties, both having once been part of Britain’s former colonial empire.
With democracy taking tentative roots in Myanmar and with Suu Kyi seen as the frontrunner for the post of president after the 2015 election, her meetings with vice-president Hamid Ansari—chairman of the Rajya Sabha—and Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar seemed appropriate.
A person close to the developments, declining to be identified, said Suu Kyi’s meetings in India are aimed at “giving her a full flavour of what India is about. And that includes India’s experiences as a democracy. Myanmar too is taking steps towards democracy.”
During the meeting, Kumar referred to specialized capacity building programmes organized by the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training of the Lok Sabha Secretariat for MPs and parliamentary officers of Myanmar in the past months, a press statement from the speaker’s office said.
Kumar said that this year 30 parliamentarians and 30 parliamentary officials of Myanmar’s Parliament have benefited from such programmes, according to the statement. Kumar “assured Aung San Suu Kyi that the Indian Parliament would continue to share its experience in parliamentary practices and procedures with the Myanmarese Parliament,” the statement said.
Kumar also offered to share India’s expertise in the areas of agriculture, information technology, education and healthcare.
In her comments, Suu Kyi said her country was moving on the path of democracy in a slow and steady manner and that Myanmar would require cooperation of its valued neighbours, especially India, the statement said.
“Dwelling on the imperative of parliamentary democracy, she (Suu Kyi) said she preferred a turbulent Parliament over a quiet one, as it showcased the power of the people,” the statement added.
Suu Kyi, on her first India visit in 25 years, was a student in New Delhi in the 1960s when her mother served as an ambassador. Her father General Aung San—regarded as Myanmar’s independence hero—was a personal friend of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Suu Kyi on Wednesday had described Indian independence icons Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru as two leaders she identified most closely with when she delivered the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture in New Delhi—one of the high points of her visit.
From holding elections two years ago to freeing and hundreds of pro-democracy protesters from house arrest and imprisonment, allowing Suu Kyi more political freedom and permitting her to meet a host of international leaders at her residence in Yangon, unblocking websites and organising press conferences, Myanmar has moved quickly on the path of political reforms.
In January, Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the past 21 years in jail or under house arrest, registered to run for parliament in a by-election—Myanmar’s third polls in half a century. In April, she won a seat in the 664-member parliament as her party picked up 43 of the 44 seats it contested.
India, which has often been criticised for supporting the military junta, was once a staunch supporter of Suu Kyi. But it reversed its policy and engaged the Myanmarese military in the mid-1990s when it realized insurgent groups operating in its north-east were using Myanmar as a springboard to launch attacks inside India. New Delhi is also wary of China’s interest in resource-rich Myanmar that India is keen to tap for its economic growth.
On Wednesday, Suu Kyi said she was “saddened” by India moving away from Myanmar when she and her colleagues were struggling for democracy and sought India’s support “in this last and most difficult phase” of Myanmar’s struggle.