New Delhi: In an exclusive interview to NDTV's Barkha Dutt Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi speaks about her political journey, her relation with India and why she won't watch a movie about her.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
NDTV: She's easily one of the most admired iconic political leaders anywhere in the world, a symbol everywhere for the power of one, the power of hope and as her husband once said in a book that he edited, the symbol of 'freedom from fear'; it is our honour to be interviewing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi here in Delhi today. Aung San Suu Kyi, we were also moved by your incredible public lecture in Delhi and one of the things that really struck me was the fact that you still spoke of politics as an ethical calling, as a moral calling as it were, at a time when there is so much cynicism about politicians and politics everywhere. What has kept your faith in the capacity of politics, to still be an agent, a moral agent as it were of change?
Aung San Suu Kyi: I think simply that I didn't know of any other way of looking at it. This was the way I was brought up to think of politics, that politics was to do with ethics, it was to do with responsibility, it was to do with service, so I think I was conditioned to think like that and I'm too old to change now.
NDTV: You didn't ever lose faith along the way? You didn't get cynical? You saw some incredibly difficult moments in your life.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Yes, but politics is what you do. In the end, each politician must decide for himself how she or he is going to approach problems, and what other people did was, or the way in which other people went about politics was, of course, basically their business even if it did affect my life. But that didn't mean I had to be like them, or I had to decide that I must change my life because other people don't live their lives the way I do.
NDTV: Personal sacrifice often lends political leaders a kind of moral authority that they sometimes don't get in more serene times. You have been through some incredible moments of personal loss, not being able to meet your husband when he was terminally ill, separated as a mother from your two boys, living under house arrest, and yet in your lecture you said, that there should be less focus on self-sacrifice and perhaps more focus on the others, those who loved you, those who have to let go, that their choices and their surrender is almost more difficult and doesn't get told with the same sort of maybe, applause and heroism. Is that how you process the sacrifice of your family, that it was almost tougher for them than it was for you?
Aung San Suu Kyi: I was not thinking of my family in particular. To tell the truth I think it was easier for my family because they were not in Burma, because they were not Burmese and for the families of my colleagues, those were put in prison and their families had to struggle to get by. And they were always under threat, as it were from the regime, and at the same time they had to take care of their husband or father or wife or sister, whoever happened to be in prison, and life was very difficult for them and nobody really acknowledged how difficult it was for them.
NDTV: So in a sense, did you make your peace with what was happening to your life by always telling yourself something much worse is happening to your party colleagues, those who were in prison, is that how you made sense of it all?
Aung San Suu Kyi: No, no. I was not trying to make peace with myself, or trying to make sense of it. It was just recognising things are what they are. You cannot get away from the fact that some of my colleagues' families really went through terrible times.
NDTV: Reading 'Freedom from Fear', which of course your husband Michael edited and you wrote the introduction to that, and in that he wrote about how and when you got married that you told him early on that there could be a day that you would have to put your country before your family, and at that time you would need all his love and support, but he had to be mentally prepared for it as well, how difficult was it for him you think?
Aung San Suu Kyi: Well, since he was mentally prepared for it ...
NDTV: Can anyone really be mentally prepared for something like this?
Aung San Suu Kyi: Not totally of course. You are never totally prepared for something until it happens, but it didn't really come as a surprise to him.
NDTV: And you have said again and again, it's about making a choice and as a politician you made a choice to stay in Burma and fight, and fight for democracy. But every human being has moments of self-doubt, has moments of 'what if', has moments of looking over your shoulder and saying 'may be I could have done it differently'. Do you have any of those moments of regret or doubt about the choices, the incredibly brave choices that you've made?
Aung San Suu Kyi: I've never had doubts about the fact that I chose my country and the cause in which I believed. Sometimes of course I worry whether I did things the right way to do with our work.
NDTV: I read this incredibly moving story, I don't know if it's true, that when you decided that you could not leave the country to meet your husband because you may never be able to come back again, you actually taped a farewell message for him that you sent through the British Embassy, but it never got there in time and I read about this, I don't know if that's how actually it happened.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Well, I believe it didn't get there in time.
NDTV: And that is so heart breaking for me to hear, I can't even imagine what you would have felt?
Aung San Suu Kyi: I didn't think too much about it because what was important was that he should have been able to go as gently as possible, and I don't think it would have made that much of a difference, even if he had received the message in time.
NDTV: You spoke about how, ever since you've got to India, you are repeatedly asked what your expectations were from India, and whether you were disappointed, somewhere along the way India did not stand with the democracy movement in the way that it once had, and you said you were saddened. Are you a little less sad now that you've come here and you've seen an incredible response from the people of India?
Aung San Suu Kyi: Well I was saddened then, but I got over sadness a long time ago, because, as I said, then I didn't have the right to expect anything or to feel disappointment, and my friendship with my Indian friends of long standing did not suffer in any way and that kept very, very steady links between me and India.
NDTV: But an ideological disappointment beyond the personal relationships that of course you had?
Aung San Suu Kyi: As I said I had no right to be disappointed, because disappointment assumes that you have a right to expect something of somebody and you are disappointed because your expectations have not been met. It's not like that, it should not be like that between people, let alone between countries, and of course politics involves a lot of pragmatism and if India felt that it was more pragmatic for them to follow a certain line, then that's the line they would follow and that might not be what we've wished for. But I don't think we have the right to condemn India or any other country for following the line that they thought was best for them.
NDTV: Is there anybody you believe you have a right to expect something from?
Aung San Suu Kyi: From myself, yes.
NDTV: And that's it?
Aung San Suu Kyi: That's it.
NDTV: Talk a little about where democracy stands in your country right now. You've said again and again that it is not an irreversible place, you have also spoken about how it may be time to lift sanctions, but many Americans worry, many human rights activists worry that if sanctions were to be lifted right now, then perhaps this process, that you have yourself described as irreversible, could take a step back. Do you share that concern?
Aung San Suu Kyi: I don't think we should keep on depending on sanctions. I don't think we should keep on depending too much on external factors. It is important, external support is very, very important. But I think it's time we started developing our own resources, in order to make sure that we keep along the right path.
NDTV: Today you have to of course, you are in the national assembly, you are in the mainstream of your country's politics and you are trying to reach some sort of reconciliation process for your country. But you have to work with the very regime that put you under house arrest for decades, that kept you separated from your family, and yet one doesn't see, I don't know if it's there or said somewhere, but one doesn't see any trace of bitterness. How do you manage to not be bitter?
Aung San Suu Kyi: Well, I don't know. Actually I tend to like people rather than dislike them, so I think that helps. I think I'm temperamentally predisposed to like people.
NDTV: Even so, how do you, how do you make peace with everything you went through and how you are able to trust? And that may be the more important question, place a level of political trust in a regime that you have suffered at the hands of?
Aung San Suu Kyi: I don't think of it as a regime. Regime is made up of people, so I do put faces to regimes and governments, so I feel that all human beings have the right to be given the benefit of the doubt, and they also have to be given the right to try to redeem themselves if they so wish.
NDTV: You said in one of your interviews that it's not that you have some pathological dislike for Generals. Your father in a sense was the founder of the Burmese Army, and even it shocked people to hear this, that you felt currently disposed to several Generals as well. Well this startled people.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Well, some people were actually scandalised, but I find this very surprising, because I have been saying this for the last 24 years. It's just that the people were not listening. I have always said that I have retained a fondness for the Army. You must remember that my first memories of my father are of him in uniform, because I can't really remember him, I can only remember him from his photographs, and in most of his photographs he's in military uniform. So I have always thought of people in military uniform as lovable people if you like. My father was the person I loved most in the world and he always just appeared to me in military garb in his photographs, and so it was normal and natural for me to like people in that kind of outfit. And that affection never went away. I would condemn very, very intensely the things that the Army did, particularly after they took over power in 1988. But that has never stopped me from continuing to have a deep affection for the Army in general and also the affection for particular people within it.
NDTV: And when people react with complete horror, especially in the West, when you say that, do you just laugh?
Aung San Suu Kyi: Yes it amuses me and it also makes me understand that they were never listening in the past. If they had been listening to what I had been saying all along, they would have neither be surprised, nor horrified.
NDTV: For you the personal is clearly the political I think. For you I think that life epitomizes that and even in the Nehru Memorial Lecture you spoke about the love for your father and love for your country, can be you know, just one leading naturally to the other. Was that always the case or did you discover that, somewhere along the way, that there was no separation between you the person and you the politician?
Aung San Suu Kyi: I think it was always the case, because I could never separate my father the person from my father the politician. One of the earliest things I learnt about him was that he loved his country. I don't know whether this is the kind of thing most children learn about their parents.
NDTV: You have become, as you know, even though you have never sought it, a kind of poster girl for the human rights activism everywhere in the world, for 'freedom from fear' as I said. Some of your fans and admirers have been disappointed by what they claim is an ambivalence on the issue of violence against the Rohingyas in your country. You have said I know, already in other interviews, that the situation has been mishandled, but you do not like to talk about specific communities because you think that's not the problem?
Aung San Suu Kyi: No, not really that. I am not ambivalent about my views on violence. Violence is something I am appalled by completely and condemn completely, but don't forget that violence has been committed by both sides. This is why I prefer not to take sides and also I want to work to reconciliation between these two communities. I am not going to be able to do that if I am going to take sides.
NDTV: But a community that no country wants, I mean these are people where Bangladesh says that they don't belong to us, and your country says that they don't belong to us. This is very; this is a huge international tragedy.
Aung San Suu Kyi: This is a huge international tragedy and this is why I keep saying that the government must have a policy about the citizenship laws. We do have a citizenship law and all those who are entitled to citizenship under the law must be given citizenship. We have said this very clearly. Now there are quarrels about whether people are true citizens under the law or they will come over as migrants later from Bangladesh. One of the very interesting and rather disturbing facets of this whole problem is that most people seem to think, and still there was one country involved in this world issue, there are two countries on the one side and there is Burma on the other and the security of the border surely is the responsibility of both countries. And at the moment is just seem that everybody thinks that the border is totally the responsibility of Burma.
NDTV: What would be the best solution, what would be the way out of this impasse?
Aung San Suu Kyi: First of all they've got to do something about law and order. We've got to stop violence from breaking out again, which means adequate security measures and then I think the citizenship law really must be looked in to. And those who are entitled to citizenship, must be not only given the citizenship but given the full rights of citizens. And then I think they have also to look to the immigration issue. There's a lot of illegal crossing of the border still going on that they have got to put a stop to, otherwise there will not be an end to the problem, because Bangladesh will say all these people have come over from Burma and the Burmese say all these people have come over from Bangladesh. And where is the proof either way?
NDTV: It is a very complex situation no doubt, Are you worried, now that your country begins to open up to the world, that it will become a kind of battleground between India and China for influence?
Aung San Suu Kyi: I am not worried. It's something we should keep it in mind that this is how people might see it, and sometimes things turn out the way people perceive them. So we have to be careful and we have to be aware of the possible problems. But I don't think worried or afraid would be the words I would use, but concerned and aware.
NDTV: As you go forward you obviously must look back, as well. At some point what would you count as the most overwhelming or significant moment in your life?
Aung San Suu Kyi: It would be very difficult for me to pick one.
NDTV: Because there have been so many?
Aung San Suu Kyi: Yes, because there have been quite a number.
NDTV: Let's just talk about what we are calling this conversation today, the freedom from fear. There have been very, very blatant attempts on your life, the most dramatic of course, we have read so many accounts of how you just walked towards a number of men who were pointing guns at you, and you didn't know whether they would shoot you, or they wouldn't shoot, but they may have. Another incident when you stopped, you stopped your car on the road and you were just assaulted, your driver managed to get out of that situation somehow but 70 people died that night in 2003.
Aung San Suu Kyi: I don't think 70 people died in that incident. I think there were much fewer than that.
NDTV: Okay, so may be the accounts of those were not fully accurate. But my point simply being that your life was in danger, you know right there, vulnerable to that fact. At every instance has there been a freedom from fear, or do you train yourself every time over and over again that I will not allow the fear to dominate me?
Aung San Suu Kyi: All those times there are so many things to think about. There's no time to think about whether you afraid or not afraid. You have to think in a very practical way. Yes, for example, the first incident you are talking about, what the Captain who was threatening to shoot first said was, get off the streets or we shoot. So alright, I am not going to get myself shot or walk down the centre of the street, so I said alright, let's move to the side of the street, and then he said he can shoot me anytime, anywhere, which was rather unreasonable.
NDTV: I do understand what you mean, that at time it's not about philosophical questions, but it sometimes can impact your choices going forward. At some point you do ask yourself I could die during this, is it worth it?
Aung San Suu Kyi: No, you think in practical terms. Of course, when I talked to myself that if he's going to shoot, if you are walking down the centre of the road, then okay, sensible we move to the side.
NDTV: One of the things that are often said about you is that you are an intensely spiritual person, and that spirituality is also not separate from your politics. Is that something that has given you strength over the years? Because you seem very, I am meeting you for the first time, but you seem so calm that one derives the sense of calmness just by talking to you, and one wonders how there is somebody, who has gone through everything you have gone through, seems so serene and so strong?
Aung San Suu Kyi: Well I don't know about spirituality, but I do have sense of humour, and I keep reminding people that that helps a great deal.
NDTV: Is that where you think your source of strength comes from? All these years you must have needed something to turn to; music, humour?
Aung San Suu Kyi: There have been times when I have been alone, under house arrest and I talked to myself that the situation is rather funny.
NDTV: You once said in an interview that they are rather nice to me, what's so bad staying in your house. Surely you were being ironic?
Aung San Suu Kyi: No, no they were nice to me.
NDTV: You really think that?
Aung San Suu Kyi: This is a truth, that there were terrible things about me in the statement in the newspapers at the time they kept me house arrest, when my security approached, my security officers came to see me. They were always very nice.
NDTV: You didn't feel the claustrophobia eating you up, just been locked into your house?
Aung San Suu Kyi: No it's quite a big house.
NDTV: No seriously, when you were given the Nobel Prize, you said it opened up a door in your heart. What did that moment of recognition mean to you? Because you did say somewhere else, at least, it was a reminder that the struggle for democracy had not been forgotten, and that was very important.
Aung San Suu Kyi: It was a very difficult time for our party. Soon after the 1990 elections, that was the time when the state law order and restoration council decided to come down very, very heavily on our party. They wanted to destroy it, so it was very difficult and everything sort of came to a standstill, including the country. And it was very, very heartening to know, that even though things were not moving inside the country, people outside cared and they were moving and did what they could do to protect us.
NDTV: And at this moment there is so much of debate in the world of whether the country should be left alone to find its own democracy formulas, and there is no 'one size fits all', and we have seen that, given that what has happened with the Arab Spring. There is no one neat little formula. Do you want your country to be left alone now to find its own path, or do you still need international focus on it because it's so fragile?
Aung San Suu Kyi: Of course, let's rather than focus, put it as awareness. I would like the world to be aware of what is really going on in Burma. I think too much optimism doesn't do us any good either, but we do need the world with us, in this day and age you can't do without the rest of the world. But at the same time the Burmese people should go out and assume responsibilities for themselves, which is why I was saying earlier there should not be too much dependence on sanctions and external moves to help, but we have to take a major responsibility for the democratisation of our country.
NDTV: What are some of your concerns when you say that reckless optimism is not a good idea right now? Is it that till the Constitution in a sense is amended, institutionalised, and changes brought about?
Aung San Suu Kyi: Institution is very much a problem and if you want a simple answer to find out whether Burma is really on the way to democracy, when I've just got to look at whether there is enough impetus for change in the Constitution.
NDTV: You've led an extraordinary life and so much has been written about you, a movie has been made about you, have you seen the movie?
Aung San Suu Kyi: No.
NDTV: Do you plan to?
Aung San Suu Kyi: No, I don't plan to.
NDTV: Is that because you think it's bit unreal to watch yourself on screen.
Aung San Suu Kyi: I will find it embarrassing.
NDTV: Are you used to the intense attention on you, because you seem to be a very private person? Yet the whole world wants now a bit of you, now that you are out and able to step out of your country, so many people want to know you better.
Aung San Suu Kyi: I think of it the other way round, rather than the attention of the world I think of it in terms of how much attention I am able to pay others. And I hope that I manage to pay them the attention I should be paying them. Sometimes it's a little difficult because there are so many people and so many countries, organisations that are good to us and I do really want to make sure that they know that we appreciate them.
NDTV: I know you said in one of your talks that, I think in San Francisco, if I am not wrong, you didn't see yourself as infallible, you didn't yourself saintly in that sense, that you had weaknesses and fallibilities.
Aung San Suu Kyi: I never thought of myself as a saint, it makes me uncomfortable when people say I am one.
NDTV: Anything you wish you would have done differently, any mistakes you feel you made?
Aung San Suu Kyi: Oh, I am sure I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. To begin with I think I have a bit of temper, I think I have to learn to keep that under control.
NDTV: Let me end by asking you, you've come back to the city where you went to school, you went to college, you've been meeting with old friends, have you got an evening off just to spend time with them? Have you managed to go and see some old haunts in Delhi?
Aung San Suu Kyi: The very day I arrived I spent the whole afternoon with my old friends and we went for a walk to Lodi Gardens as we'd always intended to.
NDTV: Well that's lovely to hear and we hope that you come back to India again and again.
Aung San Suu Kyi: I hope so too. It's a land of which I am very, very fond of. Whenever I think of India as a country I think of it as a land, makes it much more romantic and more open and all embracing.
NDTV: I think it's very special to many of us that you went to school and college here because it makes us feel we can claim a little bit of you.
Aung San Suu Kyi: I am very happy to be here indeed.
NDTV: Thank you very much Aung San Suu Kyi for talking to us.