This picture of President Barack Obama by White House photographer Pete Souza has no specific relevance to my post but it does convey quiet power.
One cannot but be struck by the contrast between President Barack Obama’s visit to Myanmar coming Monday and the one by the country’s iconic pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi currently underway in India.
Obama’s six-hour visit, the first by a US president, is part of his aggressive engagement in South East Asia and is a less than subtle strategic push in the region aimed at China. Suu Kyi’s six-day visit to India, now winding down, is more like a emotional homecoming. The Nobel Laureate spent her childhood and adolescence in New Delhi. Her mother was Burma’s (Myanmar’s) ambassador to the country.
"I feel myself partly a citizen of India," she told the students of the Lady Sri Ram (LSR) College, her own alma mater. In return the college enveloped her in that special embrace reserved for its very special alumni.
Obama’s agenda in Myanmar may be more symbolic but along with his visits to Thailand and Cambodia it does fit his bigger theme of maintaining a strong US presence in China’s neighborhood. Think of China as a giant planet whose natural geostrategic gravity could pull its smaller neighbors in South East Asia into its own orbit. Of course, in the politically and diplomatically correct world one would never hear such candid explanations but if one looks through the cracks in the wall of platitudes one would find the real intentions. (Where else but here would you find planets and platitudes mixed up.)
Behind this apparent jumble I suppose what I am saying is that India’s strength in Asia, both to it west and east, has historically been more cultural and emotional as underscored by Suu Kyi’s comments. "Coming back to LSR is not just coming back home, it is coming back to a place where I know my aspirations have not been wrong. I have learnt that my faith in the oneness of human aspirations is justified. I’m coming to a place where I can feel that my hopes have not been in vain," she said.
"I always knew I would come back to this hall where I had learned to sing one of Gandhi’s favorite songs – ‘Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram’. I feel myself partly a citizen of India," is how Suu Kyi described it.
More often than not dignitaries from many parts of Asia who visit India feel and express a similar cultural and emotional draw. It is a unique strength for a country/civilization to possess. One rarely hears similar sentiments being expressed by state visitors to China or, for that matter, even the United States, This emotional content of India’s cultural diplomacy does not lend itself to quantifiable geostrategic exploitation but goes much deeper and is therefore more enduring.
Even as I finish the paragraph above I become acutely aware how I am able to spin theories. I don’t think I am wrong. If I am, it is not as if you pay me to read me.