Nobel Peace Laureate and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi today said Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were the two Indian leaders to whom she felt "closest" and recalled how and she and India's first prime minister had many things in common.
The India-educated pro-democracy icon, who is coming to this country after 25 years, said many of the challenges faced by Gandhi and Nehru along the path to India's independence were the ones her movement had been facing over the course of its struggle which will mark its quarter century next year.
"The survival of their relationship, which was both personal and political, inspite of their many differences is one of the triumphs of Indian politics," Suu Kyi said delivering the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture, 17 years after she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru memorial Prize in 1995, the year she was released from her first house arrest.
67-year-old Suu Kyi, whose father General Aung San – regarded as Myanmar's independence hero -- was a personal friend of Nehru, last visited India in 1987 when she travelled to Shimla to join her husband Michael Aris, who was studying in the hill station.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi in her address described Suu Kyi's five-day visit as "something of homecoming" and told the democracy leader that she was the "worthy inheritor" of a "noble father's legacy."
Sonia said Suu Kyi's vision of politics as an "ethical calling" has inspired people the world over.
"As in the case of Mahatma Gandhi, her life is her message," Sonia said, adding that Nehru too has been a source of some inspiration for the pro-democracy leader.
Suu Kyi said Mahatma Gandhi's influence on her political thinking is widely recognised but the influence of Nehru on her life in politics is less well known.
Suu Kyi's visit is an emotional one because she spent several years in India as a student in the early 1960s while her mother was Ambassador to India.
The democracy leader, who was freed by the military junta in 2010, is also due to visit the Lady Shri Ram college in New Delhi, where she graduated with a degree in politics.
"You have been the keeper of Mahatma Gandhi's flame in your own country." Sonia told Suu Kyi. "To stand alone against power, whatever the cost, even to the point of defying the pointed rifle, requires extraordinary inner strength and resolve. To do so, not in order to acquire power or high office, but to empower a whole people, is even more heroic," she added.
Suu Kyi recalled that the year of Nehru's birth centenary--1989--was the year she was placed under house arrest for the first time and that could be said to have been the year of her political coming of age.
She said the thoughts and actions of the leaders of the Indian Independence movement provided her with ideas and inspiration.
Talking of her house arrest, the pro-democracy leader said among the 'maps' that used to see her through the years that headed into the unknown were Nehru's autobiography and 'Disovery of India'. She spent nearly 15 years under house arrest.
She said that during the house arrest she felt closer to those with whom she could identify politically, intellectually or spiritually through their thoughts, even if they were complete strangers or figures of the past, than to those whom she knew well personally.
Suu Kyi also said the lesson Nehru learnt is one everyone has to learn and relearn, again and again, along the long and difficult journey to goals that can only be won through hard work and persevarance.