Aspirations precede icons

Witoubou Newmai

The missteps of Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and Irom Sharmila of Manipur provide full references to enable us to understand the danger of projecting icons and organisations larger than aspirations. Their cautionary stories are also about undermining the coalesced people’s fervour towards their movements.

True democracy aspired by the people still remains elusive even after Aung San Suu Kyi became the de facto leader of the Myanmar Government in 2016. Suppression of the minorities and less space for media freedom are some of the issues in Suu Kyi’s Myanmar today.

“…for the Nobel Peace laureate and onetime democracy icon, suppressing criticism has become a hallmark of her leadership,” reported The New York Times. “If the government continues in this way, we will never achieve democracy and we will go back to being a dictatorship,” Maung Saungkha, a free speech advocate who served six months in prison under the previous government, was quoted as saying by the report.

The oppressive actions are drastic departure under the helm of the past activist, who in her biography “Freedom from Fear,” wrote, “Opponents of the (pro-democracy) movement in Burma have sought to undermine it by, on one hand, casting asperations on the competence of the people to judge what was best for the nation, and on the other, condemning the basic tenets of democracy as un-Burmese.”

We are not going to discuss on what is driving Suu Kyi to do so, but according to analysts, the Myanmar’s democratic transition “appears to have stalled,” as per a report in the BBC.

Under the title, ‘Aung San Suu Kyi: The democracy icon who fell from grace’, the BBC reported that “she was once seen as a beacon for universal human rights – a principled activist willing to give up her freedom to stand up to the ruthless generals who ruled Myanmar for decades”. The Nobel (Prize) Committee once called her “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless.”

“But since becoming Myanmar’s de facto leader in 2016 after a democratic opening, Ms Suu Kyi has been rounded on by the same international leaders and activists who once supported her,” it noted.

Regarding Irom Sharmila, who was one of the biggest brands internationally one time, her decision to enter electoral politics after 16 years of agitation against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was considered by the people a misstep. She was badly defeated in the 2017 Manipur Assembly Elections. Since then she keeps a low profile.

The aforesaid accounts have been raised to drive home the point that the entirety of charms of any movement, once they are attached or become synonymous with organizations or icons, the movement would find it very difficult to find succor, in the event of ‘misstep’ by the icons or the organizations.

When such a situation arises, anyone or group will appear askance at their effort to continue the movements. To save genuine movements, it is high time we examine whether we are projecting icons and organizations bigger than our aspirations.