For Aung San Suu Kyi, revisiting New Delhi after nearly two decades must be a very special experience. She spent some formative years of her life in the Indian capital. More important, she has always counted two Indians — Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru — among the biggest influences on her political life. But her visit to India this time is about much more than personal and political memories. Ms Suu Kyi’s visit comes at a crucial moment for the political future of her country and for India’s possible role in shaping that future. If Myanmar has finally shaken off its five-decade-old burden of military rule, it is largely because of her struggle for democracy. But the transition is still clouded by the military’s large presence in the country’s elected parliament. Ms Suu Kyi has agreed to join the parliament as the Opposition leader because she wants to give the fledgling democracy a chance. Neither the parliament nor the military-turned-politicians would have had any legitimacy if she had decided to stay away from the process. How the transition in Myanmar works and how long democracy takes to strike roots there may depend largely on her.
What happens in Myanmar next is also something that the international community will be watching keenly. The sudden importance of the country in global diplomacy is attested by Barack Obama’s decision to choose it as his first overseas destination after his re-election. New Delhi, too, must be reworking its strategies for engaging with Myanmar. India had once been among the first countries to support Ms Suu Kyi’s democracy movement in Myanmar. That policy changed in the mid-Nineties, when New Delhi decided to do business with the generals in Yangon. The change disappointed Ms Suu Kyi but was apparently the result of New Delhi’s anxiety over the Chinese strategies for Myanmar. Much of that old order is set to change in Myanmar. Several countries, including the United States of America, have lifted trade and other sanctions that they had imposed on Myanmar for many years. Even if they are not tested democrats yet, Myanmar’s new rulers have been opening up the country to the world quite fast. Its oil and gas reserves and mineral resources are already attracting investors and other players. India cannot afford to miss its opportunities in changing Myanmar. Ms Suu Kyi can help New Delhi shape its new role in her country’s future.