What Else Connects Rahul, Rushdie and Suu Kyi on Their Birthday?
Rahul Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi and Salman Rushdie – what else connects this trio apart from their birthday?
In 1960, a young girl of 15 and her brother moved to New Delhi. Their mother had just been appointed Burma’s ambassador to India. Their father had been killed 13 years ago. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru immediately allotted them a spacious bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi, where the kids grew up.
The daughter’s name was Aung San Suu Kyi, and she graduated from Lady Shriram College in Delhi in1964. Thereafter, she studied, worked, got married and had children in the UK and the US. Increasingly politicised, she became a leader of Burmese exiles protesting the military dictatorship in Rangoon.
She returned to Burma in 1988 to lead the movement for democracy. It would not be a comfortable return: she spent the next 22 years in and out of house arrest, under extreme conditions. Suu Kyi would meet her husband only five times after 1988, before his death.
Some of her happiest memories are of her time in Delhi. The bungalow they lived in and the friends she made: among them, Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi. The bungalow’s address is 24, Akbar Road, now headquarters of the Congress.
The Fatwa Forces
In 1988 writer Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses and was immediately slammed with a fatwa with a price on his head by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran.
Living in the UK, he was placed under intensive police protection, his whereabouts unknown to most of the world. By 1989, the Rushdie affair raised such a storm that the UK broke off diplomatic ties with Iran.
He lived in hiding for nine years, till Iran scrapped the fatwa in return for resuming ties with Britain. Years later, now a star, Rushdie wrote a book about those years in isolation, called ‘Joseph Anton,’ the pseudonym he used in exile. It was based on the names of two writers he admired – Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.
The Misplaced Leader
At age 14, Rahul Gandhi was withdrawn from Doon School after the assassination of grandmother Indira Gandhi and kept under intense security cover for many years. In 1989, he was admitted to Delhi’s St Stephen's College, but was hustled off overseas. By 1991, after the assassination of his father, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, his security cover intensified further.
He passed through Harvard, Rollins and Trinity under a variety of nom-de-guerres, one of which, reportedly, was Raul Vinci. He worked for consultancies like the Monitor Group: few, if any, of his colleagues knew his real identity. Rahul’s 12-year exile ended when he returned to India around 2002, winning three Lok Sabha elections from Amethi from 2004.
Chased by Controversies
These stories have had mixed outcomes. Suu Kyi’s struggle and suffering have yielded great dividends for the people of Burma. The dictatorship has relaxed its hold and she’s been the Leader of Opposition in Parliament from 2012. If polls would have been truly democratic, she would undoubtedly be elected by a landslide.
Rushdie suffered through his fatwa, but he owes his global celebrity status to it. His gifts as a writer, not even the Booker for Midnight’s Children, could have given him the stardom he enjoys worldwide.
Rahul’s career has been patchy. Despite winning his own seat, his leadership and campaigns have been unspectacular: the Uttar Pradesh poll campaign, which he led, ended miserably for the Congress. The Lok Sabha polls of 2014 saw the party get its lowest-ever tally of 44 seats.
Living by Principles
He seems to have returned charged up after a recent 56-day sabbatical, but ultimately, Rahul will be judged by electoral outcomes and strategy.
In Albert Camus’ 1957 short story collection Exile and the Kingdom, the most redeeming tale is about a character called D’Arrast. D’Arrast chooses to live by his principles and sacrifices much, despite recognising the fundamental absurdity of this world.
Despite mixed outcomes, one thing all three exiles share is their date of birth. On June 19,Suu Kyi will turn 70, Rushdie, 68 and Rahul, 45. Many happy returns to the three of you. May you continue to live by the principles of D’Arrast.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist.)
(The article is being republished from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of Aung Suu Kyi’s birthday. It was first published on 19 June 2015.)
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