(Commentary) – It is welcome news that Burmese Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann met with Min Ko Naing and his 88-Generation comrades last week. The meeting is as important as President Thein Sein's first meeting with Suu Kyi because Min Ko Naing's political power and moral strength is on par with Suu Kyi's.
And the group is a formidable force collectively as they are younger and already matured and battle hardened as a group, very disciplined and politically savvy. There are no finer potential political leaders for the country.
The presence of Min Ko Naing on the current political scene brings to mind what happened decades ago when the country was under British rule. The group reminds me of General Aung San and his 30 comrades, with important similarities as well as major differences between them.
Both leaders were able to lead the whole nation to rise up against its rulers. Aung San took up arms where as Min Ko Naing took up massive organizational skills as a weapon of revolt. Like Aung San he can be a fiery orator.
Gen. Aung San and his 30 comrades left for Japan for military training where as Min Ko Naing and the group of young university students went to jail for an absolutely different type of training. Gen. Aung San and his comrades became military leaders and fought for Burma's independence Min Ko Naing and his comrades have become a different type of warrior – they became warriors of conscience and powerful dissidents.
Twenty years in jail toughened them physically, mentally and spiritually and molded them to be patient, resolute and resilient. They empowered themselves in spite of being tortured and facing extreme hardships. Instead of bitterness and hatred towards the military dictatorship they developed tolerance and transformed themselves into moral and spiritual warriors, able to conquer themselves. In doing that, they empowered themselves as leaders serving as a role model to an entire nation been inspired by them.
They emerged from prison as an incredibly cohesive group walking in step with each other in perfect unison. It's almost as if they all have been cloned from Min Ko Naing. This is to refer to their united political views, personal values and moral courage in the face of danger and threat. And they are completely devoid of bitterness against the Burmese military, in the mold of Mandela and Suu Kyi. But the difference is both Mandela and Suu Kyi did not have 20 comrades after being freed.
On YouTube videos, the group has an extraordinary aura of confidence and courage. And it is interesting that every time they are together Min Ko Naing takes center stage as the bona fide leader of the group, but he hands the mike around to his comrades who take turns to speak. Was that how he built up his 20 comrades to rise up together with him? I am sure there were unaccountable ways he developed the group. In modern management terms, they would be called a Lateral Organization, one in which leadership and decisions are shared equally.
The world has had many leaders from Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gen. Aung San and even Suu Kyi. Each became prominent global figures, but none of them brought along a group of fellow leaders like Min Ko Naing has done.
Even Gen Aung San's 30 comrades did not stay cohesive after the war. In fact, one, the notorious Ne Win, destroyed the country that the 30 Comrades had fought for. And the rest eventually went their own way.
What is it that has held the 88-Generation group together and allowed them to move forward in lock step? There appears to be no competition between them or jostling for position.
Min Ko Naing is already a strong leader. Multiply him twenty times, and Burma has twenty potentially strong leaders. Whatever the reasons, Burma has an extraordinary group of gifted politicians.
The question arises: why are the government and military hardliners so afraid of them? Because they can command the people without actually commanding them. As leaders, they do not set themselves apart. They come down to the level of the common man leaving no gap between them and the man on the street.
They are real leaders – not just iconic.