Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mr President Writes Back, Critics Silenced

When I last wrote about Singapore's sixth President Sellapan Ramanathan, a more senior member of our legal fraternity sent me an angry response chiding me for being grossly unfair to an aged member of our country, whose driving motivation had been to do nothing other than give the best he could for his country. 

I dismissed his response and I said it was for the President to one day tell young Singaporeans like me what he had done for our country. I now wish I had held my tongue then.

Since leaving the Istana, Nathan, at 91, has been indefatigable. He would put many younger Singaporeans like me to shame simply by his sheer energy. 

He is fighting back to ensure that Singaporean 'ingrates' like me will not forget the great contributions he has made to Singapore with a series of publications. 

Given the chiding I received, I made it a point to read two of these publications recently. 

The first is a publication that goes to the bookshops this week: S R Nathan in Conversation. 

When I picked it up to read the night I bought it, I wondered what could he say that I didn't already know about him or Singapore. 

I started with his views of the divide we see in contemporary Malaysia today and he painted vivid a picture of how the well-intended roots of United Malays National Organisation, which should have evolved into a United MALAYANS National Organisation, has put Malaysia on a polarised path.

Of course, one could perhaps argue that he is looking at Malaysia from the tainted lens of battle-hardened Singaporean who toiled restlessly to bring Singapore from a colony to sovereign state, driven by a motivation to be all that a less divisive Malaysia should have been.

Ironically, Nathan makes clear his agenda at the start of the book: "My concern is not political debate, but simply the future growth, prosperity and wellbeing of Singapore and its people." 

In the pursuit of his agenda, he weaves together a series of stories from different stages of his life in shaping contemporary Singapore. He shares his stories with a diplomatic candour clearly burnished through his sensitive sojourns. 

Indeed, the strength of his story-telling made it such a difficult book to put down that I finished it in one sitting.

From time to time, he also refers to his autobiography, An Unexpected Journey: Path to the President, to fill in the gaps in his stories. This makes the reason for reading his autobiography even more compelling, which became the second book I read about Nathan. 

Reading both books you realize how invaluable Nathan's expansive contributions have been to Singapore. 

Here was a man with a ringside view of change in independent Singapore, who was happy to assert his influence whenever called upon to do so in sheer defence of such developments; something he felt was necessary to feed millions of mouths in Singapore. 

Hence, his involvement in reforming both the printing press and the diplomatic corps to enable each of these institutions to stay relevant to a government that became increasingly sensitive to negative criticism and bourgeois idiosyncracies. 

The relevance of his books can be  best summarised in Nathan's own words, "History never repeats itself exactly, but a close study of it can alert us to dangers. Experience of the past can prepare us for contingencies." 

Through his publications, Nathan has effectively silenced those who criticised his quiet ways of getting a job done. 

My President Nathan, thank you for doing the best you could.

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Singaporeans like me desire from our future MPs


My Minister Chan, 

I write to you in my capacity as an ordinary voter of your constituency. 

About two years ago, I moved to take up residence in the area you have been tasked by your political party to care for, having lived for over a decade in an area where the Honourable Tharman Shanmugaratnam was elected to care for.

I write to express my disturbance at your recent comments concerning a politician of a different party. I believe the contents of your comments reflect the kind of politics that constituents like me do not wish you to pursue. I am sure you mean well for our country but you risk turning off voters like me with every less than helpful comment you make on personalities that may not necessarily matter to your constituents. 

As we celebrate 50 years of independent statehood, leaders like you tasked to take us into our next 50 years can certainly be more gracious and, at any opportunity you can, forgiving of the shortcomings of our fellow citizens, especially those that may hold and express divergent viewpoints.

Rather than dedicating your time to such less than savoury purposes, I would like you to convince me on the basis of your constructive work and the strength of your arguments on issues of the day affecting our country. 

Indeed, I came from a constituency where my sitting Member of Parliament impressed my neighbours and me with a great, undivided sense of purpose and attention. Even though appointed at the highest levels of the Executive and holding positions valuable to our little red dot on international bodies, he often used his constituency for important announcements and other key national initiatives. His single-minded focus has always been on the issues that matter to Singaporeans and not personalities. From all that I know of him, he has never indulged in the kind of politics that pains me to see you pursue.

I am sure many Singaporeans will agree that he is the kind of leader we would like to see in Singapore for the next 50 years and I hope, as a fellow member of his party, you will find it worthwhile to perhaps follow his example.

At this point, I will only say that my experience has been contrastingly different as a resident of your constituency. 

Purely to illustrate my point, some of my neighbours tell me that they have not met you since the last general elections, where you were elected through a walkover. While I am appreciative of the national contribution you are making as a sitting Minister, I hope you will come meet your constituents more regularly. 

I am not sure if you will seek to be re-elected from my constituency but I am sure you will agree that there is much more to be done in the area that comes under your care and from which your party is likely to seek a re-election.

Thank you in advance for your kind consideration.

Dharmendra Yadav