Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressing his views on the demise of his father and the founder of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew in a Channel News Asia television interview pointed out that when he entered politics, his father had told him that Singapore had prospered within a short period since it gained independence in 1965 due to the unity and integrity it maintained with the minorities in the country.
Lee Kuan Yew who died at the age of 91 a few days ago on 23 March had also reminded his son that the minorities in Singapore should not be treated in the manner they were treated as Chinese when Singapore was part of Malaysia prior to its independence.
Lee Kuan Yew’s far sightedness in curbing the communal differences soon after Singapore gained independence had allowed the tiny nation to be on par with other economic giants in the world.
Chinese being the majority, Malays and Indians including the immigrants of Lankan origin were accommodated in a significant manner towards building the modern Singapore which hardly had any natural resources. Even for water Singapore had to depend on Malaysia.
Impressed with developed state of Sri Lanka
When Singapore gained independence in 1965, Lee Kuan Yew was even impressed with the developed state of Sri Lanka at that time, and saw the Island nation in the Indian Sub Continent as exemplary.
Joining hands not only with the ‘think tanks’ of his ethnicity Lee Kuan Yew had depended on late S. Rajaratnam who hailed from Vaddukottai, Jaffna as his confidant in building the modern Singapore.
Rajaratnam as a toddler migrated to Singapore from Jaffna and after completing his higher studies in the UK he began his career as a journalist in Singapore. Later with Lee Kuan Yew, Rajaratnam played a significant role in the People’s Action Party (PAP) of Lee Kuan Yew and became the first Foreign Minister of Singapore.
Rajaratnam who was affectionately called by Lee Kuan Yew as ‘Raja’ while focusing towards strengthening the integrity of Singapore formulated a foreign policy to stabilize the country’s external relations in order to attract more foreign investments.
Chinese, Malays and Indians
Rajaratnam once mentioning about the minority issues said that the inclusive policy on ethnic groups such as Chinese , Malays and Indians from the school-level onwards making English as a common language while allowing Chinese, Indians and Malays to learn their own languages, prevented any form of communal issues popping up in the country.
Rajaratnam addressing one of the UN General Assembly sessions during his tenure as Singapore’s Foreign Minister said that a small country like Singapore cannot afford to make enemies. “By enjoying good neighbourly relations only we could focus more towards our prosperity,” Rajaratnam stressed.
Lee Kuan Yew in his autobiography had remembered his first visit to Sri Lanka in 1956 and remembered the meeting he had with late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. The two leaders met over dinner in Colombo and Lee Kuan Yew had mentioned that during his conversation with Bandaranaike he was able to understand that the Lankan leader was heading for a messy situation by handling the language issue.
For the present day Singaporeans Lee and Raja remained the two strong pillars towards building Singapore as a successful nation in South East Asia.
Rajaratnam, held the position of even Deputy Prime Mister, and when he passed away in 2006, the country gave him a state funeral with full military honours.
Lee Kuan Yew was unable to control himself and wept openly when he delivered the funeral oration for Rajaratnam.
It is also interesting to note that Lee Kuan Yew had even obtained the assistance of eminent Lankan Zoologist Lyn de Alwis, the brother late S. Thomas’ Warden in creating the first Zoological garden in Singapore.
Lyn de Alwis became the first Zoologist to create the Singapore Zoological Garden which has been rated as one of the best in the world.
Lee Kuan Yew had the ability to grasp the best from wherever, or whoever he encountered, with a broad outlook.
Great admiration for Sri Lanka
As it was mentioned by the Tamil National Alliance Leader R. Sampanthan in his message of condolence on the demise of Le Kuan Yew, the Singapore leader had a great admiration for Sri Lanka when he first visited the Island in 1956 and he even saw the country as a role model in building Singapore.
The admiration Lee had towards Sri Lanka was short lived with the Island which was considered a pearl in the Indian Ocean taking shape into a tear drop in the Sub Continent following the ethic unrests which the late Singapore leader had never allowed on the path of building his nation.
When Sri Lanka had gained independence, it had the best form of civil administration and the standard of education remained far superior to that of other countries in South Asia.
During the British period Sri Lankans were even employed in Malaysia and Singapore in the civil services of those countries.
Even the present Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Tharman Shunmugaratnam had his roots in Jaffna and remains a living testimony to the unity, integrity and the statesmanship of Lee Kuan Yew.
Therefore, the life and times of Lee Kuan Yew in making Singapore, from a third world country to a tiny economic superpower in Asia, remain significant in many ways to the Lankan leadership, in coming out from the errors committed in the past in building a united and an economically sound Sri Lanka.