As I read about the passing of Mr Lew Kuan Yew I am motivated to pen down some thoughts of him.
I am not a Singaporean and I don’t live in Singapore.
I am an Indian living in Gurgaon and I have had the rare privilege of living in Singapore for 6 years from 1989 to 1995 and of seeing him hand over the reins of the country he founded to Goh Chok Tong. It struck me that coming from a country where politicians did not believe in a retirement age, here was a leader who practised what he preached. Here was a leader who had worked on a succession plan for the country he loved so much that he realised that in order to meet the aspirations of his young nation, he wanted to bring in new leadership.
Here was a leader who had developed incredible work ethic in his countrymen and built a country which stood above all others when it came to transparency and honesty. This must have taken some doing given that in the eighties and nineties, most countries of South East Asia and South Asia were mired in corruption. As Singapore strode ahead like a colossus building incredible infrastructure, several other countries continue to struggle with corruption and pathetic infrastructure three decades later.
Yet, I remember his famous words when asked what would he do if his successor messed up to which very simply stated that he would come back from the grave if anyone dared to harm his beloved country.
Many years ago in the early nineties, I was asked to make a presentation to PM Lee Hsien Loong when he was Minister of Trade and Industry during a trip to Mumbai. I started the presentation with two quotes from his famous father. These were comments that I had read from possibly his first speech in the Singapore Parliament. He said (and I am paraphrasing these and not quoting):
- Singaporeans must realise that planning for their generation, for better or worse has already been done. You are where you are because someone thought of you. You must plan for the next generation.
- Singaporeans must understand that the world does not owe us a living.
Mr Lee Hsien Loong remarked at the end of the presentation that he himself did not recall his famous father having made these comments. Both these statements were from a visionary and selfless leader who had charted out the an ambitious course for his small island nation and within a short period of 25 years made a major mark on the world stage. So many political leaders from our part of the world would do well to emulate these thoughts instead of asking the same question every time “What’s in it for me?”
It is because of him and his vision that built this economic miracle that Singapore now figures on every World map even though other islands of a much larger land mass don’t find a place owing to “scale” restrictions!
I have had the opportunity of seeing LKY strolling down Orchard Road, his hands in his pocket, possibly surveying proudly what he had done to empower his people and create wealth for his nation. There were no security men around him, or none that I could see.
Soon after the famous Gulf War, when he was asked if he worried about being surrounded by nations like Indonesia and Malaysia, his comment that his country did not have any oil or any natural resources that could invite any invader. Yet, he said, his country had a wealth of brains which helped to manage the region and if someone did invade, these brains would stop thinking!
The World will be a much poorer place without him now that he has taken his final bow from the World stage.