How intense can a man’s dream be? To what extent can he push the wheel? What is the true meaning of nationalism? How commensurate the thoughts of a leader can be with his people?
The life of this extraordinary politician facilitates us with answers of these questions. Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore, father of the nation and the architect of this “Asian Tiger” economy, left this world on 23rd March 2015. A highly revered figure in Singapore, Lee was equally extolled by top world leaders and bureaucrats for his peculiar and progressive thoughts about development, nationalism, autonomy, public policies and foreign policies. Massiveness of his contribution can be apprehended by the fact that he elevated the country from third to first world status in a SINGLE GENERATION.
When he joined the office in 1959, Singapore was a rudderless country with 13% literacy, agrarian economy and gloomy future as an unheeded British colony. His determination to ensure uninterrupted development of Singapore led him to take a risky but utterly ambitious step. He successfully campaigned for merging Singapore with Malaysia to end British rule, but just after 2 years Singapore separated from the federation due to racial and political discords. It was a devastating event for Lee because he believed in the merger of these two territories since long. As a visionary, he was broken by the failure of his vision. After the separation in 1965, he spent 6 weeks of total isolation which raised concerns throughout the globe but he answered the concerns with unmistakable humor – “Do not worry about Singapore. My colleagues and I are sane, rational people even in our moments of anguish. We will weigh all possible consequences before we make any move on the political chessboard.” This candid reply not only settled the rumors but also galvanized his countrymen. This was the inception of the great Singaporean dream.
So it is 1965, Singapore is independent, but what next? Surrounded by communists and countries with aggressive stance, like Indonesia, their first task was to announce and seal the freedom. Lee associated Singapore with UN in no time, but this was not enough. He knew importance of regional cooperation and formed ASEAN which is one of the most successful regional establishments in history. Apparently Indonesia was a threat but Lee kept visiting Indonesia as representative of a friend nation and this strategy worked. He simultaneously initiated the creation of Singapore Armed Forces as he didn’t want to project Singapore as a soft nation. It was his gumption to ask Israel to support them in building effective defense infrastructure because geographically and resource-wise Israel was not much different. Attributable to these efforts, gradually confrontations and fears annihilated. This was the time for the leap.
What’s the first requirement to be a developed nation? Establishing equality and receptiveness for all. Lee recognized that Singapore was a difficult to ingest country for immigrants and nonnative communities. But how can a country with little resources accelerate its growth in such environment? Lee decided to develop Singapore with the model that is in base of New York City, “Multiculturalism”. Creating unique Singaporean identity and maintaining religious tolerance and racial harmony were his prime motives because without them the success could never be achieved. He ensured that laws were capable of treating any violation of harmony.
Creating excessively strong laws against corruption, paying his ministers well to maintain honest government (matching salaries of government officials to that of private sector employees), foreseeing effects of increasing population and introducing two child family plan, igniting social reform by encouraging Singaporean men to choose highly educated women as wives(this encouraged families to educate girls), recognizing homosexuality as a natural phenomenon and many more such innovative steps were taken by him to ameliorate the social and structural efficiency of the nation.
It is attributed to his political shrewdness that Singapore has been a close ally to both USA and China at the same moment, which is a rare feat for a nation with very little to offer. His achievements had such effect on then Chinese PM Deng Xiaoping that over 22,000 Chinese officials were sent to Singapore to study his methods and to emulate his policies of economic growth and entrepreneurship. Leaders from Russia, UK and US are his major admirers. Tony Blair called him “the smartest leader I ever met”.
But history suggests that such leaders have always been accused of being totalitarian and this case is no different. Critics call him an authoritarian citing his attempts to sue media and opposition for their discordant views. Some also accuse him of promoting culture of elitism and nepotism. But for majority of Singapore, he is the savior. The man who envisioned all, the man who saw the future… the man who made Singapore!!
“My definition of an educated man is a man who never stops learning and wants to learn. I am not interested in whether a man has a Ph.D. or not, or an M.A. for that matter, or a diploma. Mao never had one, neither had Khrushchev, nor Stalin.”
– Lee Kuan Yew about Education