Dear Grandpa Kuan Yew,
You are my grandfather as you brought up my mother, my nation, during her formative years.
I’ve not always agreed with everything you’ve set in motion and I will continue to analyse and question, policies and diktats issued by the government, your legacy, that I have yet to vote for. And I will do so fearlessly because I know somewhere, you are proud that you have raised a generation of questioners. (We do whine a little too much, but forgive us, we are a teenage nation.)
For every young Singaporean critic, including myself, we owe you nothing but thanks. Without your vision, I would not have had the education that has allowed me to analyse, reflect and critic your policies.
We are a product of your vision, a consequence of your policies.
“I always tried to be correct,” you once said, “not politically correct.” and it would be remiss of us to unlearn that lesson, much as it may have made you grumpy ;)
We are the generation that has been fed stories of your bravery and your fearlessness in leading Singapore forward when we were orphaned. We’ve been raised on that picture of you crying on 8 August 1965. In entrepreneur speak, you pivoted when the situation demanded it. You did not shirk from responsibility and in a region that was thrown asunder by corruption, politics and power, you made some hard decisions. If any of this was for personal glory, it was hidden very well indeed.
Time magazine said it best when they profiled you:
What really sets this complex man apart from Asia’s other nation-builders is what he didn’t do: he did not become corrupt, and he did not stay in power too long. Mao, Suharto, Marcos and Ne Win left their countries on the verge of ruin with no obvious successor. Lee left Singapore with a per capita GDP of $14,000, his reputation gilt-edged and an entire tier of second-generation leaders to take over when he stepped down in 1990
Of course, you were not alone and you were fortunate to have a team and support that was excellent (Goh Keng Swee, Devan Nair, Rajaratnam, JBJ are a few other grandfathers that come to my mind) and together that comradeship brought Singapore to where she is. All of you saw Singapore as your personal responsibility.
However, when friends become enemies, you showed no mercy. You have been accused of being ruthless with your enemies. And worse, unrepentantly unabashed about it. Anything or anyone that didn’t sit with your vision of Singapore was culled, politically and socially.
There’s no sugar coating here : you were ruthless. But which politician isn’t? Politics has never been about fairness, it’s a game of those who compete for glory and power in the name of saying they know the best for the nation. At least in this race with you, Singapore was always number one. I don’t endorse your tactics but I can understand the ethos it was born from.
I don’t need to tell you that my closest friends are Eurasian, Indian, Chinese and Malay. I speak Singlish with pride (I know how you felt about that language but you don’t always know everything gramps!) because it represents what Singapore will always be: an immigrant society where cultures jostle each other but nevertheless co-exist with a little grumbling.
As a minority, has Singapore always been fair to me? Hell No
But is Singapore, the worst I could have been born into? Hell No.
As a single Indian female, I cannot but be grateful that you provided opportunities for my dad to come to Singapore in the 70’s, which in turn has allowed me to grow up in a country where I can roam the streets safely at 3am. You have played a part in providing an environment that has moulded me into the strong outspoken independent woman I am today.
When the current Chief Justice, Sunderash Menon, delivered his maiden speech a few years ago, he said (and I probably misquote) “It is a testament to Singapore’s meritocracy where a son of a humble worker, stands as a Chief Justice before you.”
Yes, you had your patriarchal policies, which do make me shudder but by and large, I am imminently fortunate to be in a society you created where education is the currency, where it’s not necessarily the colour of your skin, the connections or your bank account but hard work and smarts that cement your place.
You’ve taken great pains to carefully cultivate an image of you as a titanium man but we know, buried in all that steel, there breathed a romantic.
You’ve been quoted that you’ve never believed in love at first sight.
Perhaps, that’s because you were infinitely more romantic to believe in a love that lasted till your last breath.
The romantic in me would like to believe the HDB policy for singles to only buy a flat after 35 is because you wanted to give everyone the chance to find their own Geok Choo or Kuan Yew.
(I can imagine your derision but let me romanticise you.)
Your biggest mistake was to assume that none was as great as you could have been for Singapore. Yet, I do find it difficult to accuse you of hubris as you were a visionary.
But no system or person is perfect and for that reason, I will always petition for improvement, just as how you, Lim Yew Hock and David Marshall did for Singapore after the war.
Singapore is not perfect but thanks to you, it’s definitely good enough.
#RIPLKY #LeeKuanYew #Singapore #sg50