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Bonding with Singapore

Monday, October 18, 2010
By Robin Shukla

Looking East To Look West - Lee Kuan Yew's Mission India – by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray explains that Singapore's relationship with India dates back to when Lee was a young law student at Cambridge. Lee was an ardent admirer of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and was in a similar situation of leading a political movement against British rule. According to Datta-Ray, the attraction to India is not merely because India is a global power but because the two nations have a shared history. May sound somewhat far-fetched but is probably true.

The book provides a close look at relations between the two countries, with quotes and opinions from politicians and bigwigs from both countries. Datta-Ray understands that the association is driven by several considerations, one of them being: Geo-politics. Singapore needed India to counter balance the delicate equations in the region, to demonstrate that the city state with an ethnic Chinese majority was not going to become a satellite of China.

Here are also interesting facts in all this business: Singapore is India's second largest investor in terms of Foreign Direct Investments, ahead of larger economies like the United States and Japan. Singapore is a net recipient of migrant workers from South Asia, who with their blood and sweat have built the modern Singapore that we see today. As Lee Kuan Yew said, Asia would be submerged if India did not emerge.

This is a scholarly, meticulously researched and gripping story of how Singapore icon Lee Kuan Yew persisted despite great odds to court India, and how his dream of embracing New Delhi has finally become a reality now. Lee remains a huge friend of India and has made 14 trips to India between 1959 and 2004, more than any other foreign leader.

Although Chinese by ethnicity, Lee has always believed that Southeast Asia needs India to cope with China. His individuality and conviction of what is right and wrong vis-à-vis China made him refuse a gift of Neville Maxwell’s controversial book on the 1962 Sino-Indian war, which was given to him by Chinese premier Hua Guo Feng. Lee even tolerated India’s flirtations with Moscow, and refused to get drawn into debates about India’s political ambiguities in those days.

Nehru, on his part liked Lee and the Singapore leader admired the Indian giant. But the small minds in the Foreign Affairs departments had reservations against getting too close to Singapore, because they did not wish to offend Malaysia. However, India is the first non-European Commonwealth country to recognise Singapore. Though Lal Bahadur Shastri ignored Lee’s appeal for military help, Indira Gandhi later agreed to train the Singapore air force. Lee however saw India obsessed with Pakistan.

When India introduced economic reforms, about 3,000 Indian companies opened up branches in Singapore. Goh Chok Tong, who succeed Lee as prime minister, also followed the principles of friendship by sponsoring India at various Asian forums.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, referring to Lee, said: ‘Lee Kuan Yew has been a friend and a well-wisher of India. As a friend, he has also occasionally criticised us, but we have always listened to what he has to say with great, great respect. “Strong emotional, cultural and economic bonds.”

Looking East to Look West by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray
Penguin Books India
Price Rs.499


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