25 July, 2024


The Architect & Builder Of Modern Singapore Passes Away Peacefully

By Veluppillai Thangavelu

Veluppillai Thangavelu

Veluppillai Thangavelu

Singapore’s founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away peacefully    on March 23, 2015 at the ripe age of 91. He suffered from severe pneumonia and warded in the Singapore General Hospital since February 5.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has declared a seven-day period of national mourning. As a mark of respect, the state flags on all government buildings will be flown at half-mast for the mourning period, which starts on Monday, March 23, and ends on Sunday, March 29.

Mr Lee leaves behind his sons, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 63, and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, 57, daughter Dr Lee Wei Ling, 60, daughters-in-law Ho Ching, 61, and Lee Suet-Fern, 56, seven grandchildren and two siblings. His wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, predeceased him in 2010, at the age of 89.

Mr Lee’s body will lie in state at Parliament House from Wednesday, March 25, to Saturday, March 28, for the public to pay their last respects. They can do so from 10 am to 8 pm daily during that time.

A state funeral service for Mr Lee will be held at 2pm on Sunday, March 29, at the National University of Singapore’s University Cultural Centre. Many world leaders are expected to attend the funeral service, including Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India.

Lee Kuan Yew | Photo courtesy The Age

Lee Kuan Yew | Photo courtesy The Age

Tributes have been pouring in from world leaders describing Lee Kuan Yew as the architect and builder instrumental in shaping Singapore, a sleeping fishing village a century ago as an economic power house. It took just over five decades to convert Singapore as a mini-super power.  There is no gainsaying the fact Mr. Lee leaves Singapore as his lasting legacy.

Mr. Lee was a close friend of Sri Lankan Thamils and was probably the most outspoken critic of majority Sinhalese for oppressing the national minority.  According to The Hindu newspaper (March 24th) Thamil political leaders of Thamil Nadu paid glowing tributes to Mr. Lee describing him ‘A friend and Champion of Thamils.’

They condoled the death of former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew, saying that the Thamils across the world have lost a good friend.

“He brought together various nationalities—Thamils, Malaysians and Chinese—and made Tamil spoken by a negligible percentage as one of the official languages,” said DMK leader M. Karurunanidhi.

PMK leader S. Ramadoss said Lee Kuan Yew always insisted on granting Sri Lankan Thamils their rights and described as ethnic cleansing their killing while Indian leaders sought to portray their struggle as an act of terrorism. “Only a separate country could deliver Thamils from the clutches of Sinhalese hegemony and did not hesitate to call former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as a terrorist,” said Dr Ramadoss.

MDMK general secretary Vaiko said Lee Kuan Yew, who had loved the Thamils in his country, had understood the just demands of the Sri Lankan Thamils and drew the world’s attention towards their struggle. “He openly condemned Mahinda Rajapaksa and reiterated that Thamils were the original citizens of Sri Lanka. He also justified the armed struggle of the LTTE on the ground that it was against the majority Singhalese’s attempt to wipe out the Thamils,” he said.

Mr. Lee delivered his harshest criticism against Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president of Sri Lanka, describing him as ‘A Sinhalese Extremist.’ This comment was made during lengthy conversations Prof. Thomas Plate had with Mr. Lee. It was published as a book in 2011 titled  “Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew Citizen Singapore: How to Build a Nation.”

Author Thomas Gordon Plate is an American journalist, internationally syndicated columnist and a Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA as its Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies.

Specifically, Lee Kuan Yew said of President Rajapaksa and Sri Lanka, “[Sri Lanka] is not a happy, united country. Yes, they have beaten the Thamil Tigers this time, but the Sinhalese who are less capable are putting down a minority of Jaffna Thamils who are more capable. They were squeezing them out. That’s why the Thamils rebelled. But I do not see them ethnic cleansing all two million-plus Jaffna Thamils. The Jaffna Thamils have been in Sri Lanka as long as the Sinhalese.”

At page 55 of the book he accused the Sri Lankan government of engaging in ethnic cleansing. Here is the relevant excerpt from the book:


Mr Lee had a grand vision to build and shape Singapore from the time he and his People’s Action Party colleagues pushed for self-government in the 1950s, to their quest for merger with Malaysia in the early 1960s and their efforts to secure the country’s survival after independence that was thrust on it on August 9, 1965.

Singapore was founded as a British trading colony in 1819. It joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963 but separated two years later and became independent. Singapore subsequently became one of the world’s most prosperous countries with strong international trading links (its port is one of the worlds busiest in terms of tonnage handled) and with per capita GDP equal to that of the leading nations of Western Europe. There is a system in place of exemplary punishments for acts deemed to be anti-social.

According to World Bank (2011 – 2013) by GDP (PPP) Singapore ranked 4th out of 185 countries listed. Only Macau (Int$142,599) Qatar (Int$136,727) Luxembourg (Int$90,410) and Kuwait (Int$88,259) managed to beat Singapore.

Nebouring countries like Sri Lanka (98 -Int$9,738) India (124 – Int$5.412) Pakistan (132 – Int$4,602) Bangladesh (148   – Int$2.948) Nepal (154 – Int$2,295) all ranked far below Singapore. Only Malaysia came close to Singapore being placed 47 with Int$23,333 per purchasing power parity (PPP).

Unlike many south Asian political leaders, Lee Kuan Yew was a statesman who had a grand vision to build Singapore as a model city state for any other country that aspires to have both prosperity and peace. In 1965, Lee Kuan Yew knew many examples of failed states. So, he avoided racial conflict, linguistic strife, and religious discrimination.  In a country which is multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural, he made Chinese, Malay, English and Thamil (spoken by a mere 4.4% Official Languages) as official languages. Thus, although Chinese dominated the political and economic landscape, there was no discrimination on the basis of race or religion. Again, though Chinese outnumbered the rest of the population by a ration 3:4, there was equality and prosperity all around. And that perhaps is the magic why Singapore became a mini-super power.

Unlike Sri Lanka where there were series of  racial pogroms beginning from  the enactment of Sinhala Only Act in 1956 which became endemic till 1983. It culminated in a bloody civil war between Sri Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam that lasted for 26 long years tearing the country apart along racial and religious lines. The country is still groping in the dark in terms of ushering in good governance, rule of law, peace and political pluralism.  In this respect Sri Lankan political leaders were myopic, visionless, and selfish who sought power at the expense of the country and its people.

The unexpected regime change, 2 years ahead of schedule, that took place on January 09, 2015 led by Maithripala Sirisena has raised new hopes after the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s   family dictatorship, cronyism, chronic waste, corruption, undermining of the rule of law etc.  The   racial and religious tensions that lasted for 67 long years and still continuing although on a subdued scale.


A long time ago, Singapore was once known as Sea Town. While the earliest known historical records of Singapore are shrouded in time, a third century Chinese account describes it as “Pu-luo-chung”, or the “island at the end of a peninsula”. Later, the city was known as Temasek (“Sea Town”), when the first settlements were established from AD 1298-1299.

During the 14th century, this small but strategically-located island earned a new name. According to legend, Sang Nila Utama, a Prince from Palembang (the capital of Srivijaya), was out on a hunting trip when he caught sight of an animal he had never seen before. Taking it to be a good sign, he founded a city where the animal had been spotted, naming it “The Lion City” or Singapura, from the Sanskrit words “simha” (lion) and “pura” (city).

The city was then ruled by the five kings of ancient Singapura. Located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, the natural meeting point of sea routes, the city flourished as a trading post for vessels such as Chinese junks, Arab dhows, Portuguese battleships, and Buginese schooners.

The Raffles Effect

The city’s strategic location of Singapore has made it an ideal trading hub. Modern Singapore was founded in the 19th century, thanks to politics, trade and a man known as Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles.

During this time, the British Empire was eyeing a port of call in this region to base its merchant fleet and to forestall any advance made by the Dutch. Singapore, already an up-and-coming trading post along the Malacca Straits, seemed ideal.

Raffles, then the Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen (now Bengkulu) in Sumatra, landed in Singapore on 29 January 1819. Recognising the immense potential of the swamp-covered island, he helped negotiate a treaty with the local rulers and established Singapore as a trading station. The city quickly grew as an entrepot trade hub, attracting immigrants from China, India, and the Malay Archipelago and beyond.

In 1822, Raffles implemented the Raffles Town Plan, also known as the Jackson Plan, to address the issue of growing disorderliness in the colony. Ethnic residential areas were segregated into four areas. The European Town had residents made up of European traders, Eurasians and rich Asians, while the ethnic Chinese were located in present-day Chinatown and south-east of the Singapore River. Ethnic Indians resided at Chulia Kampong north of Chinatown, and Kampong Glam consisted of Muslims, ethnic Malays and Arabs who had migrated to Singapore. Singapore continued to develop as a trading post, with the establishment of several key banks, commercial associations and Chambers of Commerce. In 1924, a causeway opened linking the northern part of Singapore to Johor Bahru.

War and Peace

Singapore became a British Crown Colony after the Japanese surrendered. Singapore’s prosperity suffered a major blow during World War II, when it was attacked by the Japanese on 8 December 1941. The invaders arrived from the north, confounding the British military commanders who had expected an attack by sea from the south. Despite their superior numbers, the Allied forces surrendered to the Japanese on Chinese New Year, 15 February 1942. It was the largest surrender of British-led forces in history. The island, once feted as an “impregnable fortress”, was renamed Syonan-to (or “Light of the South Island” in Japanese).

When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the island was handed over to the British Military Administration, which remained in power until the dissolution of the Straits Settlement comprising Penang, Melaka and Singapore. In April 1946, Singapore became a British Crown Colony.

The Road to Independence

Singapore has come a long way to become what it is today. In 1959, the growth of nationalism led to self-government and the country’s first general election. The People’s Action Party (PAP) won a majority of 43 seats and Lee Kuan Yew became the first prime minister of Singapore.

In 1963, Malaysia was formed, comprising of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo (now Sabah). The move was meant to foster closer ties. However, Singapore’s merger proved unsuccessful and less than two years later on 9 August 1965, it left Malaysia to become an independent and sovereign democratic nation.

Profile of Singapore:

Conventional Name – Republic of Singapore.

Geographical location – Situated 137 km (85 mi) north of the equator, and just south of Peninsular Malaysia. In south the Strait of Singapore separates the island from the Riau Archipelago of Indonesia.

Chief of State – President Tony Tan

Head of State – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

National Anthem – Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore)

Capital – Singapore

Airport – Changi Airport

Area – 718 sq km (277 sq ml). Country comparison to the world: 192. Because Singapore lies just north of the equator, the wet tropical climate has no clearly defined seasons. The average annual temperature is 27°C (81°F) and the average annual rainfall is 2,400 mm (95 in). From north to south Singapore Island, the main island extends 22 km (14 mi), and its greatest east-west extent is 50 km (31 mi).  The city-state consists of the island of Singapore and about 54 smaller islands. The main island is linked by a causeway to the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It is slightly larger then one fourth of Luxembourg or 3.5 times the size of the District of Columbia, Washington, DC.

Industries – electronics, chemicals, financial services, oil drilling equipment, petroleum refining, rubber processing and rubber products, processed food and beverages, ship repair, offshore platform construction, life sciences, entrepot trade.

Currency   – Singapore Dollar

Population – 5.399 million (2013)

Ethnic groups – Chinese 74.2%, Malay 13.3%, Indian 9.2%, (Thamil 4.4%) others 3.3% (2013 est.)

Languages    – Mandarin (official) 36.3%, English (official) 29.8%, Malay (official) 11.9%, Hokkien 8.1%, Thamil (official) 4.4%, Cantonese 4.1%,

Religion       – Buddhist 33.9%, Muslim 14.3%, Taoist 11.3%, Catholic 7.1%, Hindu 5.2%, other Christian 11%, other 16.4% (2010

It is said the difference between politician and statesman is a politician thinks of the next election and  the statesman thinks of the next generation. Lee Kuan Yew thought about   not one but three generations ahead  when he  came to power in Singapore. Thus, he proved himself a statesman and not a politician.

It is also claimed he wanted to develop the young city state modelled like Sri Lanka. However, history turned the comparison on its head. Today, where is Sri Lanka compared to Singapore? Singapore is a dream comes true. That is a lesson to be learnt by politicians of third world countries, especially Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Jaffna Tamil seem to have found themselves in an identical predicament to that of the Hindu Brahmin of Tamil Nadu. Certain sociological handicaps allowed them perform better than the general population.

    Historically going further upstream, the French revolution of 1780 that kicked out the Aristocracy had a similar vibe.

    It seems at allowances are made by the general population at least initially that allow them to excel. Although the situation arrives at a tipping point when the bubble is burst.

    I am not sure what lead to highly accomplished Hindu Brahmin being chased out from Tamil Nadu. Although in the case of the French, Marie Antoinette of “eat cake instead of bread” fame seems to have made a significant contribution.

    In the case of the Jaffna Tamil I suspect the tipping point was the declaration of nationhood and claim to 1/2 of the territory. That was the single stroke that killed the golden goose.

    If we look for root causes of all these people it appears to be things like decadence, vanity and excess.

    What Lee Kwan learned from Ceylon was the need to implement an Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP). That is why Singapore prevented a Tamil problem there too.

    • 4

      This article is about Lee and Singapore what the hell you bring brahmins and caste here ???????

      • 0

        Ever been to a meeting, where people were discussing serious thing, and some guy walk in late and no clue of what is being discussed, and then says something bizarre which has no relevance of the discussion? People look at each other ‘what just happend?’

        Btw Vibhushana, glad you made it :)

  • 6

    Our leaders failed to grasp the opportunity, foresight or ideas of LKY or that of Ali Jinnah, and the Eelam Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka should not be denied the freedom of self determination, to live in peace and with dignity, to lead, develop and prosper like Singapore or Hong Kong in the region.

    Our tribute to a great leader who lead by example and a dear friend to Tamils. His legacy will live on.

    Manicka Vasagar

  • 8

    LKY was able to harness and cultivate the best of all races, with discipline, inclusiveness and equality, to make this tiny island with well planned, structured development, a rich and prosperous country, an envy of third worlds.

    Our leaders failed to grasp the opportunity, foresight or ideas of LKY or that of Ali Jinnah, and the Eelam Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka should not be denied the freedom of self determination, to live in peace and with dignity, to lead, develop and prosper like Singapore or Hong Kong in the region.

    Our tribute to a great leader who lead by example and a dear friend to Tamils. His legacy will live on.

    • 2

      LKY did not do anything. Tamils want free real estates. That is why they try to give troubles to Malaysia. Tamiuls just like money when they are in Singapore.

      All these hair splitting arguments are BS.

      Tamils want money, it does not matter whether it is stolen or by criminal acts.

  • 4

    Poor fellow seems to have been suffering from dementia in his twilight years, buying into fairy tales and supporting We Thamizh terrorists. He’s finally out of his misery.

  • 5

    LKY locked up the opposition, silenced the press, sued anyone who challenged him, reduced the Tamil freedom fighter JB Jeyaratnam to poverty so that he ended up selling his memoirs on the street. But We Thamizh terrorists ignore all these aspects of the dictator’s life and hijack the good he did for their Dreamlam project.


  • 8

    LKY did an incredible job to haul Singapore to what it is today. And for that he deserves due credit. His great achievement did not, however, make him some omniscient, all seeing being, some latter day oracle, full of wisdom and good counsel. But his success had clearly gone to his head and over the years he was dispensing his advice to anyone who’d care to listen. But expert though he may have been on Singapore, his comments on other countries – certainly, in respect of Sri Lanka – have been poorly informed.

    In the interview with Professor Tom Plate, LKY demonstrated his poor grasp of Sri Lankan politics and of the country generally. But his ego had suffered little with the passing of the years, because we had him saying of President Rajapakse, “I’ve read his speeches and I knew he was a Sinhalese extremist. I cannot change his mind”. Perhaps, someone should have told LKY that they don’t regard it as his role to tell other leaders how they should think.

    Clearly, LKY has met many Sri Lankan Tamils and been impressed with their abilities. And so he should have been. But how many Sinhalese did he know to the same extent, to be able to pontificate that “the Sinhalese who are less capable are putting down a minority of Jaffna Tamils who are more capable.”? Or was LKY simply going on what he had been told, which he accepted without verification?

    As for Professor Tom Plate, it seems to me the learned professor was less than bright to have asked LKY, in relation to Sri Lanka’s fight against the Tigers, “So what Asia saw was ethnic cleansing?” LKY’s reported answer “That’s right” seems just as dumb. Here were two supposedly intelligent, educated men and neither seemed to know the true meaning of “ethnic cleansing”. It beggars belief.

    It is said nothing succeeds like success. LKY’s success has blinded many people to the less attractive aspects of his dispensation. LKY beat all opposition into servile submission. He sued through the courts, anyone who dared to publicly oppose him. And he always won! Only a few, like the late JB Jeyaretnam,(incidentally, a Tamil – a bold, but maybe, foolhardy gentleman) dared, and he was eventually rendered financially bankrupt.

    Like I said at the outset, LKY did an incredible job to haul Singapore to what it is today. But he was no all seeing, omniscient, latter day oracle. So, even as we pay him the homage that is properly his due, let’s keep things in proper perspective.

  • 1

    I am living in Singapore for the last forty years after holding a div1 govt. Job.What is LKY legacy? Multiculturalism,non corruptible govt.,consensus decision making,meritocracy which had led to zero unemployment,happy society,IQ highest in the world of 109,even young girls can work on the street at 2AM in the morning after shift work,no power break down for more than 20 years.To startvwith he is a first class from Cambridge.in comparison we elected a leader who went to law college and you know the result.There are billions in Dubai.His legacy is reelected by virtually all the leaders coming for the funeral,India declaring national maurning day.The fruit of meritocracy is richest country in the world.He elected two Tamils as presidents and two Ceylon Tamils as deputy prime ministers.His greatest achievement was to to be self sufficient in water.He created reservoirs and now self sufficient in water after Malaysia threatened to cut off water.Today Singapore students are the best in the world in science and maths.our first masters were Ceylon Tamils.The first principal of RI was a Jaffna Tamil and at one time five high court judges were Ceylon Tamils.We also had well educated people like NM, Colvin,Peter etc but we refused to listen -both Sinhalese and Tamils are equally to blame.NOW PLEASE LOOK AT THE WORLD AND COME TO YOUR SENSES AND DEVELOP THE COUNTRY BY LOOKING AT THE GOOD THINGS IN SINGAPORE.I know when delegation comes here they spend their time in MUSTAPHA centre.Pl.go and see the best port in the world,best airport in the world, best university in Asia ,best school in Asia ,their teaching methods,etc if you want to develop the country.drug lords face capital punishment,rapists are canned without mercy but these are necessary for a country to develo.THIS MAY NOT BE TRUE DEMOCRACY BUT I CAN TELL YOU IT IS A WORKING DEMOCRACY FOR SINGAPOREAN AND THRY LOVE THAT AND THAT IS REFLECTED BY TENS OF THOUSNDS OF PEOPLE GOING FOR HIS WAKE 24 HOURS ,CRYING UNTIL AUTHORITIES DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO BUT TO BEG THE PEOPLE NOT TO CONE.TRUE EXAMPLE OF WORKING DEMOCRACY -WHERE DEMOCRACY IS FOR THE PEOLE BY THE PEOPLE OF THE PEOPLE.

  • 1

    Yes, Singapore has come a long way. Tamil Nadu is still far behind Sri Lanka, in; per capita income, literacy, health care, life expectancy. LKY would never have said he wants to turn Singapore into another Tamil Nadu. Who would want another squalid state?

  • 0

    Does one forget the terrible Malay–Chinese ethnic clashes in those parts of which there is no mention at all?In majority Chinese Singapore Lee needed small ethnic group support. The Tamils there provided that role. It was like Muslims joining the majority Sinhalese in Sri Lanka.


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