LOOKING EAST TO LOOK WEST — Lee Kuan Yew's Mission to India: Sunanda K. Datta-Ray; pub. by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, and Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 499.
The author Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, former editor of Statesman, who served as consultant to the Straits Times, has provided some keen insights into what Lee Kuan Yew has meant to Singapore.
In the early years of his political career, Lee was profoundly influenced by Jawaharlal Nehru. His commitment to non-communal politics, and abiding faith in secularism and democratic socialism were inspired by the leader who was at the helm when India began its “tryst with destiny”. Nehru's policy towards Southeast Asia during 1947-1959 was based on the firm foundations of Sino-Indian friendship. Unfortunately when that friendship got frozen in the snows of the Himalayas, India could not play any meaningful role. Singapore leaders frequently highlight the positive aspects of development strategies of India and China.
Located in a tumultuous region and given its vulnerability as a small state and the need for pragmatism in policy formations, Singapore sees the presence of extra-regional powers not as a threat to security, but as an opportunity to enhance regional and global inter-dependence.
Twists and turns
The book analyses the twists and turns in India-Singapore relations — to quote the author, “the journey from the sunlit peaks of hope into valleys of dark despair and, now, towards the radiance of a new dawn.” Despite the differences in their diplomatic styles, the three leaders who have guided the destiny of Singapore — Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong, and Lee Hsien Loong — are one in believing that India can, and should, follow an activist policy towards Southeast Asia. Goh, the most persuasive of the three, created a mild “India fever” in Singapore.
However, it should be pointed out that Datta-Ray's interpretation of certain important events may not be shared by keen students of Southeast Asian politics. I will refer to just two events. The first relates to the proclamation of “ de facto” independence of Singapore on August 31, 1963. With the benefit of hindsight, the author mentions that it looked like “a constitutional sleight of hand or an attempt to pressure the Tengku …or a shrewd move that saved Singapore's future.”
Full report here The Hindu