Iseas book lets former parliamentarians share stories from the heart
TODAY, Wednesday • July 11, 2007
EVEN Mr J B Jeyaretnam, Singapore’s first post-1965 Opposition parliamentarian, will get the chance to tell his story, as a local think-tank starts the ball rolling to get former Members of Parliament to write autobiographical essays for a new book.
“At the Institute of South-east Asian Studies (Iseas), we are not against anybody,” institute head K Kesavapany told a group of former People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs and academics at a seminar yesterday.
“We don’t practice censorship at Iseas — and we will publish what opposition MPs have got to say as long as what they say does not contravene the laws of libel and slander. We are open.”
The proposed book will incorporate essays from 30 former MPs and will be edited by two from among their ranks — Dr Chiang Hai Ding and Mr Rohan Kamis — and former director of the National Archives Lily Tan.
The 30 MPs had played a role in shaping Singapore’s history, and had “stories worth telling” for the benefit of future generations and foreigners who become citizens here, seminar participants said.
Mr Chai Chong Yii, 79, who was MP for Bukit Batok from 1972 to 1988, recounted his perplexity on visiting China in 1978. The country had seemed so different from the one he had known before he migrated to Singapore as a young man.
“I felt quite lost,” he said. “I was quite shocked to discover that I was not Chinese, my thought processes were not Chinese. I had evolved into a Singaporean.”
Singaporeans of today, he felt, had two cultures — that of their country of origin and that of the European/American “dare to try” way of life. Eventually, Singaporean culture could evolve into that of a world culture, he said.
Dr Chiang, 69, an MP from 1970 to 1984, recounted how his grandfather, a poorly-paid teacher, had left Hainan Island for Singapore. In his autobiography, the former MP’s grandfather — whose first job here was as a labourer — had expressed how he found contentment in his old age, as he had managed to improve his family’s lot through migration to Singapore.
Another former MP, Mr R Ravindran, told of how many poor people had sought his help — the question was, who really needed it?
He cited the case of a woman who sought his assistance to get a job. Her head was covered — she claimed she was recovering from brain surgery as the result of being fired upon with a laser gun. Later, Mr Ravindran found out she had actually undergone treatment at Woodbridge Hospital (now the Institute of Mental Health).
Seminar participants also said the book of MPs’ essays would come in useful for the next generation of leaders, as these “stories of the heart” would help them better understand the human side of things when they seek the populace’s mandate.
Mr Kesavapany said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was supportive of the idea.
Mr Jeyaretnam could not be reached as of press time.
The book will be launched on Aug 8, 2008, a day before National Day next year, and it could well be the forerunner of a series — there being 200 current and former MPs, 180 of them PAP stalwarts, still around.
Also on the cards for Iseas are books on Singapore’s first Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye, Mr David Marshall, Singapore’s Chief Minister before independence, and Mr Othman Wok, a member of the first Cabinet. Books on the late S Rajaratnam and Lim Kim San, also key first-generation leaders, are already underway.
Meanwhile, one of the founding members of the PAP, Dr Lim Hock Siew — who was detained without trial from 1963 to 1982 — told malaysiakini during an exclusive interview in Kuala Lumpur that he was planning to publish his memoirs. “I am now conducting research to find newly declassified materials in London to link up more dots,” the 76-year old said.
He was detained during Operation Cold Store, which saw more than 130 leaders of Opposition parties, labour and student unions, and left-wing journalists held.
Encouraged by the determination of fellow former political prisoner Said Zahari to unveil the other side of history, Singapore’s Dr Lim Hock Siew has also decided to publish his memoirs.
“Although I have told my story in a documentary film many years ago, I have decided to write it down myself in the form of memoirs like my ‘good brother’ Said,” he told malaysiakini during an exclusive interview in Kuala Lumpur.
“I am now conducting research to find out more newly declassified materials in London to link up more dots,” added the 76-year old founding member of Singapore’s now ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
Lim was detained without trial for almost 20 years from 1963 to 1982. (Which makes him the second longest-held political prisoner in Singapore after Chia Thye Poh)
According to him, although he was alleged to have participated in the activities of the so-called ‘Communist United Front’ in Singapore from the mid-1950s to early 1960s, he was never formally charged in any open court of law for the allegation.
“I still remember even my police interrogators told me that they knew I had never been a member of any communist party or group,” said Lim who was a central committee member of the opposition Socialist Front in Singapore at the time of his arrest.
He was detained during the 1963 Operation Cold Store, which saw more than 130 leaders of opposition parties, labour and student unions and journalists deemed to be left wing held as well.
Serving British interests
“Now, from all the already released records in London as well as other historical researches, it is clear that in launching Operation Cold Store, Lee Kuan Yew was serving the then strategic interests of Britain which wanted Singapore to continue to provide a forward military base in Southeast Asia,” said Lim
“It is also now an undeniable fact that Lee worked earlier for the Japanese military during the Occupation making Britain’s English materials available in Japanese-language for the occupiers,” he added.
Lim was a graduate of Singapore’s prestigious Raffles College and a medical doctor trained in University of Malaya, which was then located in Singapore.
“I was also a founder of University of Malaya’s Socialist Club which became the cradle for many politicians and intellectuals in both Malaysia and Singapore who fought for independence,” he recalled with a sense of pride.
“In those days, anti-colonialism was a very powerful and popular sentiment even in Singapore … I helped found the People’s Action Party (PAP) to fight for the freedom of Singapore from British rule and to reunite it with Peninsula to form an united, non-communal and progressive Malaya but when Lee turned right wing and started serving British interests, the party split and I left to join the Socialist Front,” he explained.
“We certainly opposed to Singapore being maintained as a military base for Britain and that was why Lee had to crush the Left in Singapore at all cost … The Left in Singapore also opposed to the 1963 merger because we thought it was an opportunistic adventure on the part of Lee who wanted to exploit Tunku Abdul Rahman’s anti-communism to suppress the Left in Singapore … we wanted merger but not in the 1963 version which proved to be an utter failure just two years later in 1965.
“I was completely English-educated,” stressed Lim, which was obviously a sarcastic and subtle rebuttal to the now stereotyped and widespread notion that the Left in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s was a “Chinese-educated” phenomenon.
As for his detention, Lim said he did not suffer any physical torture.
“But, detention without charge or trial for an uncertain period of time is itself a form of torture, albeit a psychological one,” Lim said.
“When I was first arrested in February 1963, my son was only five-months-old but when I was released in 1982, he was already studying at the Cambridge University in Britain.
“I wish to thank my wife Dr Betruce Cheng for her understanding, fortitude and solidarity for the entire period of my 20-year detention and also for bringing up our boy,” he added.
Quizzed on what helped him preserve his sanity during his detention, Lim replied: “Political conviction, intellectual integrity and moral conscience”.
“I certainly have no regret for my involvement and participation in politics although I had to pay a heavy price for it. I am still a socialist who believes in democracy for the people and social justice for the working classes,” he stressed.