The first prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, passed away on March 23. A state funeral was held for him on March 29. The government of India declared that day as one of national mourning, and the Indian flag was flown at half-mast. Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally attended Lee’s funeral. I am sure that all Singaporeans will join me in thanking the government and people of India for these extraordinary acts of friendship and solidarity. Here, I wish to reflect on the reasons for the close relationship between India and Singapore.
First, I want to refer to our historical and cultural links. Singapore lies at the heart of Southeast Asia. Historically, Southeast Asia was a sphere of influence of the Indian civilisation. Hinduism and Buddhism were exported from India to the region. We see this in the great temples of Angkor Wat, and in the inspiring Buddhist temple in Borobudur and the Hindu temple in Prambanan. India’s influence is present in the life of contemporary Southeast Asia. Generations of Javanese have been brought up watching wayang kulit and listening to stories from the Ramayan and Mahabharat. The Indian influence is reflected in the languages we speak, the religions we practise, the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the music we listen to.
In the case of Singapore, Stamford Raffles brought with him Indian soldiers, traders and workers when he arrived in 1819. Several of Singapore’s iconic buildings, such as the Istana and St Andrew’s Cathedral, were built by Indian labour. From 1819 to 1867, Singapore was administered by the British from Calcutta. Many of our laws, such as our penal code, the law of evidence, etc, are based on Indian laws. So, there are many commonalities between our legal and public administration systems. A new Indian Heritage Centre will be opened in Singapore later this year, to showcase the historical, cultural and people-to-people links between our two countries.
Second, many Singaporeans admired Mahatma Gandhi’s moral crusade against the British for India’s independence. They also admired his life-long campaign for amity between the followers of different religions in India. There is a Gandhi Memorial Hall in Singapore. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first PM
of India, is another heroic figure for many Singaporeans. Lee admired Nehru and often sought his advice. When Nehru passed away in 1964, Lee spoke at a condolence service held on May 30, 1964. In November 2011, then PM Manmohan Singh and Singapore’s former PM, Goh Chok Tong, unveiled a marker and bust to honour the memory of Nehru at the Asian Civilisations Museum.
Third, Singapore has close defence cooperation with India. We have bilateral agreements between our armies and air forces. These strong military ties reflect the mutual trust and high comfort level between the leaders of the two countries.
Fourth, in 2005, India and Singapore concluded the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CECA). The CECA was a milestone for both countries. It represented Singapore’s first agreement with a South Asian country, and was India’s first CECA with any trade partner and a model for other free trade agreements. Since the CECA came into force, trade and investment between India and Singapore have grown. Last year, Singapore became India’s largest foreign investor. India’s investment and corporate presence in Singapore have scaled new heights.
Fifth, there are over 500 Singapore companies operating in India. They are active in telecommunications; industrial parks, real estate and urban solutions; ports; generation of power; logistics and distriparks; financial services; civil aviation; and water and waste management.
Sixth, the Singapore government and private sector have confidence in Modi’s leadership. This confidence is based on his good track record as the chief minister of Gujarat. The 2015 Union budget contains a roadmap and is focused on the ease of doing business and radically improving India’s infrastructure. We share the confidence of our Indian friends that the economy will grow by more than 7 per cent this year and by more than 8 per cent next year. We intend to participate in the Indian growth story.
Seventh, we thank the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu, for requesting Singapore’s help to plan the new capital of his state. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we are determined to live up to India’s expectations.
I wish to reiterate our thanks to the people and government of India for honouring Lee. Our relationship is comprehensive and substantial. Our friendship is anchored in our heads and our hearts. Singapore is and will always be India’s champion and dependable friend in the Asean.
The writer is ambassador-at-large at Singapore’s ministry of foreign affairs and co-chairman of the India-Singapore Strategic Dialogue.