True Founders of Singapore. Story of Dr Toh Chin Chye



February 22, 2006 


Excerpt :

Dr Toh Chin Chye: The Man Who Made PAP
How can we say, who contributed more? Without Dr Toh holding the fort in the PAP, we might never have held the Party together.”
Lee Kuan Yew, Valedictory Dinner, 22 August 1981.

Excerpt :

To many Singaporeans, either they have never heard of Dr Toh Chin Chye or only remembered his as one of the Deputy Ministers to Lee Kuan Yew. While the Party was in turmoil, Dr Toh held the PAP together. In two occasions, then-PM Lee Kuan Yew offered his resignation and Dr Toh could have chance upon it and made himself the Prime Minister.

For the better good and stability of the Party and Singapore, Dr Toh rejected the proposal and threw his support behind Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore’s success is NEVER and NOT by chance or the miracles of one man.

It is the sweat, blood and effort of talent men, like Dr Toh and Dr Goh, who served and toiled for Singapore not for their own fame and fortune but for Singaporeans.


 Excerpt :

Humble Beginnings of the Indomitable Fighter
Dr Toh was born in Batu Gajah, near Taiping, Perak in 1921. Like the best and brightest of his generation, he pursued his studies at Raffles College, Singapore. He was Lee Kuan Yew’s senior but they never knew each other then. Before he could further his studies overseas, the Japanese war broke out. During this period, Dr Toh first became a hawker assistant and grew potatoes and tapioca for his own survival. The Japanese Occupation changed his perspective, political outlook and was awakened to the injustice of colonial society.

Excerpt :

Founding of PAP
Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened to our basement group had I not pushed for it to register as a political party. What is I had not come back to Singapore? You know, in 1953, I was advised to go to USA to continue my research. If I had gone that route, would anyone have started the PAP? Would the basement crowd have remained in Kuan Yew’s house? Would it have come together at all?” – Dr Toh Chin Chye.

To avoid complications such as being arrested by the Special Branch they formed a political party and registering as a society. Initially, the “Action Party” was coined and later, they added the word “People” into it. The word “Action” reminded Dr Toh of a lightning symbol and with other suggestions thrown in; the famous logo of PAP was born.



Both Dr Goh Keng Swee and Lee Kuan Yew were devastated and thought that it is the end of the PAP. But on man never gave up the fight as Dr Goh recalled the following conversation with Toh Chin Chye:

Toh: Why are you staring at the ceiling?
Goh: Do sit down, Chin Chye, we are all busted; the party secretaries, the PA (People’s Association), the organizing secretaries, the Work Brigade. I know the communists were organizationally much stronger than us. But I didn’t expect us smashed up like this in just a week.
Toh: I just come from Harry’s office. He was staring at the ceiling just like you did. You should snap out of this mood. The fighting has just begun. It is going to be long and nasty. But if we keep wringing our hands in anguish we are sure to lose. We should start thinking immediately of our next moves – how to rebuild the Party, rally the loyal Party members and how to carry the fight into the enemy camp.


On 17 July 1961, Lee Kuan Yew wrote a letter to Dr Toh, Chairman of the CEC. He wrote that the trade unions, the Middle Road Crowd wanted him to resign and they wanted Dr Toh to take over as the Prime Minister. Dr Toh read the letter to all the Cabinet Ministers and CEC members during a Cabinet meeting. All who were present were stunned. Yong Nyuk Lin asked Dr Toh, “Should we accept his resignation?”
Dr Toh replied, “No,” because it will divide the government and it will appear to the people of Singapore that they are being unsteady. So they declined the resignation. Dr Toh could very well make himself as the Prime Minister, but he didn’t.


Final Message to the Singaporean Youths
In a rare public interview in 1997 Radio Corporation of Singapore, Dr Toh passionately bemoaned the lack of idealism and creativity among the young and its implications for the future of Singapore. He said:

“I would say the generation of the ‘50s and ‘60s took the plunge into politics without ever calculating the costs of the risk and the benefits to be gained. They were driven by ideology. Today’s generation has no culture and averse to taking political risk. Really, an interest in politics is very necessary for the future. But I cannot blame the present generations, because they see the heavy-handed response by the government to dissenting views, even though they know that these matters involve their daily lives.

So the result is that we have produced a younger generation who are meek and therefore very calculating. They are less independent-thinking and lack in initiative. It does not bode well for the emergence of future leaders in politics and business. Robots and computers can be programmed or if you like, can be trained. But the trouble, of course, is that computers lack soul and what we need in Singapore is soul.Because it is soul that makes society.”



His words are aptly prophetic to our present society. Are we a soulless society? Maybe we are, but it is heartening to see great men like Dr Toh Chin Chye made passionate dreams for Singapore. Both in the development and building of modern Singapore, Dr Toh was instrumental in makingthe Singapore we know today. Dr Toh is truly one of the founders of Singapore.


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