Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Devan Nair say hor... (Part 1)

C.V Devan Nair
Foreword to To Catch A Tartar, Francis T. Seow
Published in 1994

Before reading Francis Seow's manuscript, I had decided that I would decline his request for a foreword. My political days are definitely over - and more reasons than either friends or foes imagine. Apart from a series of reflective essays (in preparation) on the making of an ideal (in which I too had been privileged to share), on its unmaking (which I watched in helpless pain from the sidelines), and on the dubious - to say the least - political and social aftermath of phenomenal economic success, I had, and still have, no intention of becoming involved in promoting the political views or program of any individual or group, whether within or without Singapore.

After reading through the manuscript, however, I realized that I would never again be able to look at my face in the mirror without flinching, if I said no to Francis, at least in regard to this particular piece of writing by him. For this was no political harangue by one of Singapore's leading opposition figures, excoriating the political or economic program of the powers-that-be, and pleading the virtues of his own political cause. On the contrary, central to this book is a grim account of how a citizen of Singapore was treated while under detention without trial under the republic's internal security laws.

As an ex-detainee myself, who had undergone in two separate spells a total of five years of political imprisonment in the fifties under the British colonial regime as an anticolonial freedom fighter, I recalled that I was never treated in the shockingly dehumanizing manner in which Francis was by the professedly democratic government of independent Singapore. Indeed, my fellow detainees and I had as legal counsel a brilliant lawyer and vocal freedom-fighter by the name of Lee Kuan Yew, who has publicly borne witness to the comfortable circumstances in which we lived under detention, and how he was able to visit us, without supervision, to discuss, among other things, strategies for bringing the colonial rule of our jailers to an end.

Francis's account of his seventy-two days of detention by Prime Minister Lee's government confronted me yet once again with acutely poignant questions: What has the nation come to? And what malefic hidden persona has emerged in Lee Kuan Yew of today? Surely, this cannot be the same man, whom I and several other starry-eyed anti-colonial revolutionaries in the fifties and sixties had jubilantly accepted as our captain in the grim, heroic struggles of those early days to create what we expected would be a new Jerusalem? Alas, it took us thirty years to realize that we had been treading on air.

Mr. Seow's book is an eye-opener; that is, for those whose eyes still required to be opened. Mine too, for that matter. Nobody is blinder than the captain's inveterate hero-worshipper. And none probably as wilfuly, self-righteously closed to unfolding reality as I was. Indeed, until fairly recently, I had believed that the People's Action Party (PAP) government, by which I had once sworn, had all along been tolerably civilized and humane in its treatment of political prisoners. Yet another scale had to fall from my eyes, the latest in a series of scales which had already fallen earlier, and which I will deal with in my own book.

The economic transformation wrought by the PAP government is there for all the world to see. The towering skyline of the island city state, the great vistas of new high-rise apartments which had replaced the sordid sprawling slums and malarial swamps of only three decades ago, the magnificent international airport at Changi about which all visitors rave, the world latest and, perhaps, the best mass rapid transit system, the clean and green garden city - all and more - quite rightly evoke the envy and admiration of foreign visitors, especially those from developing countries with much less to boast of by way of efficient development-orientated governments.

I would be the last person to denigrate the material achievements of Singapore, for the good reason that I was also a member of the ruling team responsible for them. Like other members of the PAP old guard, I saw the creation of a solid socioeconomic base as a vitally necessary springboard for the realisation of human ends and values. At least for me, and for the others in the anticolonial movement like me, the human agenda was primary. In short, the urgent, organized, disciplined drive for economic growth and technological progress was powered by noneconomic aspirations and ideals.

We looked at the sad fate of other multiracial and multireligious developing countries and recognized that life's highest rewards and fulfilments were beyond the reach of societies riven by sterile, senseless class and ethnic strife, and cursed by a corrupt polity, inefficient production, material poverty, and hungry bellies. Modern technology and management systems would be necessary means to advance the human agenda. Alas, we failed to forsee that human ends would come to be subverted for the greater glory of the material means, and our new Jerusalem would come to harbour a metallic soul with clanking heartbeats, behind a glittering technological facade.

History bears abundant witness that idealists generally come to grief. They awaken high human aspirations and hopes and ignite the liberating fires of revolution. The pains and humiliations of foreign subjection and exploitation are scorched, and, for a brief, blazing period, men transcend themselves in the inspiring vision of a great common future. The revolution triumphs - but idealists become expendable thereafter. One by one, sooner or later, they are eased out. And the revolution is inherited by cold, calculating power brokers at the head of a phalanx of philistines.

Lee Kuan Yew's earlier speeches echo the great themes of freedom fighters everywhere. As the several irrefragable quotes Seow offers in his book testify, Lee too had once waxed eloquent about liberty, freedom, harmony, justice, and the dignity of man. But reading Lee Kuan Yew today, or listening to him, one realizes how brazenly he has abandoned the positions which had so convincingly persuaded an earlier, revolutionary generation of Singaporeans, both old-guard colleagues and the population at large, to confirm him in the captainship of party and nation. We had taken him at his powerfully eloquent word. If Lee had then given the mildest hint of the apostate he was to become, he would have received short shrift from the revolutionary following who had put their trust in him.

Those who order, systematise, and govern in the aftermath of revolutions often become votaries at covert and pernicious altars. Ineluctably, the Olympian gods are displaced and a Titan holds sway, with lamentable results. The march of the human spirit is first arrested, then retarded.



Part 2 coming tomolo... -_-"

1 comment:

emiryo said...

That sort of sums things up!
Man! You have balls!

My salute to you Recuit!!!!