I never tot of Devan Nair as a dissident until last week, His critical comments of one LKY and the PAP, I put down to the bitterness of being pensioned-off quietly, and then of being publicly humiliated when he complained of being pensioned-off. Devan Nair’s fall from grace and very public humiliation was to me poetic justice for someone who was seen by human rights and labour activists of helping the PAP enslave the workers who trusted him; a view I don’t share but taz another story.
Last week, I read a 1973 speech in which he
– attacked the consequences of a “meritocratic society”: elitism;
– expected a growing disparity in incomes;
– accused the new elite of a lack of general social concern or commitment; and
– said that S’pore would not turn out the way he and the other leaders of the PAP had envisioned.
My colleagues and I in the NTUC have done our part to persuade the workers to accept the growing income differentials between them and the burgeoning new elite of Singapore — the professionals, technocrats and management executives. We think our workers are sophisticated enough not to grudge the new elite their extra perks and special privileges but what they do resent is the lack of any tangible signs of general social concern or commitment on the part of the new
(http://sgrepository.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/emerging-elite/ Check out the person behind vthe site a KC gal living in the US. She doesn’t deserve the SPG tag that KC gals get affixed with even by ST editors)
Remember this was said when the PM (LKY was drawing a salary of $4,000 a month, less than $8,000 that David Marshall drew in 1957) and a salary of $100,000 a yr made the headlines of ST (Haw Par’s incoming expat MD’s salary).
As to a different S’pore from what the PAP leaders had envisioned: it sometimes happens that their work is undone by those who inherit their mantle of leadership.It is one of the ironies of development that some of the results of the work of the leaders of development are not what they themselves desired or intended.
They (including one LKY I suspect) would have been disappointed if they knew then (in 1973) that in the noughties,
– the PAP in the 2011 GE would only get 60% of the popular vote despite a growing economy that did not benefit many of the voters (in 1973, the growing economy benefited most voters);
– two cabinet ministers (one a very senior one) would lose their seats convincingly;
– the PAP govt would lose its reputation for managerial efficiency: think the public tpt problems, the hospital bed shortage, the security breaches, the riot; or
– the PAP’s preferred presidential candidate would win by the shortest of short noses
So why didn’t he do something about it?
In 1973, he was not someone to be trifled with. He was Sec-Gen of the NTUC, a charismatic speaker and he had credibility with the workers. True they had effectively lost the right to strike, but in return they had benefited from strong economic growth, the result of MNCs setting up here to take adv of the labour laws protecting employers. In 1983, he got Lim Chee Onn (a scholar) sacked as NTUC Sec-Gen for not being able to connect with the workers. That was how powerful he was. (BTW, Lim Chee Onn turned to be a gd executive at Keppel, for which shareholders like me are grateful.)
Three connected answers suggest themselves hesitatingly, tentatively: He couldn’t because although he was in charge of the NTUC and had the support of the workers, the NTUC was so intertwined with the PAP and the govt that no one man could not break the bonds: even someone like him.
Then too LKY was at the zenith of his intellectual and political power. A person of Devan’s high EQ and IQ would realise that taking on LKY meant defeat.
Finally he still in 1973, tot the world of one LKY, and that the individual must be subordinated to the interest of society, ideas that had serious flaws to say the very least. In the same speech he said,
It is important to appreciate, however, that Lee Kuan Yew and Co. belong to a freak generation. In fact, as individuals, they were quite unrepresentative of the great majority of their social class, the members of which were brought up and educated in the colonial era, and whose major preoccupation was to fend for themselves and feather their own nests … But because the present generation of leaders exceeded their class characteristics and loyalties, and developed a creative vision of a better society, they were able to establish themselves as the modern leaders of Singapore. In more senses than one, this freak generation are the creators of the vibrant and bustling Republic we know today.
So maybe he tried working within the system to try to change it?
The tragedy of Devan Nair is that he
– realised (14 yrs after the PAP gained power, 8 yrs after he independence) that he had helped create a society that was going the “wrong” way; and
– he couldn’t do anything to prevent it.
If there is a memorial to honour him these words should be engraved, Indeed, it sometimes happens that their work is undone by those who inherit their mantle of leadership.It is one of the ironies of development that some of the results of the work of the leaders of development are not what they themselves desired or intended.
Actually, thinking about it, these words should appear on any memorial to any other dead PAP leader (including LKY when he has moved on) or on the PAP’s building.