Singapore’s founding father outlines route for India’s development

October 10th, 2008 - 7:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Singapore, Oct 10 (IANS) Lee Kuan Yew, the man behind the Singapore success story, Friday outlined his vision of the route that India should take to fast track its evolution as a developed global power. In an extensive hour-long interaction with participants at the mini Pravasi Bharatiya Divas being held in Singapore, Minister Mentor Lee called for a dramatic shift of the Indian multitudes living in the villages to the cities and towns.

This was the formula that Singapore had used when he transformed this city state from a mosquito-infested swamp to the shining financial metropolis it had become, he said. And this was the route that countries across the globe, whether in Europe or America, South Korea, Japan or Taiwan, had taken in their struggle to become developed first world nations.

He held up the example of China, which he said, every year moves more than 10 million people from the countryside to the cities, and in doing so was able to provide them with education, healthcare, and quality housing.

“In 1978, nearly 80 per cent of China’s population was rural and a mere 20 per cent was urban. Today, this proportion had changed to 60 per cent of the Chinese people living in rural areas, while 40 per cent of the people now live in cities and towns,” he said.

Lee, who ruled Singapore for 30 years after the country became an independent republic in 1965, said he had employed the same formula when he converted Singapore into the financial powerhouse it is today. He described how residents of remote islands were settled in Singapore’s main island and given access to education and housing like all other citizens.

“I cheered when the last village in Singapore was demolished in 1980,” he said, proudly adding: “Today there is not a single village in Singapore.”

Lee also referred to the problems that had beset the Nano project in West Bengal and said that it epitomised India’s problems in not being able to come to grips with the task of meeting the aspirations of the people in rural areas.

Lee prefaced his remarks by saying “I am speaking as a friend of India.” India, he said, had “got the potential but was not using it”.

However, many members of the audience felt Lee’s prescription was too drastic and would be impractical, considering India’s vast size and its more than 1.2 billion population.

Lee said he had succeeded in transforming Singapore due to three key factors. The first of these, he said, was “a good team of able ministers whose ability and integrity was beyond doubt and who formed a completely incorruptible government”.

The newly formed Singapore government created a completely level playing field for every citizen and provided equal opportunities for schooling, health care, and housing for all Singaporeans regardless of race or religion.

Lee urged Indian leaders and policy makers to shed the path of gradualism they have been following since 1991 in opening up the market and urged them to throw wide open the doors to investment and trade. He repeatedly cited the recent Field Marshal Cariappa memorial lecture delivered by India’s Finance Minister P. Chidambaram during which he had criticised the gradualism that has beset India’s economic policies.

“If you close up the economy, you are going to be losers,” Lee said, lamenting the “gradualist approach” that Indian governments had adopted in the last nearly two decades.

He also brushed aside his critics who have decried the authoritarian nature of the Singaporean government.

“Many say this is an authoritarian government, but there is an economic rationale behind it,” he said. This rationale, according to him, was the city state’s ability to provide every citizen a high quality of life with access to the best of education, healthcare and housing.

Lee also pointed out the need for greater cooperation among the main political parties in India.

“Minor parties can play a maverick role, but major parties have to keep in mind the national interests.”

He cited the example of the India-US nuclear deal and the partisan stance that major parties had taken. If the BJP had been in office it would have signed the deal as well, he said.

Lee said he had given much thought to the different mindsets of Indians and Chinese. Pointing to cultural and philosophical reasons that differentiate them, he said Indians believed in karma, fate and caste to determine their lives.

The Chinese, he said, were “not waiting for the next world to enjoy themselves. They want their rewards in this world, so they get on with it”, he said amidst loud applause from the largely-Indian audience.

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