September 23, 2018

The adventures of Lee Kuan Yew was not a strange topic for me. We Sri Lankans get to hear about him a lot. Mostly in the context how useless our politians are. Oh, and how Singapore was built taking Sri Lanka as an example. We’d probably get to that later.

He was more or less the man who built an almost heaven, out of mostly thin air. Or so the story goes. What I didn’t get to hear was the details of it. He was this elusive figure, almost god like. I somehow didn’t try to zoom in to the details until recently.

So there was this time, several months back, I started reading about him, anything I can find. Once I was done, went through a bunch of videos on youtube as well, like a good pleb.

His views on democracy felt like a well thought out version of what I thought of it (but I don’t wanna discuss my politics here). Also, I saw him as this charismatic figure who could sell cold, lonely nights, for a premium, if he tried.

Anyhow, while reading about him, whenver I came across any comments about Sri Lanka I felt like I should put these things in one place. Just to show the people who use a vague LKY quote on a once great Sri Lanka. So here I list down a couple of excerpts I could find links to online.

Riots - we’ve seen Sri Lanka, when they switched from English to Sinhalese and disenfranchised the Tamils and so strife ever after.

We chose - we didn’t say it was our national language - we said it was our working language, that everybody learns English whatever language medium school you go to. Which means nobody needs interpretation to read English.

Excerpts from an interview with Lee Kuan Yew - Newyork Times

When I went to Colombo for the first time in 1956, it was a better city than Singapore, because Singapore had three and a half years of Japanese occupation and Colombo was the HQ of Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command, and they had large sterling reserves. They had two universities. Before the war, a thick layer of educated talent. So if you believe what American and British liberals used to say, then it ought to have flourished, but it did not. One man one vote led to the domination of the majority Sinhalese over the minority Tamils who were the active and intelligent fellows who worked hard and got themselves

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penalised and English was out. They were educated in English. Sinhalese was in. They got quotas into universities and now they have become fanatical Tigers. And the country will never be put together again. Somebody should have told them, change the system, loosen up or break off.

Looking back, I think the Tunku was wise. I offered a loosening up of the system. He said, clean-cut, go your way. Had we stayed in, and I look at Colombo and Ceylon - Sri Lanka - changing names sometimes you deceive the gods but I do not think you are deceiving the people who live in them. This makes no big difference to the tragedy that is being enacted. They failed because they had weak or wrong leaders, like the Philippines.

Sinagpore Parliament Archives

The bginning of above excerpt is decent proof that LKY probably praised Sri Lanka at some point for being better than Singapore. I haven’t seen the exact quote everyone is proud about though (Above comment is from 1994). Because in this, he goes on to explain why Sri Lanka was better. For me this only gives reason to feel ashamed of how we messed up a relatively good opportunity. If you noticed it getting extremely bitter as you read on, congratulations you are one of the die hard patriot kind :D. I guarantee it’s not getting any better.

“Another example is Sri Lanka. It is not a happy, united country. Yes, they [the majority Sinhalese government] have beaten the Tamil Tigers this time. But the Sinhalese who are less capable are putting down Tamils who are more capable. They were squeezing them out. That’s why the Tamils rebelled. But I do not see them ethnic cleansing all two million-plus Jaffna Tamils. The Jaffna Tamils in Sri Lanka have been in Sri Lanka as long as the Sinhalese”

“So what Asia saw was ethnic cleansing?” “That’s right.” “They will come back, you think?“”

“I don’t think they are going to be submissive or go away. The present president of Sri Lanka believes he has settled the problem; his Tamil Tigers are killed and that is that.”

I look up from my notes and with a sense that here we might be seeing a side of LKY that is under-reported, I say: “See that’s really a fascinating point, because two the extent that we have a say sense of who you are at all, we think of you as this hard-boiled force-fist guy. But in fact your system of government is much softer, consensual and intelligent, whereas what the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka are doing is a caricature of an LKY never existed.”

Lee fights a cringe, as if fighting off a bad memory—or my bad analogy. He starts to say something, then stops, the leaves it this, referring to Sri Lanka’s president: “I’ve read his speeches and I knew he was a Sinhalese extremist. I cannot change his mind”

Undertaking battles that cannot be won is a not a particular trademark of LKY’s pragmatic success formula. Neither is a religious obeisance to so-called pure democracy as the form of preferred government. He odes not mention that Sri Lanka is a democracy, based on one-citizen, one-vote. He’s not against democracies when they work. He’s against defending them just because they are democracies.

Giants of Asia: Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew - Tom PLates Google books

So that’s that. My motherland was not exempt from LKY’s signature cold, harsh truth treatments. You can see that he probably only had one good thing to say about Sri Lanka. That too came mostly from the British who left the stuff they built to help with their plundering. So maybe we should stop patting our backs for a distant feeling of being great once and actually start putting the fucking work in.