By Professor Tommy Koh: Thank You India

April 02, 2015

Thank You India


          The founding Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, passed

away on the 23rd of March 2015.  His State Funeral was held on the 29th of March.  The Government of India declared the 29th of March as a day of national mourning and the Indian flag was flown at half-mast throughout India.  The Prime Minister of India, Sri Narendra Modi, came personally to attend Mr Lee’s funeral.


          I am sure that all Singaporeans will join me in thanking the Government and people of India for these extraordinary acts of friendship and solidarity.  In this essay, I wish to reflect on the reasons for the very close relationship which exists between India and Singapore.


History and Culture


          First, I want to refer to our historical and cultural links.  Singapore lies at the heart of Southeast Asia.  Historically, Southeast Asia was a sphere of influence of the Indian civilization.  Hinduism and Buddhism were exported from India to the region.  We see this in the great temples of Angkor Wat.  We also see this in the inspiring Buddhist temple in Borobudur and the Hindu temple in Prambanan.   There is evidence that Indian traders and seafarers were present in and around Singapore from the 9th century.

          India’s influence is present in the lives of contemporary Southeast Asia.  Some of our languages are based on Sanskrit or Pali.  A former capital of Thailand is named Ayuthia and the present King is also known as Rama IX.  The national airline of Indonesia is called Garuda, from the Indian epic, Ramayana.  Generations of Javanese have been brought up watching wayang kulit and listening to the stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata.  The Indian influence is reflected in the languages we speak, the religions we practise, the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the music we listen to.


Singapore and British India


          In the case of Singapore, Raffles brought with him Indian soldiers, traders and workers when he arrived in 1819.  Several of the iconic buildings of Singapore, such as, the Istana and the Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, were built by Indian labour.  From 1819 to 1867, Singapore was administered by the British from Calcutta (Kolkata).  Many of our laws, such as, our Penal Code, the law of evidence, etc. are based on Indian laws.  As a result, there are many commonalities between our two legal systems and the public administration.   A new Indian Heritage Centre will be opened later this year.  It will showcase the historical, cultural and people-to-people links between our two countries.


Gandhi and Nehru


          Second, the founding father of India is Mahatma Gandhi.  Many Singaporeans admired his moral crusade against the British for the independence of India by non-violent means.  They also admired his life-long campaign for amity between the followers of the different religions in India.  There is a Gandhi Memorial Hall in Singapore.

          Pandit Nehru, the founding Prime Minister of India was another heroic figure for many Singaporeans.  The founding Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, was an admirer of Nehru and often sought his advice.  When Nehru passed away in 1964, Lee Kuan Yew spoke at a condolence service held on 30 May 1964.  In November 2011, then PM Manmohan Singh and Singapore’s former PM, Goh Chok Tong, unveiled a marker and bust to honour the memory of Nehru at the Asian Civilizations Museum.


Defence Cooperation


          Third, Singapore has close defence cooperation with India.  We have bilateral agreements between our two armies and air forces. The strong military ties between the two countries reflect the mutual trust and high comfort level which exist between the leaders of the two countries.


Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement


          Fourth, in 2005, India and Singapore concluded the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CECA).  CECA was a milestone for both countries.  It represented Singapore’s first agreement with a country in South Asia.  It was India’s first agreement with any trade partner and a model for other free trade agreements.  Since CECA came into force, the volumes of trade and investment between India and Singapore have continued to grow.  Last year, Singapore became India’s largest foreign investor.  India’s investment and corporate presence in Singapore have scaled new heights.  Tata, Punj Lloyd, Infosys, NatSteel, Voltas, Ramco and Tech Mahindra are some of the leading Indian companies with a major presence in Singapore.


Singapore Companies In India


          Fifth, there are over 500 Singapore companies which are operating in India.  They are active in the following industries:

·        telecommunications (Singtel)

·        industrial parks, real estate and urban solutions (Ascendas, Capitaland, Surbana and Jurong Consultants)

·        ports (PSA International)

·        power generation (Semcorp)

·        logistics and distriparks (YCH Logistics and Gateway)

·        financial services (DBS)

·        civil aviation (SIA and Tata)

·        water and waste management (Hyflux)


Confidence in PM Narendra Modi


          Sixth, the Singapore Government and private sector have confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  This confidence is based on his good track record as the Chief Minister of Gujarat.

          The 2015 Union Budget has been well received.  It contains a roadmap and is focused on the ease of doing business and radically improving India’s infrastructure.

          We share the confidence of our Indian friends that the Indian economy will grow by more than 7 percent this year and by more than 8 percent next year.  We intend to participate in the Indian growth story.


Iconic Project In Andra Pradesh


          Seventh, we thank the Chief Minister of Andra Pradesh,  Chandrababu Naidu, for requesting Singapore in helping to master plan the new capital of his state.  This is a once in a life-time opportunity and we are determined to live up to India’s expectations. 




          In conclusion, I wish to reiterate our thanks to the people and government of India for honouring our founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew.  Our relationship is comprehensive and substantial.  Our friendship is anchored in both our heads and our hearts.  Singapore is and will always be India’s champion and dependable friend in ASEAN.



                                                                                                                                                                     Tommy Koh


                                                                                                                                                          Co-Chairman, ISSD

The Tembusu (Fagraea fragrans) is a large evergreen tree in the family Gentianaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia. Its trunk is dark brown, with deeply fissured bark, looking somewhat like a bittergourd. It grows in an irregular shape from 10 to 25m high. Its leaves are light green and oval in shape. Its yellowish flowers have a distinct fragrance and the fruits of the tree are bitter tasting red berries, which are eaten by birds and fruit bats.