Singapore's Prime Minister made one small factual error in his thoughtful National Day Rally speech when he spoke about the Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002. He said Hindu pilgrims travelling on a train were massacred by the Muslims in Ahmedabad. No, the massacre took place when the train stopped at the railway station in the town of Godhra. The Hindus retaliated by massacring the Muslims in Ahmedabad. Wikipedia sums up the Gujarat riots. The mistake could have been easily avoided by checking the Internet.
But, on the whole, the Prime Minister is giving a good speech. He has been speaking for more than 90 minutes, and the audience is still listening with rapt attention. And so am I, watching the webcast at home.
PS: He has just finished speaking. He spoke for more than 100 minutes and gave a fine performance – a good speech backed by fine audiovisuals on the big screens behind him.
My ears did not deceive me. Here's the relevant part of the speech from Asia One. The Prime Minister was speaking about the racial and religious harmony that exists in Singapore – and how a victim of the Gujarat riots has come to love this peaceful nation and become a proud Singaporean. The Prime Minister said:
Finally on religion, let me share with you one story, true story which was in an Indian newspaper recently, The Asian Age, picked up in the Straits Times, about a young man from Gujarat, Muslim, who migrated to Singapore after Hindu/Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002.
You may remember that there were very bad Hindu/Muslim riots. A train carrying Hindu pilgrims was stopped in Ahmadebad (sic), set on fire, circumstances unclear but 50-odd men, women and children burnt to death, trapped in the train.
(The Prime Minister attributed the story to the Asian Age. But the Asian Age story did not mention the train burning. It merely said the young man came to Singapore after the Gujarat riots in which his father and two other family members were killed.)
So the Hindus rioted, they had no doubt what the cause was and one thousand people died, mostly Muslims because Ahmadebad has a large Muslim community.
So this person was a Muslim who experienced that riot. And he decided to come to Singapore after the riots. We call him Mohammed Sheikh.
It's not his real name because he still has family there and he said, this is what happened: During the bloody riots, he watched three of his family members, including his father, getting butchered.
His family had to pay for being Muslim. Besides losing his family and home, Mohammed lost confidence and faith in the civil society. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life cursing his destiny. He wanted to move on.
So seven years ago, Mohammed came to Singapore and got a diploma in hospitality management. Now he is working in an eatery and he hopes to open his own business one day.
He told the interviewer, had he stayed in Gujarat, I would have been hating all Hindus and baying for their blood, perhaps. Now he loves it when his children bring home Hindu friends and share snacks. And he told the interviewer proudly, my children have Christian, Buddhist, Hindu friends.
And he even hopes to bring his mother to Singapore so that she can see for herself that people of different races, different faiths can be friends and can co-exist peacefully.
So the interviewer asked him what Muslim sect he belonged to, which mosque he went to in India. He says, I don't want to get into all that. Now I am just a Singaporean. And I am proud of it. (The Asian Age story said: Mohammed aspires to become a Singapore citizen.)
So this story reminds us that while we must not neglect to strengthen our harmonious society, we are in a good position. If the Garden of Eden state is one where you are happy where things are working and where if you leave the Garden of Eden you cannot get back in again.
So please stay there.
What I loved about the speech
Except for that one little mistake, the Prime Minister gave a good speech. I loved the lovely imagery he used to show how the members of parliament work behind the scenes to maintain peace and harmony in Singapore:
We keep it quiet, we deal with it in a low key way. So you see the peaceful calm of Singapore harmoniously progressing, which in fact it is harmoniously progressing. It's like a swan. You see it sailing across the water beautifully, graciously, underneath paddling away furiously.
That's what MPs are doing when you don't know what they are doing.
But he saved the best for the last when he spoke about the ongoing transformation of Singapore. He was absolutely right about the National Day Parade when he said:
The show on 9th August was impressive but what was most impressive is not just the performance but what it takes to put on such a show and what the show says about the sort of nation we are. The imagination and creativity which had to go into conceiving the show, the ability to organise, to execute, to make it happen.
Yes, Singapore has all that – and more.