Statue, museum for Mr Lee Kuan Yew in India

Statue, museum for Mr Lee Kuan Yew in India

THANJAVUR, INDIA - Such is the admiration for Lee Kuan Yew that one town is planning a large brass statue of the late Singapore leader and a memorial hall, while a neighbouring one is creating a museum on his life and achievements.

These tributes to Mr Lee are being planned nowhere near Singapore, but nearly 7,000km away in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The state, home to 72 million Tamils, has strong cultural and economic bonds with Singapore and its ethnic Tamil citizens.

But within Tamil Nadu are Ullikkotai and Mannargudi, among half a dozen towns and villages that have forged even closer links with Singapore.

Many families, who once considered three meals a luxury, now live a comfortable life on money sent back by family members, swopping thatched-roof homes for two-storey houses.

In Ullikkotai, for instance, many homes have conveniences from televisions, air-conditioners and laptops, right down to toiletries and medicine such as Axe Brand medicated oil, sourced from Singapore.

All these people credit the change in their fortunes to Mr Lee.

"There is no one like him. He was a leader among leaders," said P. Poiyamolzi, 45, a member of the state's Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) political party and the president of the panchayat, or local council, in Ullikkotai.

To honour Mr Lee, Ullikkotai is planning a large brass statue of him and a memorial hall, while the neighbouring town of Mannargudi wants to dedicate a museum to the leader.

"Usually, political differences hold up most decisions. On this project, there is no political division. We are all united," said Mr Poiyamolzi of the statue project.

The statue, the first of a leader in brass in the village, is expected to cost more than 2.5 million rupees (S$54,300). Mr Poiyamolzi said work on the statue would start by the end of the month.

Motorcycles, tractors and cars whizz past the area earmarked for the statue, which is next to a small river. The area is overrun by weeds and plants and littered with rubbish, but the villagers vow to clean up the area and ensure a respectful tribute.

Pledges worth 400,000 rupees have come in for the project, including some from Singapore.

R. K. Manivannan, 45, who worked in Singapore for 18 years, is giving 50,000 rupees.

"I cried when I heard of his death," said Mr Manivannan.

Mr Lee's death was mourned deeply in Tamil Nadu. Banners and posters with condolence messages and photographs of the former prime minister were put up in front of houses, shops and markets.

Many speak of how businesses were built in the area - from restaurants to cinema halls - from money earned in Singapore. Banners are usually put up when family members pass away.

"The mountain is destroyed," said one banner in Mannargudi, while another in Ullikkotai read: "He was the light in our lives."

"In every home here, his death was treated like that of a family member. No Indian leader has evoked this kind of family affection in recent times," said K. Chellapandiyan, a journalist with Tamil newspaper Dinamalar.

In Mannargudi, residents are working to set up the Lee Kuan Yew museum.

An organising committee has estimated it will cost about 10 million rupees, but has yet to settle on a location. People have already pledged 500,000 rupees for the project.

"He was a great leader of a small country. There is a lot of respect for him. We feel a big attachment to him. People here wouldn't have gone to Chennai, but they would have gone to Singapore," said Manickam Durai, a local journalist and member of the organising committee.

"We want to show how he transformed Singapore through photographs, books written by him and a video. (The museum) should motivate the younger generation and they should know what he did for Singapore and Tamils."

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