S. Rajaratnam - the man behind the pledge

S. Rajaratnam - the man behind the pledge

"We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people..."

These words, which every Singaporean has recited with a clenched fist placed across the chest, were written by former Deputy Prime Minister S. Rajaratnam.

Ironically, the Pledge, full of hope and optimism, was penned by Mr Rajaratnam after one of Singapore's darkest periods - that of the 1964 race riots.

Pained by the racial tension and bloodletting, Mr Rajaratnam translated his vision of peace into an oath of allegiance.

Such was his way with words that the Pledge perfectly encapsulated the dreams of a newly-independent Singapore, and still resonates with Singaporeans today.

But his lasting legacy extends beyond these familiar words.

Singapore's friendly diplomatic relations with countries near and far go back to his days.

As the first Minister for Foreign Affairs, a position he held from 1965 to 1980, Mr Rajaratnam bore a heavy responsibility.

One early mission was to secure independent Singapore's entry into United Nations in 1965.

"(Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew) said that I should immediately get ready to go with Dr Toh Chin Chye, the Deputy Prime Minister, to visit many countries overseas to get their strong support," he said.

CUMBERSOME

He did that over four months, at a time when air travel was far more cumbersome than it is now.

He said: "We could only stop and stay in one country for a day or, at the most, two days. That was the most tiring journey that I had ever had in my whole life."

Another landmark journey he made was to Bangkok in 1967.

Representing Singapore, he signed the historic Bangkok Declaration, which led to the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and, along with it, Singapore's regional presence.

He once said: "What we want are Singaporeans with a lively curiosity about what is happening in the rest of Southeast Asia. They should not only be ready to learn about other Southeast Asian countries, but also learn from them."

Mr S. Dhanabalan, who succeeded Mr Rajaratnam as foreign minister, described his predecessor: "One of the most striking things about him was this: he was a wordsmith able to clearly articulate what many felt only vaguely."

In 1988, Mr Rajaratnam stepped down from the Cabinet as Senior Minister after 29 fruitful years in politics.

Asked what his plans were after stepping down, he replied lyrically: "You know, in Alice In Wonderland, there is the Cheshire cat who goes away but leaves his smile behind. I hope I will go that way too."

He certainly did and even after his death in 2006, his legacy is echoed by generations of Singaporeans every morning across the island.

ngodwin@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 27, 2015.
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