Small country with big past and future

Singapore's success story as a small country with an immaculate global reputation is a role model many Indian states can emulate. That was the view of five Indian members of parliament, who were here for a three-day visit last week.

They came from a cross-section of the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament): Mrs Meenakashi Lekhi, 48, MP for New Delhi from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); Mr Arka Keshari Deo, 36, MP for Kalahandi (Odisha) from the Biju Janata Dal; Mr Bhagwant Mann, 41, MP for Sangrur (Punjab) from the Aam Aadmi Party; Mr Dushyant Chautala, 27, MP for Hisar (Haryana) from the Indian National Lok Dal; and Mr Rahul Kaswan, 38, MP for Churu (Rajasthan) from the BJP.

"Small country but with a big past and big future," Mrs Lekhi, a lawyer, said with a smile when asked to sum up Singapore. She points to the continuing need for Singapore and India to further strengthen ties by elevating bilateral relations to a strategic partnership in order to achieve concrete deliverables in areas such as "Smart Cities" and "Skills Development".

This year, the two countries commemorate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations. India was among the first countries to set up bilateral ties with Singapore on Aug 24, 1965, after the Republic gained independence.

She said Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's approach towards South-east Asia, previously called "Look East" and now renamed "Act East", has sought to be comprehensive with more focus on economics, soft power, connectivity and maritime security.

'Smart power'

She added: "Mr Modi has been deft at using what Mr Joseph Nye (US political scientist and former US assistant secretary of defence) has dubbed 'smart power' - the right blend of soft power and hard power."

Mr Deo, who hails from the Kalahandi royal family in Odisha, urged more Indian states to foster stronger bilateral relationships, especially in a new era where India has moved from idealism to pragmatism in a number of its relationships.

"Indians in Singapore, South-east Asia and Asia should come and invest in India, especially my eastern state, Odisha, where big business opportunities await. We have major developmental plans and we're in line to be the first state in India to formulate a scientific coastal plan for sustainable management of coastal resources," he said.

Mr Mann, a famous Punjabi actor-comedian before he joined politics, cited the good progress of Singapore's collaboration with Andhra Pradesh on the masterplan for the new capital city as part of the Indian government's plan to develop 100 smart cities throughout the sub-continent.

"More Indian states are waiting to be tapped. India has identified the 21st century as the 'New Asian Century' where there will be many new opportunities for further bilateral co-operation. I'm particularly pleased with the recent enhancements in aviation and maritime connectivity between Singapore and India," he said.

Mr Chautala said there is "immense scope in education, medical and technology cross-transfers between the younger generations of the two countries". He noted the importance of Singapore in India's plans to expand its footprint in ASEAN and build smart cities, provide urban solutions and assist in skills building.

"Your Institute of Technical Education (ITE) is a world-class example of an education system that caters for the not-so-bright to get them to move in the right direction," he said.

"There is renewed focus on values and character, and holistic education is strengthened to go beyond learning for grades and 'learn for mastery'. To this end, you've embarked on applied learning programmes, so students can match interests with opportunities and apply knowledge in real-life situations."

Mr Kaswan, a first-time MP who was voted from Churu constituency in Rajasthan with an overwhelming majority of 300,000 votes, said "the Lee Kuan Yew success story will be etched in the minds of Indians as the founding prime minister was a torchbearer of hope, not just for Singapore, but for all in Asia".

"Mr Lee believed in India's potential more than many of us did, as PM Modi recently said, and India's relations with Singapore is one of its strongest. Indeed, Singapore is a key pillar of India's 'Act East' policy," he said.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Singapore-India milestone, President Tony Tan Keng Yam visited India in February and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee is expected to make a reciprocal visit soon.

Last week, a Singapore delegation led by Ambassador-at-large Professor Tommy Koh took part in the 8th India-Singapore Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi. They met Mr Modi, foreign secretary S. Jaishanker, finance minister Arun Jaitley, railway minister Suresh Prabhu, commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman and BJP secretary-general Ram Madhav.

Noting that this week is exactly a year since the Modi government came to power, Mrs Lekhi, the most experienced of the five visiting MPs, said: "We're really on a big move. PM Modi's new campaign 'Make in India' has clearly encouraged international companies to make India a pioneer in the manufacturing sector."

"Singapore entrepreneurs should do likewise," she added. "Believe in the new India which, under PM Modi and his 'Make in India' policy, has shown remarkable progress for some real change-makers in the future."

As a parting shot, Mrs Lekhi said her parliamentary colleagues got a "quick lesson on Singapore's economic success", adding: "What's unique about Singapore is the social strategy, where the multiracial people can take advantage of diversity, different races, different religions, and mould a nation where people are proud of being who they are, Singaporean first and foremost.

"Truly, a remarkable lesson in nation-building, where corruption is tackled seriously and success genuinely based on meritocracy."

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