Few would dispute that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a greater runaway success in his foreign policy outreach than what he has been in domestic politics thus far.
His decision to visit Singapore for a few hours on Sunday to attend the funeral of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, should be seen in this light. Modi’s ongoing Singapore trip has been triggered by the death of Lee Kuan Yew who made Singapore what it is today – a fully developed nation which is a role model for the entire world how a nation can be governed flawlessly with virtually zero-corruption and zero-crime.
It is understood that PM Modi will be traveling to Singapore again on an official visit later this year, a watershed year in the history of Singapore as the small nation state celebrates its 50th anniversary of becoming a Republic on 24 August.
When this writer had visited Singapore in August last year, Singaporean diplomats had said that they were keenly looking forward to PM Modi’s visit within the year 2014. Somehow Singapore could not feature on his foreign visits agenda last year.
But the death of the legendary Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew, 91, made it possible, though it is not an official visit by Modi to the city state. Modi was among the select foreign leaders who got an invitation from Singapore to attend Lee’s funeral service on Sunday. It was a ‘restricted’ invite sent only to nations of ASEAN, East Asia and world powers like the United States, China and Japan.
Modi immediately grabbed the opportunity as he has been a staunch admirer of Lee since he was the chief minister of Gujarat and had often engaged with him then.
Modi’s visit to Singapore is largely symbolic. It is a reassuring gesture to Singaporeans that their nation figures high on the Indian government’s radar screens. It also conveys that India stands by Singaporeans at the time of their national mourning. Incidentally, Sunday is being observed by India as a national mourning day in honour of the late Lee Kuan Yew.
Since it is not an official visit and Modi is in Singapore for a somber occasion, naturally he would not be talking shop with his Singaporean counterparts. Obviously, no agreements will be on the table.
However, two senior leaders from Singapore will be meeting Modi: Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. Not many world leaders attending Lee’s funeral service are being extended this privilege.
The post of ‘Emeritus Senior Minister’ is an interesting Singaporean innovation and a political experiment worth emulating by other nations. Only a former prime minister can be given this post which incidentally has executive powers. The purpose is that Emeritus Senior Minister will groom the incumbent prime minister in the art of governance and nation building.
Goh Chok Tong was Singapore’s second prime minister who took over on 28 November 1990, succeeding Lee Kuan Yew, and served in the role until 12 August 2004 when he stepped down and was succeeded by Lee Hsien Loong, son of Lee Kuan Yew. Goh subsequently served as Senior Minister until May 2011 and as Chairman of the Monetary Authority Of Singapore (MAS). He continues to serve as a Member of Parliament.
Singapore’s importance for India has been growing over the years. Not only the Indian government but more and more Indian states and their chief ministers are increasingly looking to Singapore for its assistance and guidance in such diverse fields as smart cities, urban development, water conservation, infrastructure planning and law and order, to name just a few.
Singapore is all set to play a major role in transforming the Indian urban landscape, particularly in PM Modi’s pet project of smart cities. Singapore is going to closely collaborate with India in developing several smart cities in India. Though India was keen on Singapore taking up as many smart cities projects as possible, the government has conveyed to India that it would be able to deliver on just one or at the most two smart cities in India.
Singapore is the second largest source of FDI in India having invested almost $30 billion between 2000 and 2014. Apart from business and economy, Singapore has pro-active engagement in areas like defence, maritime security and counter-terrorism.
PM Modi’s thoughtful gesture of attending Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral service will further cement India-Singapore bilateral ties and bolster India’s Look East policy.
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