Getting to know S. Rajaratnam

22 Aug 2019 2 min read

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The National Pledge that all students recite in school can be attributed to one person – Sinnathamby Rajaratnam or better known as S. Rajaratnam. The former journalist was a co-founder and stalwart of the People’s Action Party (PAP).

Mr Rajaratnam frequently wrote articles on the state of politics in Singapore and Malaya. His openly anti-British and anti-communist comments caught the attention of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a co-founder of the PAP and its first Secretary-General. This would later lead Mr Rajaratnam joining the PAP and contesting successfully in the 1959 Legislative Assembly election for the Kampong Glam constituency. He was also appointed the Minister for Culture – a post he held till 1965.

Mr Rajaratnam at various PAP rallies over the years

 When Singapore gained independence, Mr Rajaratnam was first appointed as Minister for Foreign Affairs – a post he held until 1980. He recognised the importance of establishing good relationships with other nations, particularly for a young nation like Singapore. He also held other positions such as Minister for Labour (1968 – 1971) and Second Deputy Prime Minister (1980 – 1985).

One of Mr Rajaratnam’s enduring legacies is the National Pledge. Largely drafted by Mr Rajaratnam in 1966, the pledge aimed to inculcate national consciousness and loyalty among Singaporeans following separation from Malaysia. The pledge also expressed Mr Rajaratnam’s ideal of multi-racialism and the vision of one united people in Singapore.

Mr Rajaratnam retired from politics in 1988 and the wordsmith went on to write commentaries on regional and international affairs. In 2007, a year after Mr Rajaratnam passed away, the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies was renamed as S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) – a fitting tribute to one of modern Singapore’s founding fathers.

The “democracy of deeds” – another of Mr Rajaratnam’s terms is also in the news lately. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, spoke about democracy of deeds to rally Singaporeans to come together and to take positive action and partner the Government to make a difference for the future of Singapore.

Mr Rajaratnam, first coined the term in an address to grassroots leaders in August 1971. You can read the speech from the National Archives for the context in which he termed “democracy of deeds” and how Singaporeans should come together as one for the success of the nation.

An excerpt of the speech that Mr Rajaratnam made in August 1971