Singapore honours Nehru as a ‘friend’

Singapore : Sixty-one years after Jawaharlal Nehru last visited this island state, Singapore commemorates in stone India’s first prime minister as a “friend to our shores”.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveiling a bust of Nehru at the Asian Civilisation Museum green on the picturesque banks of the Singapore River Sunday along with Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, it was further affirmation of a historic connect that also includes Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who spent some years of his life in this city state.

Singapore’s National Heritage Board has also marked the site of the INA Memorial, the foundation stone of which was laid by Bose in July 1945 and subsequently destroyed by Lord Louis Mountbatten who was then the head of the Southeast Asia Command.

In 1995, that spot at what is now the Esplanade Park was restored by the Heritage Board.

Not too far away from that is where Nehru’s bust, sculpted by India’s Biman Bihari Das, and marker, will now stand.

According to Ong Yey Huat, chairperson of the National Heritage Board, each of Nehru’s three visits “contributed to the growing frienship between our two countries… We hope that with this marker, the long-standing friendship between our two nations and our heritage institutions will continue to grow from strength to strength.”

So far, Singapore has “marked” only four personalities – Polish English writer Joseph Conrad, father of modern Vietnam Ho Chi Minh, Filipino revolutionary leader Jose Rizal and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

Nehru first visited Singapore in May 1937 with daughter Indira as part of a pan-Malayan tour; then in March 1946, in the turbulent year before India’s independence, he came at the invitation of Mountbatten; his last visit was in June 1950 when he was prime minister on his way back from Indonesia. Daughter Indira accompanied him on this visit too during which he laid the foundation stone of the Singapore Indian Association and the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hall.

“Singapore will become the place where Asian unity is forged. In the future, the peoples of Asia must hold together for their own good as well as the good and freedom of the world,” he had told a journalist in here in 1946 after visiting the INA memorial.

The words were prophetic and resonate even today.

On May 30, 1964, three days after Nehru died in New Delhi, thousands gathered to mourn the death of Nehru at Jalan Besar Stadium, the same spot where he had called for peace and conciliation in a region where decolonisation was in progress.

Then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew honoured the memory of a “staunch friend” who had led India to freedom and won the hearts of millions to his vision of harmony and justice in a post-colonial world.

More than five decades later, on a sunny Sunday morning, Singaporeans honoured the man again.

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