leekuanyew

Law & Order: Glad gangsterism was curtailed

As a teenager in the 1950s, Mr S. Rajagopal was struck by the forceful speeches of the politician who would eventually become Singapore's first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Listening to them, "you knew that in his mind the safety of the people was paramount because gangsterism (then) was rife", said Mr Rajagopal, who is now 75 and honorary treasurer of the Singapore Police Retirees' Association.

Around the same time, communist activity was reaching a peak.

Mr Rajagopal watched as Mr Lee quelled the communists and reduced gangsterism.

Having lived through the Hock Lee bus riots in 1955, Mr Rajagopal knew first-hand the chaos of lawlessness.

During the riots, "the police riot squad came and they chased everybody away. But I got kicked by one of the rioters because I was just a young boy standing there", he said.

"After that I told myself, 'Bloody hell, I'll become a policeman myself.'"

Despite his father's disapproval, he went ahead and did so.

His resolve won over his taxi driver father, who brought him food, and drove him home after he took up night school.

The 36-year veteran of the police force was involved in key moments of Singapore's tumultuous history.

He was part of the security team at Mr Lee's Oxley Road home from 1959 to 1960, at a time when the communist movement was active.

Then came Operation Coldstore, which was a major crackdown on leftists in 1963, racial riots in 1964, and the Laju ferry hijacking incident in 1973, among others.

Mr Rajagopal lauded Mr Lee for his decisiveness in making pivotal decisions, saying that "he saved our lives" during the Laju incident. But he said he could not go into detail given the classified nature of the operation.

Another key move was the retention of the Internal Security Act - a legacy of British colonial rule - which quelled uprisings over the years.

Through it all, Mr Lee's standards of "hard work, discipline, truth, no corruption" formed Mr Rajagopal's credo. 

And he never faltered: "In my entire career, I've never touched 10 cents from anyone."

He rose through the ranks to retire as Superintendent of Police in 1995.

Today, 20 years after leaving the police force, Mr Lee's words are still a resounding "clarion call", said Mr Rajagopal. He cited Mr Lee as saying: "I've worked all my life to protect the country and the people of Singapore."

Mr Rajagopal added: "Now in Singapore we have rehabilitated the communists, the criminals, the Muslim fundamentalists. That is why Singapore is such a peaceful place with racial and religious harmony. It is only due to an effective leader."

Should his services be required, he remains ever prepared for the call of duty.

"We in the Police Retirees' Association - and we've got 1,636 members - will all respond if we get a call any time."

waltsim@sph.com.sg