Lawyer's late father was a political detainee

PAP candidate K. Muralidharan Pillai with his father P.K. Pillai, a former political detainee, in a 1996 photo. The older Mr Pillai passed away in 2007.
PAP candidate K. Muralidharan Pillai with his father P.K. Pillai, a former political detainee, in a 1996 photo. The older Mr Pillai passed away in 2007.PHOTO: K MURALIDHARAN PILLAI

With a left-leaning, former political detainee for a father, lawyer K. Muralidharan Pillai is an unlikely candidate for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

After all, his late father P.K. Pillai was a unionist who counted leftist Barisan Socialis leader Lim Chin Siong among his closest friends. "They were so close that he shed tears when Mr Lim died in 1996," said Mr Pillai yesterday. "My father didn't even cry at his own brother's funeral."

He said his father and Mr Lim, a bitter foe of Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, were against the merger with Malaya. On Feb 2, 1963, hundreds of armed policemen raided the homes and offices of leftist leaders like Mr Lim and trade unionists, detaining 107 of them. Among them was Mr Pillai's father.

The operation, codenamed Coldstore, was a major crackdown on communists and leftists, in the name of national security. Some, however, have always maintained it was politically motivated.

Mr Pillai's father was to have been banished to India, but he was released by Malaysia's then Home Affairs Minister Ismail Abdul Rahman, before Singapore separated from Malaysia in August 1965.

In 2001, a 34-year-old Mr Pillai became serious about joining the PAP, but he was concerned that his father, then 75, would have reservations. But his father surprised him. "He just wanted to make sure I wasn't doing it to enhance my career, or any such collateral reasons," said Mr Pillai. " 'Just make sure you leave with the shirt on your back,' he said to me, and it's been my motto ever since."

In his later years, his father credited the PAP Government with Singapore's prosperity, said Mr Pillai. "It was clear to him that if Barisan was in charge, we would have 'Robin Hood economics' - taking from the rich to give to the poor," he said.

The older Mr Pillai passed away in 2007.

Yesterday, his son was introduced as a PAP candidate for Aljunied GRC. Former Cabinet minister and mentor Lim Boon Heng choked up as he described Mr Pillai as a committed volunteer who served with a heart, and who also had the potential to be an office- holder.

Mr Pillai said he did not know how long his political career would last. "If I get to the start line, it could be over in 10 days. It could be longer," he said, adding that he was not fazed by the odds.

"I will fight this election with all my heart. I hope Aljunied residents give us a chance."

He is not the only one in the latest crop of PAP candidates to be fielded at the coming polls with a former Barisan Socialis father.

The fathers of Sembawang GRC candidate Ong Ye Kung and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC incumbent Janil Puthucheary were also Barisan Socialis members.

Rachel Au-Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Lawyer's late father was a political detainee'. Print Edition | Subscribe