Indian Singaporeans gathered to pay tribute to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew yesterday, highlighting his steadfast belief in meritocracy and multiculturalism.
Six community leaders spoke at the event organised by self-help group Sinda and held at the P. Govindasamy Pillai Hall in Serangoon.
Ambassador-at-large Gopinath Pillai, who lived in Malaysia in the 1960s, recalled the 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur that proved to be "one of the most traumatic events" of his life.
It was a turning point that saw him return to Singapore, a place where his family would be judged on merit, not race.
"Mr Lee was not oblivious to the racial differences of the people of Singapore. He understood them. All he wanted was the different races to keep their culture, build on their culture, but develop a strong sense of tolerance for other cultures," he said.
Sinda life trustee Sat Pal Khattar recalled a lunch where Mr Lee expressed doubts as to whether India would succeed.
"Fifteen years later, he was not afraid to say he was wrong about India," he said. "This is the firmament of Mr Lee Kuan Yew."
Sikh community leader Charanjit Singh thanked Mr Lee for his unflinching belief in equality, which translated into policies that ensured that even the Sikhs - a "minority within a minority" - would feel every bit a part of Singapore.
"As a result of this, the Sikhs have always felt at home in Singapore," said the president of the Singapore Khalsa Association.
About 650 people from 150 In-dian organisations attended the event. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran, as well as current and former MPs, were also present.