Shanmugam shares 1966 letter between founding fathers on suggested text for Singapore's National Pledge

The letter, sent by Mr S. Rajaratnam to Mr Ong Pang Boon, was shared by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Facebook, on Aug 9, 2018. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/K SHANMUGAM SC

SINGAPORE - Most Singaporeans know the words of the National Pledge by heart, having repeated them every morning as schoolchildren. These words were spoken aloud once again at the recent National Day Parade.

But not all may know how Singapore's National Pledge came about.

A Facebook post about the Pledge by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam has been shared and discussed since it was posted on National Day (Aug 9). As of Friday evening, the post had over 1,200 reactions and 340 shares.

Mr Shanmugam posted a photograph of a piece of correspondence between Mr S. Rajaratnam, then Foreign Affairs Minister, and Mr Ong Pang Boon, then Minister for Education.

In a post accompanying this piece of history, Mr Shanmugam wrote: "An old letter between two of our founding fathers: Mr S Rajaratnam to Mr Ong Pang Boon, suggesting text for our pledge."

In the letter dated Feb 18, 1966, Mr Rajaratnam wrote: "Sorry for the delay in replying to your letter of 2nd February, 1966. Herewith my suggestion for the pledge for your Flag Raising Ceremony."

The suggested text reads: "We, as citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves to forget differences of race, language and religion and become one united people; to build a democratic society where justice and equality will prevail and where we will seek happiness and progress by helping one another."

While the core message of a democratic society united despite racial or religious differences remains the same, there are slight variations from the final version of the Pledge, a notable one being "forget differences of race..." rather than "regardless of race...".

The letter sparked a discussion in the comments section of Mr Shanmugam's Facebook post.

Facebook user Christie Anna Blu said she preferred the "forget differences of race" phrasing, remarking: "Today, it feels more like tolerate differences."

In response, user Melvin Sim said he thought it would be impossible to forget differences.

"I also hope that we are not merely tolerating each other but we recognise that we come from different groups, each bringing strengths to the whole and we will forge ahead together regardless of race, language or religion," he added.

Another user Swee Keow Koh wrote: "Thank you for sharing this letter, sir. It is another reminder of the tireless work our pioneer leaders were doing to make SG what it is today."

The Pledge was first mooted in October 1965 as an idea to inculcate patriotism, just months after Singapore's separation from Malaysia.

The first two versions of the Pledge were drafted by Mr Philip Liau, adviser on textbooks and syllabuses, and Mr George Thomson, director of the Political Study Centre, respectively.

Mr Ong submitted these drafts to Mr Rajaratnam on Feb 2, 1966, who then responded with the third version, which Mr Shanmugam shared on Facebook.

This version then went through another round of revisions by the Education Ministry, before being approved in August that year.

It was recited for the first time on Aug 24 that year by about 500,000 students in Singapore before the national flag, starting the morning ritual still performed in schools today.

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