Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had invoked India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru during a passionate debate in Parliament on the way democracy should work in the city-state.

The Indian High Commission summoned Singapore’s High Commissioner Simon Wong to convey its displeasure after Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said nearly half of Lok Sabha lawmakers have criminal charges filed against them. Mr. Loong said “Nehru’s India” has seen a decline in democratic polities.

The Ministry of External Affairs apparently conveyed to Singapore’s envoy that the Prime Minister of Singapore’s remark was uncalled for. The top political leaderships of India and Singapore have close ties, making Singapore a key strategic partner. India often summons its closest strategic partners to send envoys, but when it comes to remarks about its internal affairs, New Delhi remains extremely sensitive.

During a passionate debate in Parliament yesterday, Singapore’s prime minister invoked India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru when discussing how democracy should work in the city-state. “Most countries are founded and start off on the basis of high ideals and noble values. But more often than not, beyond the founding leaders and the pioneer generation, over decades and generations, gradually things change,” Lee said during the debate on the Committee of Privileges’ report on complaints about untruths told by former Workers’ Party lawmaker Raeesah Khan.

“Things start off with passionate intensity. The leaders, who fought for and won independence, are often exceptional individuals of great courage, immense culture, and outstanding ability. They came through the crucible of fire and emerged as leaders of men and nations. They are the David Ben-Gurions, the Jawaharlal Nehrus, and we have our own too,” Lee had said.

“Nehru’s India has become one where, according to media reports, almost half the MPs in the Lok Sabha have criminal charges pending against them, including charges of rape and murder. Though it is also said that many of these allegations are politically motivated,” he had said.

During his nearly 40-minute speech, the Singaporean prime minister stressed the importance of honest lawmakers to a democratic system and invoked the beginning of India’s first premier, Jawaharlal Nehru, in order to explain how democracy should work in the city-state.

Elaborating further, he said: “Many political systems today would be quite unrecognisable to their founding leaders. Ben-Gurion’s Israel has morphed into one which can barely form a government, despite four general elections in two years. Meanwhile, a stream of senior politicians and officials in Israel face a litany of criminal charges, some have gone to jail.”

“What is to prevent Singapore from going down the same road? Nothing. We are not intrinsically smarter or more virtuous than other countries. Modern Singapore does not come born with a fail-safe mechanism,” he added.


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