S. RAJARATNAM says:
QUESTIONS provocative and even
intelligently "sensitive" are to me the
life-blood of creative thinking.
But what alarms me are not so much the
questions as the hidden and dangerous implications
which they often conceal. I refer to a recent
proposal which a group of grassroots leaders and a
lawyer described as "trivial" but
"sensitive" (The Straits Times, July 22)
and in which they suggested that
"adjustments" should be made to our
32-year-old national anthem because, they claim, many
Singaporeans cannot sing our anthem in Malay and
therefore do not have "strong feelings" or
"strong emotions when they sing the national
In other words, they lack patriotic
Now in the matter of the use of
language, I consider myself as something of a minor
expert in the technique of "double think"
and "double talk".
I think there is more to the proposed
"trivial adjustment" than the surface
The proposal put forward by these
grassroots leaders and a lawyer was made publicly. It
also caught the eye of the mass media. I also
understand that prior to this, the matter was
discussed at some length in a manner sufficient to
attract the attention of the Prime Minister. So this
matter was not intended to be trivial.
Since this statement was described by
its authors as also "sensitive", it was no
doubt also intended to rouse emotions about the
adequacy or inadequacy of a national anthem which had
been a source of inspiration and respect for millions
of Singaporeans for some 32 years.
Our national anthem in its present form
has been sung since 1959 not only in Singapore but
also in a great many countries in the world where
diplomatic formality required the playing of Majulah
Singapura. As far as I know, our national anthem has
so far not attracted domestic or international
In fact, the Majulah Singapura was
unofficially launched much earlier by the old City
Council, even though the overwhelming majority of
Singaporeans even then knew little or no Malay.
Its composer, Zubir Said, has been
officially honoured for his gift of Majulah
Singapura. His Malay lyrics were so simple that
anyone over the age of five, unless mentally
retarded, had no difficulty singing the anthem. All
Singaporean children of kindergarten age have not
only had no difficulty memorising the words but have
for decades sung it every morning with "strong
feelings and emotion".
The anthem has been translated into the
four official languages for those who cannot
understand Malay. I know of no one, until recently,
who has said that singing Majulah Singapura in its
present form made him feel unpatriotic.
That is why I am somewhat mystified why
a group of grassroots leaders, including a lawyer,
should now suddenly experience mental and emotional
block over the national anthem. There must be other
reasons why these grassroots leaders cannot work up
positive emotions for our anthem, and I am sure many
would be interested to know why.
Since national anthems are sung en masse
on formal occasions, I am further interested to know
what kind of Majulah Singapura would emerge the next
National Day were it to be sung simultaneously in
Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hainanese, Tamil, Urdu,
Javanese, English and Greek, among other languages.
That should really bring the house down.
Of course, there is nothing in the law
prohibiting any citizen, should he feel the urge, to
sing Majulah Singapura in the privacy of his home or
along Orchard Road in any language that takes his
I also understand that some of these
grassroots leaders have argued that since the Chinese
constitute the majority, then the new dogma of the
greatest good for the greatest majority should be
So the time has come to re-emphasise the
difference between hot-potato politics and
statesmanship. Statesmanship is something different
and I should like to give an example of it for the
benefit of, in particular, lawyer Lee Bon Leong who
raised what he admits is a "sensitive"
The question of a national language also
came up for debate during Indonesia's struggle for
independence. Indonesia has a far larger population
and a greater variety of languages and dialects than
Singapore. The Indonesian majority speak Javanese, an
ancient language with a very sophisticated culture.
The late President Sukarno, who was
called upon to choose a national language from among
the hundreds of competing languages, chose Malay, a
minority language, on the grounds that this was the
language best qualified to unify a country consisting
of millions of people and hundreds of languages and
He made Malay the national language and
I would say that in the whole of Asia there is today
no country more united and with a stronger sense of
and genius of Mr Sukarno, whatever his faults. I do
not know whether the Singapore grassroots leaders
concerned understand how he achieved this, but it
would be worth their while making the effort to do
Finally, I would also like to point out
that changing our present national anthem must also
mean a significant rewriting of Singapore history.
writer was formerly senior minister in the Prime
First published in the Forum
section of the Straits Times, March 9, 1990.
Copyright © 1998 Singapore Press
Holdings. All Rights Reserved.