PETALING JAYA: The modern Singapore is a success story with growing economy, high education standards and its status as a global financial capital.
However, it could have been a bit different as there are hidden stories that are lost in the midst of time.
Since Singapore pulled out from Malaysia 50 years ago today to become an independent, the dominant figure then was undoubtedly the late Lee Kuan Yew.
Despite his vast contributions to the republic, one of the criticisms that could be levelled against him is that he was unduly intolerant of differing viewpoints.
One name that has faded away is Lim Chin Siong, a prominent left-wing leader of Barisan Sosialis in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s. He died of a heart attack in 1996.
Lim, who co-founded the People’s Action Party (PAP) in 1954 with Lee, was eliminated from the political scene during the notorious Operation Coldstore, which he was detained without trial twice under the Internal Security Act.
To revisit his struggle, Lim’s story was told in a book titled Comet in Our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History.
The book was first published in 2001 and its new edition was launched at a forum on Sunday to mark Singapore’s 50th National Day.
Dr Poh Soo Kai, the former assistant secretary-general of Barisan Sosialis Singapore who edited the new edition, said this side of history needed to be told to the people.
“People need to know how the ISA was used to arrest innocent people,” he said, adding that the book also aims to correct misconceptions about Lim.
Other former political prisoners that had faced detention without trial were also present at the forum, recalling their memories of Lim.
“Today is the most appropriate day to launch this book because Lim Chin Siong is a leader who could have made Singapore an interesting and vibrant country and as economically successful as Singapore is today,” said a former ISA detainee, Teo Soh Lung.
Detained in 1980s after being accused of a Marxist plot, Teo said Lim was a champion of workers whose concern was on human rights and minimum wages.
“Many workers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Philippines are coming to Singapore and working long hours with bad pay. Lim would never have allowed this to happen, and there would be a better and more cordial relationship with Malaysia,” she said.
Lim’s younger brother Lim Chin Joo, who was also present during the book launch, said he was grateful for the effort to restore a full story of Singapore.
“I am honoured to able to witness this launch…to restore the dignity and respect and place in history deserved by Lim Chin Siong,” he said.
Meanwhile, a Singapore young activist Isrizal Mohamed Isa said more and more young Singaporeans were interested to know the other side of the republic’s story, with the help of social media.
“It has improved, as they have access to these new Internet platforms. They are also reading alternative books, and the reason I was pushing for this book to be republished which was another way for young people to read,” he said.
Also at the launch was former Parti Rakyat Malaysia president and former PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali, who said the book was important to remind that there was a person existed who played an important role in Singapore’s history.
The book, launched at Rumah Gerak Budaya here, contains tributes by his friends and colleagues in Singapore and Malaysia, and features an essay by Dr Poh and an extract from Lim’s posthumous manuscripts.
It retails at RM40.