Singapore PM’s speech uncalled for, says India

Singapore PM’s speech uncalled for, says India

Lee Hsien Loong said half of Indian MPs face charges.

Taking a stern view of a speech in parliament made by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, where he criticised the decline of “Nehru’s India” to the present, where Indian Members of Parliament face “criminal charges”, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) summoned Singapore’s High Commissioner to India, Simon Wong, on Thursday. The comments were “raised” by officials with Mr. Wong, according to government sources, who said Mr. Lee’s comments were “uncalled for” and “unacceptable”. 

Delivering a speech in Singapore’s Parliament on February 15 on a report by the Committee of Privileges, which was looking into charges of lying by members of the country’s largest Opposition party, the Workers’ Party, Mr. Loong gave examples of the decline in political probity amongst elected politicians in India and Israel today, and even referred to the U.K.’s “partygate” scandal over official parties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While 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 said, adding that it was important to “prevent Singapore from going down the same road”.

The comments by the Singapore Prime Minister led to a rare controversy between the two countries that otherwise have friendly ties.

Earlier in the speech, Mr. Lee had praised India’s former Prime Minister, the late Jawaharlal Nehru, and Israel’s former PM, the late David Ben-Gurion, for helping their countries gain Independence, but added that subsequent generations of politicians had allowed moral values to “slide”.

“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,” Mr. Lee said, explaining the findings of the report that led to Parliament voting for penalties for three leaders of the Workers’ Party, including MP Raeesah Khan, who had been found guilty of lying in Parliament and was fined approximately US$26,000, and for possible criminal proceedings against Workers’ Party chairperson Pritam Singh and vice-chair Faisal Manap for being complicit.

While Mr. Lee did not cite any specific sources for his claim about Lok Sabha members, it is believed he was referring to a 2019 report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (, which found that of 539 candidates that won the general elections that year, as many as 233 or 43% faced criminal charges. However, government sources said it was not expected that a foreign head of government would cite this information, that pertains to India’s domestic politics, in a prepared Parliament speech.

Opposition leaders also weighed in on the issue. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said in a tweet that Prime Minister Narendra Modi “denigrates Nehru all the time inside and outside Parliament” while the Singapore PM had invoked PM Nehru “to argue how democracy should work during a parliamentary debate”. 

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