Sunday, January 31, 2010

S. Rajaratnam - Excerpts of Biography

Jan 30, 2010

Mr S. Rajaratnam speaking at a PAP rally in the lead-up to the 1959 general elections. -- ST FILE PHOTO

The Singapore Lion: A Biography Of S. Rajaratnam by Irene Ng, takes the story of one of Singapore's founding fathers to 1963.

Meeting of the minds that would shape history

THE time had come for one of those moments in history when people are thrown together and the course of a nation's destiny is changed forever. The first of these events involved Goh Keng Swee, whom Raja knew from the Malayan Democratic Union (MDU) days. While Goh was happy to slug down mugs of beer with the MDU leaders at the Liberty Cabaret, he was detached from their political ideology.

Like Raja, Goh resented the humiliation of being under colonial rule. Unlike Raja, who often lived in the realm of ideas and theories, Goh was a down-to-earth pragmatist who chose his allies and his methods carefully.

Goh found his chance when he was released from the civil service to pursue economics in London. In 1949, while studying at the London School of Economics, Goh and several friends set up the Malayan Forum. The aim of the forum was to rouse political consciousness and press for an independent Malaya that would include Singapore.

From Singapore, Raja gave his active support. He had felt keenly the absence of such a national consciousness among Malayan students during his decade in London... To help it along, he passed some of his British contacts to Goh.

Goh realised how well-regarded Raja was in the intellectual left-wing circles when he found personalities such as Lady Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, a leading figure in the Fabian Society, asking after her friend, Raja. By widening and deepening their political network in Britain and Singapore, Goh and Raja supported each other in their common cause.

The Malayan Forum also provided the platform for Goh to exchange political ideas with three like-minded Malayan students - Lee Kuan Yew, Toh Chin Chye and K. M. Byrne - who had known one another since their Raffles College days. After interminable discussions in various pubs, they decided that the 'returned students' should play a leadership role in organising a broad-based movement to fight for national independence through constitutional means. The four resolved that they would seek out other kindred souls for this mission.

The circle was closed in February 1952, when Raja received a phone call from Goh after he returned from London. Goh invited him to meet Lee, a brilliant Cambridge-trained lawyer who was now representing the Postal and Telecommunications Uniformed Staff Union over a pay dispute. Lee had been following his anti- colonial columns in the newspapers. Would Raja want to meet the lawyer? Raja agreed readily.

On that fateful day, Raja turned up to meet Lee at the open-air restaurant of the Chinese Swimming Club in Amber Road. Neither of them knew their meeting would change the political course of Singapore. Against the hubbub of swimmers and background music, Lee briefed him on the strike. The government had failed to meet the union's demand for salary revisions and pensions. Angered, the union had decided to give strike notice. If held, it would be the first since the Emergency was declared in 1948.

Years later, Lee recalled: 'It was a very serious discussion because we were leading the postmen into a fight which was going to cause disruption to a lot of people and their businesses. And we would have done injury to them if they had failed. There would be lost pay. Some would be sacked.'

Lee was astute in trying to get one of the most conspicuously influential journalists of his generation to throw his weight behind the campaign.

Raja listened intently to Lee's plans, all the while sizing up the man whom he knew only by reputation. Of average height with a good build, Lee cut a charismatic figure, strong and vigorous with piercing eyes and a deep, mesmerising voice. Raja knew of Lee's scholastic achievements.

But what impressed Raja more was Lee's work with some unions as legal adviser, which he did without any pay. Here, Raja thought, was a rare English-educated intellectual who cared for the working masses and would toil for them.

Lee would later recall: 'I found Raja very keen. He was more a campaigner than a journalist, so he was very enthusiastic and said that he would give the full support.'

When Raja agreed to help Lee, he did not know that the decision would change his life completely.

Birth of the PAP

THE mood of the core group - Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye, Kenny Byrne and Raja - was intense and sober as they huddled around Lee's dining table.

Dominating their concern was the quality of the political parties which would contest the elections in 1955 under the new Constitution. As Raja recalled later, 'our comments were generally all negative. We didn't have a high regard for any of the parties'.

As he would put the options in more graphic terms later: 'There were the Progressive Party and their feeble leaders. There were the clowns of the Labour Party of Singapore.' It became clear that the choice before the people - and also them - would be between these parties and a militant underground Communist Party. It was a dreadful thought.

Their discussions then shifted to the consequences for the country should these people take over. The scenarios did not bear contemplating. 'From there, then the idea began to germinate that we should form a political party, to enter politics ourselves,' Raja related.

Lee argued that it was no use just talking. They should do something about it and participate in the elections. This was greeted with an avalanche of questions by those around the table: Was the time opportune to start a new left-wing party? What would be the consequences for socialism if the new party went the way of the other left-wing socialist parties, such as the Malayan Democratic Union (MDU)? The odds seemed stacked against it.

They then became absorbed in the question of whether they should take part in the elections, or stay out. Samad Ismail and Devan Nair, who joined the discussions after their release from detention in early 1953, were for boycotting the elections in protest of the Rendel Constitution. They saw the Constitution as undemocratic and pro-colonial.

Raja set out a different view, just as he had when MDU decided to boycott the 1948 elections to register its protest. He forcefully reminded the group of the political suicide committed by the MDU by its inaction. He believed that a party committed to constitutional methods of change would be signing its own death warrant if it stood outside the constitutional arena and merely protested with words.

It was a robust argument that was also propounded by Lee, Goh and Byrne. They further made the point that, if a genuine left-wing party was not launched before the Rendel Constitution came into effect in 1955, the British would have an open field to consolidate its power through the local right-wing, pro-colonial groups.

Against this backdrop of gloomy foreboding, the group decided to take the plunge and form a new political party, the People's Action Party. In October 1954, they announced the inauguration of the PAP. The date was set for its official launch - 21 November.

The other political parties received this news with foreboding. In David Marshall's diary entry on 24 October 1954, he noted that the new 'socialist-inclined' PAP was formed with Lee and Raja, and added: 'I believe they may be communist-orientated.'

Hock Lee riots and bloodshed

12 May 1955. Black Thursday. Raja was working late in his Straits Times office when all hell broke loose on the streets outside.

A mob was parading around a bleeding Chinese student. The boy had been hit by a stray shot fired by a policeman hours ago during a riot. But instead of rushing him to the hospital, the mob carried his body around town, with stops for the press to take photographs as evidence of police brutality. By the time they took the boy to the hospital, he was dead.

Raja was shocked at the ruthlessness. He was even more shocked that the violence arose out of strikes instigated by fellow PAP founders, Fong Swee Suan and Lim Chin Siong. This was not what the PAP, as he had envisaged it, stood for.

While Fong and Chin Siong would later protest that they did not start the riots, that it was the prevailing 'social conditions' which led to it, their actions indicated that they were more than ready to use revolutionary methods.

Raja said later: 'It was this Hock Lee riots which gave a premonition of the kind of problems the PAP would face.'

In an attempt to distance the PAP from the violence, Raja worked with Lee on a press statement to denounce the bloodshed, while sympathising with the workers on strike. Dismissing the PAP statement, Chief Secretary William Goode charged that the PAP, its 'covert communist supporters and back-seat drivers' wanted violence, bloodshed and industrial unrest, but then realised too late what horrors they had engineered.

In 1957, Raja was being educated on the art of leadership in Chinese-dominated Singapore. It was a time of great political instruction as he observed Lim Yew Hock being whipped by the Chinese masses for his collaboration with the British.

Astutely opportunistic, Raja drafted PAP statements, issued by Lee, to discredit Yew Hock as a 'colonial stooge'. Raja observed later: 'He could not get rid of the taint that he was the British stooge.' Yew Hock's political destruction at the hands of the Chinese masses served as a lesson to Raja and his non-communist colleagues who sensed that their own showdown with the communists was only a matter of time.

As Raja saw it, Yew Hock's problem was that he lacked the 'intellectual finesse' to project his fight against the communists as one conducted on behalf of Malayan nationalism, and not on behalf of British colonialism.

Yew Hock made great play of the fact that, out of so many arrested in 1957, many were connected with the PAP, and as many confessed that they were instructed to penetrate it to use it for communist ends. This was not a blinding revelation to Raja and his PAP colleagues.

They observed how the communists penetrated other mass organisations, manipulated them, and orchestrated events. Hence, despite all his huffing and puffing over the arrests and the Emergency regulations, Raja had begun to appreciate the need to keep the Emergency regulations in place. This was a case of familiarity breeding contempt. It was a significant shift for Raja, the expert on the theory of democracy.

His own man, with his own convictions

AS RAJA set to work preparing for the Anson by-election on 15 July 1961, his name was being bandied about among top communist circles in Peking as a candidate for another sort of campaign - the Communist plot to subvert merger.

Chin Peng, secretary-general of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), was in Peking to discuss developments with the Communist Party of China (CPC). Deng Xiaoping, the secretary-general of the CPC, was convinced that the South-east Asian region would soon be ripe for communist domination and pressed Chin Peng to revert to armed struggle.

Enthused by the prospect of eventual communist domination in the region, Chin Peng fell in line with China's wishes. It was against this strategic backdrop that Chin Peng summoned Eu Chooi Yip, who controlled MCP operations in Singapore from his base in Indonesia, to Peking. They discussed the strength of the Singapore underground and Tunku Abdul Rahman's bombshell announcement on merger.

They decided to sabotage the merger plan, or at least to delay its implementation for as long as possible. They were fearful that, once Singapore joined Malaya, the communist network on the island would be smashed. They hatched a strategy - exploit the internal weaknesses of the PAP.

Chooi Yip told Chin Peng that the PAP was being split three ways. According to Chin Peng's account, Chooi Yip argued strongly that 'there was an ever widening split between the PAP's right-wing faction, led by Lee Kuan Yew, and a middle-of-the-road group, seemingly headed by Sinnathamby Rajaratnam'. The third faction was the 'Chinese communal group'. Chin Peng was sceptical about the depth of difference between Lee and Raja. But Chooi Yip, who had kept in close touch with the Singapore underground, was convinced that 'the rift was present and would worsen'.

Chooi Yip could claim to know Raja well, having been his former housemate at Chancery Lane. After escaping the police dragnet in Singapore in 1951, Chooi Yip had fled to Indonesia's Riau Islands. To convince Chin Peng of Raja's radical proclivities, Chooi Yip related how, during the Emergency, Raja had helped him to get medical treatment for his tuberculosis and gave him refuge in Singapore.

Chin Peng related: 'We then decided to instruct our Singapore underground to work on winning over the Rajaratnam faction to an anti-Malaysia stand and, at the same time, do everything possible to undermine Lee's determination to press for the formation of the new Federation incorporating Singapore.' With that directive, Raja, who had been resisting communist overtures since his salad days in London, became a chief target for the communist plot to sabotage merger.

Raja was seen to be more 'left' than Lee in his approach to politics, more radical, more ideological. The communist leaders knew that Raja was powerfully influenced by Marxist thought and had many communist friends whom he had treated gently and even protectively.

In contrast, Lee's approach was less ideological, more political, and entirely pragmatic. As Chin Peng put it, he thought that Lee would use his communist contacts as much as he could and would one day move against the MCP.

No doubt, the communists tried various approaches to win Raja over to their cause. He was obviously well-versed with their arguments, as he would later rehash them to expose their intent. The typical communist line would go: The communists had a network of formidable organisations. They had the moral and material support of China and Soviet Union. The force of history was on their side. What did the non-communist PAP faction have? A bunch of beer-swilling English-educated intellectuals with a support base that would crumble under communist pressure. The non-communist PAP could not win.

These threats would work with many, but not with Raja. His strength of character and conviction was a bulwark against communist intimidation. Years later, Samad Ismail, who later confessed in an interview that he was a high-ranking Malayan communist, confirmed the extensive communist efforts to influence Raja and the futility of it all.

Samad, who visited Chooi Yip in Indonesia during that turbulent period, said: 'Chooi Yip admired Raja because he was not ambitious, and not easily influenced.' Samad said the communists found Raja 'too smart' to be manipulated.

Raja himself never spoke about the communists' attempts to turn him against Lee during this period. Perhaps, it was to protect his friends who had tried. In an assessment which summed up the general view held among communist circles, Samad said: 'Raja was a decent fellow. You can trust him. He doesn't stab you in the back. You can be quite frank with him in discussions.'

Had the communists succeeded in capturing him, the Singapore story might well have turned out differently. When Chin Peng heard the news that his men had failed to turn Raja against Lee and merger, the guerilla fighter was despondent, but not surprised. He observed: 'Rajaratnam was, from the very beginning, undoubtedly Lee Kuan Yew's man.'

Chin Peng's conclusion missed the larger truth: More than Lee's man, Raja was his own man, with his own convictions. Raja firmly believed in the union of Singapore with Malaya, even before he met Lee in 1952.

While Lee might exert a powerful influence over Raja, he did not have control of Raja or his actions. (This was a point also noted by the British in a classified report in 1964, when Raja favoured a more aggressive political role in Malaysia.) He was not intimidated by Lee's ruthless intellect and felt little compunction telling Lee the blunt truth about his mistakes. Years later, Lee said: 'In our arguments, he'd win some, I would win some. That was what made us good friends. I never insisted that in everything I was right because I was Prime Minister. He would not concede just because I was Prime Minister.'

From the day they entwined their fates in a common cause to fight for independence for Singapore, Lee and Raja had been through traumatic times together. The events that tested them could have proven serious enough to weaken their alliance, if not for their exceptionally strong personal and political bond. When the chips were down, they closed ranks.

Standing up to the communist threat

FROM November 1958, the PAP began to prepare for the general elections in 1959. A major decision it had to take was whether it should fight to win to form the government, or to constitute a strong opposition bloc in the assembly.

Raja was stoutly against fighting to win. He told the team: 'Look, we haven't got an organisation. I think you need a few years as an opposition to build up your reputation and organisation.' He knew that the real struggle for the PAP would begin after self-government was achieved, between communists and non-communists.

Raja was uneasy at the prospect that, if the PAP were to field 51 candidates, it would be a Trojan horse for some 'hidden communists' and the PAP would not know any better until they were waving their red books in the Legislative Assembly. Raja further argued that a government which assumed power under a constitution which did not grant full independence would run into severe difficulties.

He listed them: There would be demagogues who would try to cash in with slogans about an independent Singapore and other violent, anti-colonial posturing. Merger with the Federation might be a very slow affair, providing more fuel for advocates of an independent Singapore. There would be attempts to brand the government in power as compromising with colonialism. Even more onerous would be the task of trying to resolve the economic and social problems of an isolated Singapore with no natural resources.

These were powerful arguments against forming a government. Indeed, until about the beginning of 1959, the trend of thought within the party was against fighting to win. Lee gravitated to this view as he knew the problems facing the next government would be immense. Lee was not at all confident that they could withstand the communist assaults that would follow.

Lee recalled the arguments: 'Raja, ever the idealist and the ideologue, was in favour of our forming a strong opposition.' Disagreeing, Goh Keng Swee and Kenny Byrne argued that the PAP had to form the government. They feared that, if it waited another five-year term, the corruption would spread from the ministries into the civil service itself.

Towards the end of 1958, Lee began to discuss this question with the principal pro-communist detainees - Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Devan Nair, S. Woodhull, and James Puthucheary - in their detention centre at Changi. Lee made plain his deep reservations about setting out to win in the next election, because a PAP government would soon be in trouble with the MCP (Malayan Communist Party). Chin Siong and company were alarmed by this position. Lee told them that he and his non-communist colleagues in the PAP would not fight to win, unless he was assured that they would abide by the democratic socialist values of the PAP, respect peaceful constitutional means, and take a clear-cut stand against the armed insurrection led by the MCP.

Gradually, the detainees offered promises to support the party. Knowing that promises could be broken, Lee asked them to put down in writing the terms on which they would give that support. Nair wrote a draft. By that time, Nair had become disenchanted with his Chinese communist friends' brand of politics, which was distinguished more by their Chinese chauvinism than by their Marxism.

Lee kept his non-communist colleagues informed of his discussions with the detainees. Lee suggested to Raja that, given his grave doubts about fighting to win, he should visit them himself to make his own assessment. Raja did. At the detention centre, he met with Woodhull, Puthucheary and Nair whom he knew quite well, but not with the Chinese-educated members, being less familiar with them.

The trio impressed on Raja that the PAP must fight to win. Raja tested them with this counter: 'But we will have trouble with the communists.' They responded with assurances that they would help to curb the communists. To make sure they were on the same page, Raja launched into a discourse on how communism was not practical for Singapore. During the discussion, Raja noticed that Nair was the most categorical on his stand against communism; the other two prevaricated.

At one point, Raja noticed sores all over the hands of Woodhull and asked him: 'What's wrong with you?' According to Raja, Woodhull replied: 'Nervous tension. Raja, you people better fight to win because if you don't win, if the PAP doesn't come in, if Yew Hock comes in, we may be here for life. So you must fight to win.'

By the beginning of 1959, Nair had his political statement ready for the five principal detainees to sign. It spelt out their commitment to the PAP's fundamental stand. They signed it. Raja nursed some doubts about their sincerity. His reservations were not unfounded. In the end, only Nair would stand by it.

A lesson in bridging racial, religious differences

RAJA surveyed his changed world from an office of faded colonial grandeur in City Hall. His window looked over the Padang, the stage for many of the country's historic events. It was here that, in 1819, the Malay chiefs signed the treaty with Stamford Raffles to cede Singapore to the British Empire. It was here that, in 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the British. And it was here on 5 June 1959 that Raja and the PAP Cabinet were sworn in as the first fully elected government of self-governing Singapore. As the country's first culture minister, Raja epitomised that spirit as he imagined a nation united and free.

His office on the third storey of the City Hall was his workshop. It was strewn with books and notes and all the apparatus of a writer. He had easy access to the prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and the deputy prime minister, Toh Chin Chye, whose offices were on the second floor.

The prime minister left it up to Raja to define his job and its scope. Even the nomenclature of his ministry came from him. Lee had initially proposed to Raja that his ministry be called the Ministry for Information. Raja had other ideas. As he told Lee, information was only one part of the job, but the more important part was to confront the communal divisions in the society and to establish a sense of national identity among the various races. Lee had initial misgivings.

As he confessed later that year, there was the 'natural English-educated reluctance' to talk of a Ministry of Culture 'because of its association with ideas and ideals which are supposed to be intolerant and illiberal', said Lee. But, in a move which reflected the weight he gave to Raja's views, Lee went along with his proposal.

Raja was to spend the better part of his six years as culture minister on a quest to define the country's national identity. He worked hard to foster a sense of identification with the new ideals of the state. As he put it, 'we must create in our people an awareness that they belong to Singapore and that Singapore belongs to them'. He focused on developing state symbols - the flag and the national anthem.

He had other vital priorities: Build up the capabilities of the mass media, change its orientation towards a more national outlook and develop new channels of communications, such as television, to transform the people's understanding of themselves and the country.

The statue of Raffles was at first earmarked for removal, but Raja and his colleagues decided that this would only give the wrong signal to the world. So it stayed. 'To pretend that he did not found Singapore would be the first sign of a dishonest society,' Raja said.

Instead of tearing down the statue of Raffles, he found other ways to signal a break from the past. And that was to rename the Raffles National Library to National Library, and the Raffles Museum to National Museum. It was significant that, of all the buildings in Singapore, he considered the library and the museum the most worthy to bear this symbolic mantle.

Raja's sense of racial politics sharpened as he contended with communal pressures in the process of designing the state flag. Deputy prime minister Toh Chin Chye was involved in the earlier stages, delving into the technical rules of heraldry in drawing a flag and a crest, but he was overseas when the time came to finalise the design and provide the interpretations of the symbols. The task fell to Raja.

For the flag to be a national symbol, as opposed to a PAP one, Raja consulted all political parties represented in the Legislative Assembly. Lee was also closely involved and guided the discussions. They were so fraught with racial and religious controversies that, at one point, the entire project seemed at stake.

In Raja's account, the first draft of the flag design was red as the background with a yellow star in the centre. The Singapore Umno was up in arms against it, protesting that it was virtually the flag of the Communist Party. Later, someone suggested that the flag should be green in the background with a large white star. This demand was deemed excessive - (it) would have Islamised the flag.

Raja was caught in a quandary. He recalled years later: 'After several discussions, arguments and much persuasion, we managed to persuade all, including some people inside the PAP, to use red and white as the background colours of the flag, with five white stars and a crescent moon.'

The crescent moon also caused some consternation among the non-Muslim community.

'They saw the crescent moon as a proclamation of our religious identity,' said Raja. This perception, too, had to be cleared up. To prevent 'any too free a translation of the new symbols', Raja provided an 'authorised translation' of the symbols when moving the Singapore state arms and flag and national anthem Bill on 11 November 1959.

In the Legislative Assembly, opposition member Thio Chan Bee gave credit to Raja for creating 'this new precedent' of consulting the opposition political parties on the design of the flag. Opposition assemblyman Mohd Ali bin Alwi, who spoke in Malay, also praised him for being 'very compromising in accepting constructive suggestions' on the design.

For Raja, the entire process was a salutary lesson not only in compromise, but also the sensitive nature of racial and religious discussions.

The strategy: To out-tough, and to outlast

Mr Lee said Mr Rajaratnam gave him the heart to go on fighting, recalling that 'when everything looked bleak and we were in the depths of despair, Raja roared like a lion'. Mr Rajaratnam was determined and confident of winning the fight against the pro-communists. -- ST FILE PHOTO

IT WAS time to draw a line between those who were prepared to fight on the side of the PAP, which meant fighting for independence through merger, and those who were not. Years later, Fong Swee Suan related that after the Anson by-election, there were several tense meetings between the key leaders of both factions to thrash out their respective positions. On the pro-communist side were Lim Chin Siong, S. Woodhull and Fong. On the non-communist side were Lee Kuan Yew, Raja and Toh Chin Chye.

According to Fong, after rounds of discussions which only laid bare the unbridgeable gulf between them, Raja finally told them: 'Either you go into Malaysia and swim or sink with us - or we part ways.' A stunned silence greeted his stark ultimatum.

Fong recalled: 'We understood what he meant. It meant that we have to make a decision, whether we go into Malaysia or we go on our own way. We were very impressed. He was a very straightforward man.' At the meeting, the pro-communist group uttered no response. They felt there was no need to.

'Almost immediately, we made our decision - we decided to split from the PAP,' said Fong.

Raja related years later: 'After the Anson by-election, we knew that they betrayed us, that they were unreliable. They were going to make things more and more difficult for us. So, we decided to get rid of them.'

The PAP leaders took their fight against the pro-communists into the open and into the Legislative Assembly. On 21 July 1961, Lee moved a motion of confidence in the government in the Assembly. It was a huge gamble. If the motion was not carried, the government would resign and general elections follow.

But the PAP leaders knew they had to be careful how the purge was done - if they appeared to be disposing of the pro-communists after making use of them, they would lose the support of the Chinese-speaking ground.

Hence, the PAP leaders sought to make it clear that it was the pro-communists who had betrayed them; that it was the pro-communists who were consorting secretly with the British; that it was the pro-communists who were selling out the people in opposing merger by serving the interests of the communists and not of the country.

Lee kicked off the gruelling debate, which stretched from 2.30pm until about 4am the next day. In his speech, he laid out the 'plot, counter-plot and sub-plots' which would make 'an Oppenheim thriller read like a simple comic strip cartoon'.

Raja joined the marathon debate at the ungodly hour of 1.35am. He related a G. K. Chesterton short story in which the detective almost failed to solve the mystery because he had overlooked one suspect - the postman. He said: 'The postman is taken so much for granted that no suspicion is aroused by the fact that he visited the murdered man's place. Similarly with the British.'

He reinforced the PAP government's case that the British had met the pro-communists at Eden Hall and given them an assurance that nothing would happen to them if they took over the government. This served to embolden the pro-communists to obliterate the PAP at Anson.

Raja steeled himself for the worst when the confidence vote was taken in the early hours of 22 July 1961. The PAP needed 26 votes in the 51-member Assembly for a majority to carry the motion. After a headcount, it was certain of only 25. When the vote was called, 13 PAP rebels abstained. In the end, the government was saved by the crucial vote of an ailing PAP assemblywoman Sahorah Ahmat, who had to be carried into the chamber in a stretcher from her hospital bed.

Publicly, Raja greeted the defection of the PAP rebels with derision. He disparaged them as political opportunists, lacking in principle and conviction. He believed that some of them were not so much communists, as 'weaklings who believed that, if they took the Communist line, the Communists would bring them mass support and so ensure their political future in any forthcoming elections'.

Outside the Assembly, the political battle spread rapidly to the trade unions - the PAP's original mass base - and the PAP branches. The TUC was dissolved. The PAP unionists formed the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), while the Barisan set up the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU). When the dust settled, no one was left in doubt which was the stronger force. The NTUC had about 12 unions. SATU had 43.

The Barisan rubbed in the PAP's humiliation further by also wresting away the bulk of the PAP's branches - including 20 of the PAP's 25 paid organising secretaries. Many members of the 51 PAP branches also defected to the Barisan, with some taking entire branches with them.

Raja's own Kampong Glam branch was almost entirely wiped out. His branch was previously buzzing with Chinese-speaking members. Overnight, almost all vanished.

Privately, Raja was anxious about the strength of his opponents. Knowing how dedicated and ruthless the communists were, he expected a brutal fight with sinister twists and turns. Given this grim reality, Raja's strategy, simply put, was to out-tough and outlast the Barisan. As he told the journalist Dennis Bloodworth during this period: 'All we've got to do is to hang on. The pro-communists are pinning their hopes on toppling the government. We shall hold on until merger is an accomplished fact.'

The pressure-cooker politics left the PAP leaders drained both emotionally and physically. At his lowest point, Lee was overcome by an acute sense of dejection. As he surveyed the devastation visited by the Barisan, Lee could not help but be seized by the utter hopelessness of it all. His spirits sank as he took in the disastrous position they were in.

In later years, Lee recalled his mood at this point: 'My spirits were very low, because how could we fight them? We went into elections in 1959 with this party machinery and the cadres we had cultivated. Then they absconded and joined the other side and left us with very few. So with this paltry remnant, a minority, how the dickens were we to fight the next elections?' Given the grave situation, even Goh was reduced to just staring at the ceiling fan. They felt battered, even brutalised, by the pro-communists.

The natural reaction in such circumstances was to hunker down and prepare for defeat. In that darkest hour, Raja did not allow the prevailing mood of impotence and gloom to overwhelm him. He looked at his doleful colleagues - and saw not a losing team, but a talented and capable one which represented Singapore's best hope for survival. They could win the fight against the communists.

Defying the overwhelming evidence pointing to the PAP's defeat, Raja radiated confidence as he told Lee: 'Don't worry, Harry. To hell with it. We'll fight on.'

With his indomitable fighting spirit, Raja fortified the morale of Lee and his colleagues and charged them up. It was a galvanising moment that transformed the mood of the PAP from despondency to defiance, and changed the trajectory of the battle.

Raja gave him, Lee said, the heart to go on fighting. As Lee recalled, 'when everything looked bleak and we were in the depths of despair, Raja roared like a lion'.

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