The real issue in the Ramesh Erramalli incident is not Ramesh Erramalli.
Although some online reactions hinted at racism – Ramesh is Indian (foreign one) and the security officers involved are non-Indian and therefore were at the receiving end of an a***shole Indian, never mind the nationality – any kind of bullying by any foreigner, of any race or nationality, of locals of any race MUST NOT be tolerated. Any elected Singapore politician who has been elected by us to represent our interests must make this abundantly and unambiguously clear. If he or she acts otherwise, the politician does not deserve our support or respect.
But first, let us look at the whole thing objectively. I have watched the video. Yes, the security officers were professional, never losing their cool, even as the JP Morgan employee was losing his cool over the after-11 parking fee of $10 for visitors to the condo. And, yes, Ramesh was using expletives but they were not directed at the officers, more at the parking fee and the management. He offered his name and contact number. I think it was partly a case of his losing face since the car was apparently driven by his guest or guests’. And latest report said he has apologised to the security staff for his behaviour. Good for him.
Nevertheless, any kind of boorish behaviour by anyone of any race or nationality should be condemned.
Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugratanam (an Indian, if you have not noticed) said: “What this resident did and said was wrong – at so many levels. It is these examples of modern-day bigotry and a sense of entitlement that the light of Deepavali seeks to dispel … But we should absolutely avoid threatening or harassing the resident concerned. A police report has been made by the security officer, and we should leave it to the Police to handle.” Nicely said.
So we will leave the bad behaviour part of the Ramesh incident and talk about something else which has really been eating Singaporeans.
SM Tharman and the errant JP Morganite each made remarks which touched on some aspects of the growing social divide and Singaporeans’ sense of being abandoned by a government in its pursuit of wealth, plastic equality and false happiness.
The Senior Minister mentioned sense of entitlement. Right. Someone buys a condo and instantly, he is in a different class altogether. Quote from Ramesh: “I bought your f***ing property for $1.5 million, you know? This is $1.5 million, okay?” He added, this is not HDB. Is Ramesh every bit like some Singaporeans? Is he like, as SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh puts it, “the Singaporean who would use cleaners and Grab drivers as a barometer of success (my words here: meaning the security staff, Grabbers and cleaners are not worthy of being associated with). He is the Singaporean who wouldn’t share an MRT seat with Bangladeshi construction workers. ..He is a manifestation. He is you.” And The Vigilanteh was supported by Mediacorp actress Jane Rasif who posted a one word comment “Exactly”.
The way that Ramesh dismissed “HDB” simply amplifies a longheld, obviously unfair, perception. HDB flats are pigeonholes housing the local hordes and private housing is for the upper class who should be treated differently as they are entitled to lord it over others not sharing their world.
Why do you think everyone want their children to do well? To get away from the HDB environment into a gated one where they can shut themselves from a world of alleged low-achievers, cardboard uncles and aunties, smelly and dirty lifts, loudmouthed drunken people at coffeeshops, an avalanche of irritating flyers, O$P$ door and wall paintings and a mountain of rules and regulations.
If we think about it, many Singaporeans are probably asking themselves: If foreigners can now get away with or even think about venting their frustrations at locals just doing their work – whether security guards, taxi-drivers or waitresses – how much tougher life will be if our gates are opened to let in another tsunami of foreigners? Government leaders have been talking about a 10 million population. They should learn from the 2011 General Elections when the voters gave a loud No to the opening of the immigration floodgates.
Everything that takes place outside the Istana takes its cue from the behaviour of Singapore’s leaders.
If the leaders feel they are natural aristocrats, immediately the rest of us become the Eight Riversuites security guards, a convenient punchbag for foreigners who themselves feel they are also aristocrats. Ramesh said he paid $1.5 million for his property and therefore implied he was entitled to break the rules and set his own. And instead of viewing their entry into politics as a desire to serve, our leaders view it as a “sacrifice” for which they must be compensated. What values are they exemplifying?
And if a noticeable number of top positions, albeit filled by the criteria of merit and track record, are held by people close to or related to the leadership, where does that leave the rest of us? What kind of professional tension and checks will be in place to break group-thinking or prevent abuse or nepotism?
If Ramesh is the foreign equivalent of the ugly Singaporean, the ugly Singaporean is himself the product of a self-entitled leadership and establishment. That is why politicians like Chiam See Tong, Low Thia Khiang and Tan Cheng Bock – who are natural mixers and do not need to prop themselves up with a coterie of equally self-entitled sycophants – have an honourable place in local folklore.
Don’t look to the current group of leaders if you are hoping not to get another Ramesh Erramalli. They are the very reason for his existence in Singapore.
Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.