SINGAPORE: Mountbatten SMC MP Lim Biow Chuan has ordered the removal of banners wishing his constituents a Happy Deepavali after part of the banner, which asked residents to avoid littering, sparked an online uproar.

The first banner said, “Mr Lim Biow Chuan, Advisor to Mountbatten Grassroots Organisations, wishes all Mountbatten residents Happy Deepavali.” A second banner below said, “Wishing our residents Happy Deepavali. Let’s keep our celebrations litter free.” The banner further stated: “Please be sure to bin your litter (used sparklers, packaging, plastics etc.) and leave our public spaces clean.”

The banners outraged Singaporeans of Indian descent, who decried the perceived double standard that banners wishing non-Indian Singaporeans for their respective holidays do not contain such loud anti-littering advice.

One of the voices who raised concerns was Facebook user Susiilaa Shanmugam. Ms Susiilaa wrote: “Thank u for the reminder Sir. Just curious if you have ever used this message during Chinese New Year or Hungry Ghost Festival?”

She added, “Though the message appears to have a positive intent, it is being used at a very wrong time given festivals are a time when those who have endured a tumultuous time come together as one to unite with their family and friends. I hope to see the same message for the coming Chinese New Year.”

Several Singaporeans said that the grassroots organisations (GROs) and the MP may as well have skipped wishing Singaporean Indians a Happy Deepavali, instead of putting up such messages.

Close to 500 Facebook users shared Ms Susiilaa’s post on their own pages. Many echoed her concerns that the banners appear to be targeting Singapore Indians.

A number of more prominent Singaporeans weighed in as well. Veteran journalist PN Balji commented: “Well, it is aimed at Indians. That is obvious.”

Popular television personality and Vasantham channel stalwart Kalai Selvan asked, “Dear Sir, have you ever seen Indians littering your area during Deepavali? You should apply the same rules for all races. Why always target at Indians?” Mr Kalai Selvan added that the MP must have approved the wording of the banner before it was put up.

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Facebook user Viknesh Shanmugam left one of the most liked comments. He wrote: “A bit of care and effort to consider the sensitivities involved with the wordings go a long way. We speak much about the integrity of maintaining our multiracial fabric, need to do better than this to walk the talk.”

As the outrage mounted, Mr Lim told Channel 8 news that the banners were put up by the People’s Association’s Residents’ Networks (RNs) in Mountbatten. He asserted that the banners were not an initiative by the Marine Parade Town Council.

He added that the RNs put up such banners because they received many complaints from the public that many sparkler sticks and wrappers were left in the park after previous Deepavali celebrations. After discussions with the National Environment Agency, the RNs proposed hanging banners to remind the public not to litter after the festive celebrations.

Noting that this was the first time such a banner had been hung, Mr Lim told Channel 8 that littering is relatively rare for other holiday celebrations as they are mostly held at home rather than in public parks.

Channel 8 news also reported that notices have also been posted in the ward to remind residents to be responsible when burning incense and paper, including not doing so in the corridors of HDB flats and using incinerators instead.

Mr Lim told the channel that he agreed that the placement of the banners could cause misunderstandings. He said that he had instructed People’s Association staff to remove the banners.

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The governing party politician added that the contractor did not confirm the banner’s location with the People’s Association staff, and only one banner was placed together with the banner hung by the People’s Association on his behalf.

Mr Lim did not address this issue on his official Facebook page, but some Singaporeans raised their concerns in his recent posts’ comments section.

One Facebook user, Nandhini Rad, said: “Hi Sir, Thanks for your wonderful wish! It is truly unfortunate that the your banner seem to be placed above National Environment Agency (NEA)’s banner. It would have been nice if you had shared the feedback about this insensitive messaging back to NEA instead of pointing fingers at the contractor or NEA.”

She added, “IF NEA was truly trying to remind residents to keep the environment clean and clean litters – may we also request the same reminder to be put up during hungry ghost festivals and other celebrations? Afterall we are a fair and equal society and I am confident that all races can benefit from such a reminder from time to time – especially so during festive periods.”

In what has been perceived as a needlessly passive-aggressive response by some observers, the MP replied: “1st, the lower banner was not from me. Indeed, i have informed NEA and they have agreed that they will remove the banners on anti-littering. The banner was simply a reminder not to litter. I am sure that you agree that we should not litter.”

Ms Nandhini replied: “Hi Sir, of course I agree that we shouldn’t litter. How else will we maintain our clean and green city? My only grievance is the timing and lack of sensitivity around the messaging. Have there been other posters that say ” Happy Chinese New Year/Hungry Ghost Festival! Please keep our environment litter free?” This one off instance during Deepavali seems like a little insensitive. That’s my concern.

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“If NEA wants to wish the community, please go ahead and wish. There is absolutely no need to wish and follow up with a reminder not to litter. The messaging could have been better. I’m also aware this wasn’t your poster but perhaps as a MP for the zone, you could convey this message to National Environment Agency (NEA). I’m sure you would agree that we that we should be fair in our approach to littering and not tie it to a supposed wish/greeting.”

The MP did not reply to her comment at the time.

He disclaimed responsibility for the issue when pressed about it in a separate Facebook comment. He said: “The banners are separate ones. My banner on top is just a festive greeting and does not contain any litter free messages.

“The bottom banner is from NEA/NParks and as a government agency, they are just trying to do their job to remind residents to keep the environment clean while celebrating the festival. The feedback that NEA had received from many other park users is that the park is badly littered after the Deepavali celebrations.

“It is unfortunate that the contractor who placed the 2 banners did not think about the messaging. The contractor did not inform me as to when or where to place the banners. But I had asked that my festive greeting banner be removed so that there is no misunderstanding of my intent – which is simply to wish all Hindus a Happy Deepavali.”