Commentators on Indian media have, predictably, struck back at Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s critical comparison of Nehru’s India with the India of today during his recent speech in Parliament.
The “how dare you” and “what does Singapore really have to offer” tenor of media comments on a lengthy segment on the NewsX channel, contrasts sharply with the silence so far of Singapore mainstream media on the same subject that has so energised alternative media in the Republic.
The editor of India’s Sunday Guardian was one of those who blasted Singapore’s Prime Minister on NewsX for being “bully-headed” for commenting that a decline in “moral values” had taken place in India since its first prime minister was in charge in 1947.
In a 40-minute speech during last week’s debate on the Committee of Privileges’ report on the Raeesah Khan saga, PM Lee praised, among other national leaders, India’s founding Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
In referring to “Nehru’s India”, Mr Lee said of today’s India that it “has (now) become one where, according to media reports, almost half the MPs [members of parliament] in the Lok Sabha [India’s lower house of Parliament] 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.”
Mr Lee’s speech in Parliament last week has touched a raw nerve in India. Taking a stern view of his criticism, India’s external affairs ministry summoned Simon Wong, Singapore’s High Commissioner to India, to lodge a protest over comments made by Mr Lee, according to government sources.
An unnamed Indian official who spoke to Reuters said: “The remarks by the prime minister of Singapore were uncalled-for. We have taken up the matter with the Singaporean side.”
Indian news outlets have reported widely on Mr Lee’s comments on India and the Indian Government’s official response to the speech. Among the commentators who have defended India and commented on Mr Lee’s speech, was Joyeeta Basu, editor of India’s Sunday Guardian, who derided Mr Lee, saying that if he were in India, he would be only a mayor.
The Sunday Guardian is a part of the iTV Network, which is India’s fastest-growing news and infotainment network with multiple interests in print, electronic and digital media.
Basu’s comments were shared widely on social media
Joyeeta Basu said in a commentary for NewsX: “This particular gentleman comes across as a bit bully-headed, head in the clouds, out of touch with reality and geo-politics… So, he comes across as an idealist… talking through his hat… (he is) totally out of touch with reality… In any Indian city, he would have been considered a mayor, he wouldn’t have been a Prime Minister or a President… He would have been the mayor of a city… Perhaps, he should try to think the way a statesman… a leader of a country should think… his level of thinking comes across as very, very… municipal.”
This is not the first time PM Lee has been criticised for acting in an unstatesmanlike manner. In 2013, after he addressed US businessmen during his visit to America, one local blogger said he lacked “the sophistication of a statesman and the tact and craftiness of a diplomat.”
In his after-dinner speech at the time, PM Lee said, “Beijing residents joke that to get a free smoke, all they have to do is open their windows!”
He also alluded to thousands of pig carcasses fished from Chinese rivers and added, “(In) Shanghai, if you want some pork soup, you just turn on the tap.” His audience appeared doubtful if that was good taste, until he added, “That’s their joke, not mine!”
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