Think Centre, 30 Sept 2008
Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (JBJ) has passed away. His heart failed him but he did not fail till his final breath to perform his democratic duty to fight for the weak, the downtrodden and the poor.
He was the champion spokesperson for those that did not have a voice in parliament or the political process. He stood up to the PAP and its system. In doing so, he suffered great personal loss in terms of status, prestige and property. Yet the man was never bitter.
After being discharged as a bankrupt, his mission was not to seek revenge but to spearhead reform. His legacy would be the crusade of reforming a society bereft of true democratic values and of seeking justice for the common people. His victory was that in his resistance he never lost his dignity, his faith in democracy and the love of his people.
In an age where a million dollars are demanded to serve the nation, JBJ parted with a million dollars to serve his people.
Political pundits, columnists, armchair critics and academics from the mainstream media projected JBJ as a broken tape recorder repeating socialist slogans from a bygone era. They were wrong in their assessment especially so today when capitalist markets worldwide collapse under the strains of unbridled greed. These so-called learned journalists also knew that they could say whatever about JBJ without giving him the right of reply.
JBJ constantly harangued the government about the quality of life for Singaporeans. He repeated his points because the problems were never fixed. His critics from the mainstream media were benefactors of the system. Hence, it was obvious self-preservation for them meant casting JBJ as angry, irrational and out-of-touch. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Think Centre had the honour of working with and for JBJ in 2001. In holding the “Save JBJ” rally, several members then and now former members saw the real JBJ.
In discussing politics, he was combative, passionate and unrelenting to compromise his beliefs. However, he never was rude and he never made any one of us feel small. In those few days of personal engagement, he would ask whether we had our meals, how our family members were doing and how we were handling the pressure from family and peers in doing something politically outrageous at that time. We felt his benign fatherly presence and we were more intimidated by his sincerity and caring attitude than his roaring voice. JBJ’s heart was always in the right place.
Despite his middle class background, British training in law and crisp Queen’s English, JBJ connected with the heartlander. He was above race, language and religion. His two electoral victories against PAP Chinese opponents showed that. It also signified that his message resonated with the people.
In parliament his exchanges with Lee Kuan Yew were not for the faint hearted. Parliament then was a packed Roman coliseum of white-shirted PAP senators harking for the opposition intruder’s blood. JBJ survived and on national television he symbolised the courageous Gladiator. It is not a coincidence that coverage of speeches in parliament today is not like what it used to be in the 1980s.
His quest for entering parliament to reform Singapore has been cut short by his sudden passing away. Even though we are sad, we should not be crestfallen. JBJ once said, “I have taken the view always, that nothing outside the person can destroy the person. That no force outside can destroy a person. That the human spirit is indomitable.”
His indomitable spirit lives on and for future generations to see a genuine and decent politician who cared and loved his country. His will serves to remind us to serve our country without fear and favour.
JBJ, we salute you! We love you and we will miss you. You have fought the good fight and God bless you.
Rest in peace, JBJ.
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