“A striking public confession of disbelief and open challenge to the Communist conspiratorial template being imposed on the Tan Wah Piow-Marxist Conspiracy activism came from the Minister of State for Education, Tharman Shanmugaratnam. He was one of the so-called ‘Super Seven’ new PAP entrants who were made ministers almost immediately after the 2001 General Elections. Yet he stated for the record that he had been directly inspired to go into politics by the political imprisonment of Tan. Deeply disappointed with the PAP and in search of alternative political and economic models, he had started reading Marxist literature, made friend with leftists and opted to go to the London School of Economics because of its left-leaning reputation.
In London, he attended activist meetings and debates and joined ranks with Tan to promote study groups among ‘anyone who looked vaguely Singaporean or Malaysian’. When he returned to Singapore in 1982, his passport was impounded and he was questioned by the Internal Security Department. During the May 1987 Marxist Conspiracy, he was interrogated day and night for a week but escaped detention. He disagreed with the Marxist Conspiracy arrests and put on public record that ‘although I had no access to state intelligence, from what I knew of them, most were social activists but not out to subvert the system’.”
- "The scripting of a national history: Singapore and its past" by Lysa Hong.
While the government, throughout the last 24-years since the episode, has always stood its grounds, it is quite evident that more and more Singaporeans are calling for an investigation into the entire incident. And these Singaporeans’ concerns are backed up by the public statements of several very senior ministers – including the current Deputy Prime Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam; the Emeritus Senior Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong; former Minister for National Development, Mr S Dhanabalan; and former Attorney-General, Mr Walter Woon.
Mr Tharman had in 2001, as quoted above, put on public record that he does not believe the detainees of 1987 were “out to subvert the system”. Clearly, Mr Tharman, now being the Deputy Prime Minister, has to clarify his present position on the matter. This is because, as the current DPM, he is in a much better position to have access to information about the arrests and detentions than he was back in 2001. Mr Tharman should clarify if he still holds his position as he did in 2001, or if he doesn’t then he should explain why he no longer does so.
Mr Goh Chok Tong revealed in the book “Men in White: The Untold Stories of the PAP” (SPH 2009) that former National Development Minister S Dhanabalan left the Cabinet in 1992 because he was not comfortable with the way the 22 had been dealt with in 1987. “At that time, given the information, he was not fully comfortable with the action we took…he felt uncomfortable and thought there could be more of such episodes in the future…he’d better leave the Cabinet. I respected him for his view,” Mr Goh said.
Mr Dhanabalan, being a member of the Cabinet who was involved in the decision to arrest and detain the 22 workers, should also explain why he left the Cabinet and whether it was because of his discomfort with the action the government had taken against the detainees, as ESM Goh explained. More importantly, Mr Dhanabalan should also explain why he was “uncomfortable” with the government’s actions.
Being a minister in the Cabinet at that time, it is his responsibility to speak out if he had felt “uncomfortable” with the way the government dealt with the alleged “conspirators”. As a public servant in a senior position then, he owes it to the public to disclose and explain his reasons for his resignation from the Cabinet.
It is worth noting that both Mr Tharman and Mr Dhanabalan were reported to have cited the information at that time (in 1987) as the reason for their disbelief or discomfort about the arrests. In other words, even as a minister who was involved with the internal discussion about the arrests, Mr Dhanabalan felt “uncomfortable” about the arrests. And Mr Tharman, even after being a minister, expressed his disbelief that the 22 were guilty of the charges leveled against them.
In 1991, Mr Walter Woon, who would later assume the post of Attorney-General, said: “As far as I am concerned, the government’s case is still not proven. I would not say those fellows were Red, not from the stuff they presented. I think a lot of people have this skepticism.”
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