Thursday, 24 October 2013

Kranji War Cemetery: Singapore and the politics of the dead

Politics don't end with life. Whether it is a Japanese Minister honouring the country's war dead by visiting Tokyo's Yasakuni Shrine or the right to (permanent) burial plots here in Singapore, politics is unavoidable even after death.

Burial plots are valuable real estate in land scarce Singapore. Despite having increased the Republic's surface area through land reclamation by about a quarter since 1965, graves are available only on a fifteen year lease-hold basis. In 1998, the Singapore government announced the New Burial Policy to limit the burial period to 15 years. Henceforth, graves after 15 years will be exhumed. The exhumed remains may be cremated and put into a columbarium or be re-buried, according to one's religious requirements. (The New Burial System as described on the National Environment Agency website.)

No rest for the wicked, the weary or the brave ... at least not in Singapore.

However, there is one group of deceased which is privileged in its exemption from exhumation: the brave souls who gave their lives defending Singapore during World War Two; and some who died during the Malayan Emergency; and some of their family members too. Their graves can be found at the Kranji War Cemetery located off Woodlands Road.

Certainly, soldiers deserve to be honoured. Nay, they must be honoured. It is a mark of a civilized society. Disciplined militaries fight to preserve commonly accepted social values, property and a nation's dignity.

These soldiers resting at Kranji fought and died for Malaya. Other than people from Malaya itself, Malaya's defenders came from Britain, Australians, India, New Zealand and other dominions of the British empire.

A glance at the list of the War Dead on the memorial suggests that a significant number of soldiers who died defending the British crown originated from the Indian subcontinent. For example, just in one battle, the Battle for Muar the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade started with 4,000 men and ended with only 800. Furthermore, after Singapore's surrender in 1942 approximately 55,000 servicemen from the Indian subcontinent were taken prisoner of war by the Japanese.

Yet, walk into Kranji War Cemetery and one is forgiven for assuming the cemetery is dedicated only to caucasian war dead.

The prominent areas of the cemetery are taken up with tombstones dedicated to deceased caucasian soldiers. Yes, tucked away at the back, behind the war memorial are some tombstones apparently of Nepalese Gurkha and Indian Hindu soldiers. And, yes, the inscription on the memorial itself is in multiple languages, including Urdu. However, the valuable real estate within the graveyard is virtually monopolized by tombstones dedicated to white soldiers. In fact, I had trouble locating any tombstones pertaining to Muslim soldiers from the Indian subcontinent.

It appears a little piece of Europe survives in the heart of Singapore: the Kranji War Cemetery. To the uninitiated, Singapore's cherished values of plurality and ethnic equality seem conspicuously absent from the many gravestones located at Kranji cemetery.

Undoubtedly, the blemish is a legacy of Singapore's colonial past and the cemetery's management lies with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (not Singapore). However, that fact does not justify the organization of the cemetery in a manner unbefitting of the sacrifices made by the many non-caucasian Commonwealth soldiers who died defending Singapore and the Malay Peninsula.

PS – Stay tuned for more on this subject. I expect to do some additional research on the Kranji cemetery and the annual remembrance ceremony to better understand the facts (and correct any errors in this article).
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The World’s newest ‘Banana Republic:’ the United States?

The United States is bankrupt. The government refuses to pay its bills. The US currency is no longer the 'be-all and end-all' of international currencies. Notwithstanding Apple, Microsoft and other entrepreneurial start-up companies, US economic clout is on the wane.

Ok, so the US is not really bankrupt – it can keep printing (and debasing?) more paper currency notes which the rest of the world happily purchases in ever growing amounts. Economic stability equals a free trade environment predicated on trust in the USD.

The rest of the world includes Singapore.

Singapore's foreign currency reserves, one of the largest pools of capital in the world are biased towards the US Dollar (USD). From Temasek Holdings to the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), Singapore's stake in international economic stability is great. Singapore is not alone. China – the largest single owner of US government debt – has a lot riding on USD stability.

The day China stops buying US debt, the USD may collapse.

Result: China becomes much less wealthier, on paper at least. Moreover, the US will be unable to keep importing goods from China because it cannot pay for them in the 'new, debased' USD. In turn, this leads to social problems within China as Chinese factories reduce production and lay off workers. Consequently, Chinese consumers, including travellers, decrease consumption and the world suffers more ... and the vicious cycle continues.

Of course, global politics are not so simple. Despite a gradual shift away from US dependencies, the world needs the US to behave responsibly. International stability continues to rest on the US, economically and politically. Shutting down government because of domestic political squabbles is not responsible. It smacks of 'Banana Republic' politics and politicians. The US looks more and more like the Third World countries it chooses to lecture (and bomb when they don't listen) about governance on a regular basis.

The world entered a new socioeconomic era some years ago. The post World War Two Bretton Woods and Cold War orders have wasted away. However, the replacement paradigm has yet to be defined. At least for the next several decades the world will continue to watch US domestic politics as if it were their own.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at