India Lodges Protest Against Singapore PM’s Speech on MPs With Criminal Charges

The Singaporean PM’s speech had already gone viral on Indian social media due to his praise of Jawaharlal Nehru. 

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New Delhi: India on Thursday, February 17, lodged a protest against Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s remarks over the decay in Indian democracy in a speech to the country’s parliament, during which he also praised India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

According to Ministry of External Affairs sources, the Singaporean high commissioner to India, Simon Wong, was called to the MEA on Wednesday regarding PM Lee’s February 15 speech in parliament.

“The remarks by the Prime Minister of Singapore were uncalled for. We are taking up the matter with the Singaporean side,” they said.

Diplomatic sources added that the Indian side took up cudgels over PM Lee’s description of the Indian parliament being one which was filled mainly with lawmakers having criminal charges.

In his speech, the Singaporean PM had first praised the founding fathers of Israel and India for being “exceptional individuals” who had given a direction to the young nations.

“Things start off with passionate intensity. The leaders, who fought for and won independence, are often exceptional individuals of great courage, immense culture, and outstanding ability.

They came through the crucible of fire and emerged as leaders of men and nations. They are the David Ben Gurions, the Jawaharlal Nehrus, and we have our own too.”

Prime Minister Lee then narrated that in both Israel and India, the vision of the first leaders has got lost. 

“Many political systems today would be quite unrecognisable to their founding leaders.

“Ben-Gurion’s Israel has morphed into one which can barely form a government, despite four general elections in two years. Meanwhile, a stream of senior politicians and officials in Israel face a litany of criminal charges, some have gone to jail.

“While Nehru’s India has become one where, according to media reports, almost half the MPs in the Lok Sabha 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.”

Diplomatic sources stated that Indian diplomats protested against the Singaporean PM bringing up India to illustrate his narrative on terms of democratic decline. 

According to the electoral watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms, the 17th Lok Sabha, elected in 2019, has the highest number of members facing serious criminal charges since 2004. Around 43% of the newly-elected MPs are charged with criminal charges, with 29% facing serious charges like murder and rape.

Prime Minister Lee’s speech was made at a debate in the Singaporean parliament over a report presented by the Committee of Privileges on the conduct of a former opposition member of parliament. The committee had imposed a fine of 35,000 Singaporean dollars against former MP Raeesah Khan, who had resigned from her seat in November 2021 after admitting that she had raised false allegations in parliament.

While India’s protest was made based on the reference to Indian MPs facing criminal charges, the Singaporean PM’s speech had already gone viral on Indian social media due to his praise of Nehru. 

During the current election campaign in five states, ruling party leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have repeatedly raised their traditional criticism of Nehru, on topics ranging from the liberation of Goa to relations with China and the  Partition of India.

Note: An earlier version of this article erroneously referred to Simon Wong as ‘envoy’. He is the high commissioner.