Saturday 23 February 2013


In the last few days, Dave (David Cameron, Great Britain's PM), has been busy visiting and courting India, whose economy is the world's tenth largest ( by GDP) and is expected to grow by 7.7 to 7.9 per cent in 2013.  As for Great Britain, today her triple A credit rating has been slashed to just two.

On his tour Dave played cricket with Indian youngsters, met students from a women's college accompanied by  Bollywood heart throb Aamir Khan.  How cool can you get?  He bowed his head at the Jallianwalla Bagh public gardens memorial for the 1919 Amritsar Massacre (when 379 innocent Indians were killed by colonial forces),  paid an hour long visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar  (with an eye on the Sikh vote in Britain) ..

The British PM shown around the Golden Temple (PA) - from The Daily Telegraph 20  Feb 2013 
.......  but he was also adamant that Britain should not have to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond.  This huge diamond weighing over 21 grams, mounted into the British Crown was confiscated by the British East India Company and given to Queen Victoria in 1877 when she was proclaimed (by the British)  as the Empress of India.  The Indians have been demanding its return to India for a very long time.

It was quite a scene -  the PM of Great Britain ingratiating himself to the Republic of India.  Of course he had an agenda - to enable Britain's financial services to participate in the sub-continent's financial honeypot, to boost the sale of British products like the "superior"  Eurofighter Typhoon Jet instead of the French 126 Dassault Rafale fighter jets and to lure more students from India to study in Britain.  Also in the pipeline was the offer of British know-how to set up a task force to tackle the increasing cyber threat from China and other cyber terrorists.

I reckon Bob ( Robert Clive, the British national hero who according to British Online Archive  "was the leading actor in the political and military events that paved the way ..... for the establishment of the British territorial empire on the Indian sub-continent during the 1750s and 1760s")  must be turning in his grave.
Robert Clive (1725-1774)  first Baron Clive of Plassey
Once upon a long time ago in the mid-1750s,  the ruler of Bengal, Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula, was getting in the way of the British East India Company's ambitions in India.  He was suspected of setting up an alliance with the French.  From 1751  the British and the French had been backing 'rival Indian claimants to the position of Nawab of the Carnatic Coast' - all part of the great game of taking over lucrative trade and territories in the subcontinent.

Bob played the old game  (which was copied by Stamford in 1819) of anointing a rival and pretender to Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula's throne - one called Mir Jafar, a general in the Nawab's army.  The  middleman in these negotiations (not unlike the Temenggong in 1819 Singapura)  was Amirchand, a Bengal merchant who of course expected a bakshish for his efforts.  Well, there is not much trust or honour between thieves!  The 'enterprising' Clive prepared two different treaties.  One was for Amirchand promising a large bounty when Bengal was transferred to Clive's pretender.  The other, presented to Mir Jafar, made no mention of Amirchand's cut. Hence in the famous 1757  Battle of  Plassey, Mir Jafar and his forces defected to the British and the Nawab was replaced.  This crucial battle marked the turning point for British supremacy in India vis-a-vis the French.

So, 62 years after Bob and 194 years before Dave another act of British chicanery was staged by Stamford - a chip off old Bob's block.
Stamford Raffles  (1781-1826)

If - prior to 1819 - the ruler of Singapura Tengku Rahman, who was also the Sultan of Johore, had not been weakened by divisions and rivalry within the ruling family  ( like most dynasties and ruling families of Europe, China and India)  Stamford Raffles' dream of acquiring Singapura would have come to naught.  Not only that, Tengku Rahman was in the grip of both the Bugis and the Dutch - Great Britain's arch rival for trade in the Malay Archipelago.

Bob had the French to contend with in 18th Century India;  Stamford had the Dutch to deal with in 19th Century  Malay Archipelago.

Stamford employed the old imperial trick of manipulating factional rivalry  (like Bob) and playing the kingmaker ( again like Bob) to ensure Singapura belonged to the British and to challenge the Dutch threat to Britain's lucrative opium trade between China and British India.

Bob enthroned Mir Jafar as Nawab of Bengal and Stamford installed  Tengku Hussein ( brother of the Sultan of Johor) who lived in exile in Riau  as the Sultan of Johor and hence of Singapore!  All this was done with the collaboration of the Temenggong who was a vassal of the ruler of Singapore and the head of the Malay settlement located at the mouth of the Singapore River when Raffles first landed in Singapura.

Stamford Raffles did not discover Singapura!  It was not there for his taking.  Furthermore he did not sign a treaty with the actual Sultan of Singapura/Johore - he installed Hussein as the Sultan, a responsibility for which he had no right or remit.  He had pulled a coup, yanking the carpet from under the feet of the Dutch.  He had succeeded in setting up a British base and trading station along this crucial route for the India-China trade - the Straits of Malacca.  This was one big British hoodwink in the history of Singapore.

If not for this political engineering, Singapura might have been a Dutch colony and be a part of Indonesia today.  Maybe the Dutch would have left Singapura as a swampy appendage of the Malay Peninsula because they had a more important investment in Batavia (Jakarta) as a port and the capital of their empire in the Malay Archipelago.

In Africa the British gained territory and trade by giving tribal chiefs coloured beads and sea shells.  In Singapura they had to pay a little more - yearly payments of $5000 to Tengku Hussein and $3000 to the Temenggong - for the right to raise the Union Jack and set up their trading outpost.  According to Shakespeare's play Richard III  the last Plantagenet King of England cried  "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" when his horse collapsed in the mud of Bosworth and he died fighting for his Kingdom.  As for Singapura, it was acquired by many fistsful of dollars.

Stamford was a quick mover  - in his determination to break up Dutch monopoly in the Malay Archipelago and to extend Britain's sphere of influence.  He landed in Singapura on 28 January 1819 and by 1 February Tengku Long (Hussein) was smuggled in from Riau and Raffles offered to recognise him as the Sultan of Johore  thereby legitimising the British right to set up a trading post (mind you, just a trading post) in the treaty of 6 February 1819.

In the Treaty, Hussein was claimed to be "the lawful sovereign of the whole of territories extending from Lingga to Mount Muar".  The Brits left no stones unturned.

This is how we should see the British history of Singapore - and it's a far cry from what I was taught when I was in school.  That was disembodied history - like scrutinising the lips of the Mona Lisa and disregarding the rest of her portrait and her painter.

Enough for now, of the adventures and shenanigans of Stamford, Bob and Dave.

The exploits of  Bob left many nasty tastes in the mouths of the people of India today although Dave is now back there making up, and plugging swords and ploughshares for the Motherland.

As for Stamford he has been airbrushed as a 'nice sort of guy' - the Founder and pioneer of the modern City State of Singapore.  Though of course the word 'pioneer' has been reserved mainly for the Chinese in Singapore, one should not exclude or diminish the contributions of British merchants, soldiers, administrators, Christian missionaries and other carpet-baggers in turning Singapura into the Goose that laid the Golden Egg.

More later.

 "If you waste your time a-talking to the people who don't listen,
To the things that you are saying, who do you think's gonna hear.
And if you should die explaining how the things that they complain about,
Are things they could be changing, who do you think's gonna care?

There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind,
Who were crucified for what they tried to show.
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time, 
'Cos the truth remains that no one wants to know. 

I was born a lonely singer, and I'm bound to die the same,
But I've got to feed the hunger in my soul.
And if I never have a nickel, I won't ever die ashamed
'Cos I don't believe that no one wants to know."


catharsis said...

"a stomache full of empty a pocket full of dreams." this sweet line made lunch break a lil bearable. tq! and your lesson in history made me chuckle. tis true how the saying goes bout history repeating itself. i suspect it just cant be helped. what dave (and rob and stamford and many others "whose names are scattered by the swirling whirls of time")did reminded me of what lee kuan yew pulled in malaysia circa 2008 during pak lah's time. ah well we live and learn :)

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you catharsis,

The history we're given will always be that of the victors and the opportunists.

Unlike Kristofferson's 'stomach'and 'pockets', there are many, especially amongst my bangsa who have full stomachs and their full pockets carry no dreams or revelations.

Enjoy your lunch breaks with KK's song whirling in your head.

catharsis said...

yes, i guess the victors have the "privilege" of rewriting history. or at least repeating it often enough till everyone believes it :P

a sharp eye you cast over your bangsa, i happen to share the same bangsa as you - and it is with an optimistic step i try NOT to be one of those with full stomachs and empty dreams.

a secret dream i harbour - fueled by my mother's faith and her sound argument shedding light on my daily interaction with other servants (some leave me to despair, others still give me hope!) - the civil service used to attract the creme de la the opposite is true - the perception nowadays is its where you go when private sector doesn't want you.

Trying my darndest every single day not to do that, not to get disheartened and not to be THAT civil servant - the rude, the lazy, the tardy, the incompetent.

After all, mother reminds me - u can't change others but you can change yourself. :)

please do post up more songs, i am a lover of lyrics :)

- AsK -

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you again AsK/catharsis,

I can see you're one of the few, who have not "turned deaf and blind".

Don't give up because for the most parts people will not change or learn except by looking at good examples. Although the bad examples and tatty values tend to take over a lot of the time.

You're a credit to your dear mum and she's a very lucky lady too to have you.

I love songs, all sorts of songs and I shall keep you in mind each time I select one.

Anonymous said...

Salam Puan,
Nice history lesson. But I'm reading quickly... will come back to it later. Baby's teething and I think I can hear him stirring...eeyyoww


anak si-hamid said...

Dear Ribut,

Thank you. I take off my hat to you mothers who manage to juggle so many tasks.

Tell you what - leave your little teething monster here and you put your feet up!

Have fun!