Sinnathamby Rajaratnam

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S Rajaratnam on Television SingapuraS. Rajaratnam was one of the first to appear on screen at the inauguration of Television Singapura, Singapore’s first television station, on 15 February 1963. (Image from National Archives of Singapore)

S. Rajaratnam
S. Rajaratnam (b. 25 February 1915, Jaffna, Sri Lanka – d. 22 February 2006, Singapore) is a founding member of the People’s Action Party, a long-serving minister of many portfolios, published author and former journalist. He is one of the pioneer leaders of independent Singapore who has devoted much of his life to public service. His most enduring legacy is the National Pledge that he penned, which is recited at school assemblies and national day ceremonies today.

Early Years
Rajaratnam was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka on 25 February 1915. He moved to Malaysia where his father worked as a supervisor at a rubber plantation in Seremban. He studied at Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur, and later Raffles Institution in Singapore. He pursued law studies at the King’s College in London but did not complete the course. Rajaratnam then worked as a journalist in London for several years.

He returned to Malaya in 1947 and worked as a journalist in the Malaya Tribune from 1948 to 1950. He joined the Singapore Standard as an associate editor in 1950.  Subsequently from 1954 to 1959, he was an editorial staff at The Straits Times. He frequently wrote articles on the state of politics in Singapore and Malaya, and his open anti-British and anti-communist stance attracted the attention of Lee Kuan Yew, Toh Chin Chye, and Goh Keng Swee, who would co-found the People’s Action Party in 1954 with him and several others.

1954 Calendar from Singapore StandardThis 1954 calendar was from the Singapore Standard, a now defunct newspaper. S. Rajaratnam was the paper’s associate editor from 1950 to 1954. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)Magazine dating 1955 entitled People (Rakyat)A magazine dating 1955 entitled ‘People (Rakyat)’, which was edited by S. Rajaratnam. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)

Career and Accomplishments
Rajaratnam resigned from The Straits Times in 1959 to contest in the Legislative Assembly general election and was elected as an assemblyman for the Kampong Glam constituency. He also served as the Minister for Culture until 1963.

When Singapore became independent, Rajaratnam was appointed the first Minister for Foreign Affairs. He held this post until 1980, while holding a double position as the Minister for Labour from 1968 onwards. He focused on establishing good relationships with other nations, which was important for the young Republic of Singapore.
S Rajaratnam speaking at the 1959 General ElectionsS. Rajaratnam speaking at the 1959 General Elections rally as a People’s Action Party candidate. (Image from National Archives of Singapore)

Rajaratnam also represented Singapore in the Bangkok Declaration in 1967, which was convened to establish the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). For his role, he was considered as one of the five founding fathers of ASEAN.

Rajaratnam was best known for his role in the formation of the National Pledge. In 1966, he composed the pledge with an emphasis on a united and multiracial society. The first daily recital was carried out on 24 August 1966 by students from all government and aided schools. Since then, the National Pledge has been recited at school assemblies and national day ceremonies.

In 1980, Rajaratnam was appointed the second Deputy Prime Minister, a position he held until 1985 when he stepped down to become Senior Minister.

Later Years
Rajaratnam retired from politics in 1988 and served as a senior distinguished fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies from 1988 onwards. He passed away from heart failure on 22 February 2006 and was accorded a state funeral at the Esplanade on 25 February 2006. Leaders and Singaporeans from all walks of life came to pay their respects.

In 2006, Raffles Institution named a new 7-storey building the S. Rajaratnam Block after the late S. Rajaratnam. The Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies at the Nanyang Technological University was also renamed the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in honour of his contributions.State Funeral Service of S RajaratnamState funeral service of S. Rajaratnam at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 25 February 2006. (Image from National Archives of Singapore)