Friday 21 September 2012

Indian community focuses on national issues

Minister gratified that no woes specific to Indians were raised at post-Rally dialogue
By Phua Mei Pin, THe Straits Times, 20 Sep 2012

THE first post-National Day Rally dialogue with the Indian community began with a question that appeared to focus on the community. Why, someone asked, weren't there any Indian ministers speaking at the rally?

The confident answer came quickly - not from the politicians chairing the dialogue, but from another participant. And it was: The opportunity would come at a future rally.

Then, the rest of the session last night quickly moved back to the usual hot topics that have dominated past post-rally dialogues, from birth rates, housing and transport, to education, manpower and ageing.

This heartened Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who noted that these national issues were issues that concerned all communities in Singapore.

It was a "gratifying discovery", he told reporters, that no problems related to the Indian community were raised during the dialogue. And this, he added, reflected well on it.

"It just shows the extent to which we are integrated into the life of this nation. Our major challenges are exactly the same challenges that confront us as a nation," he said.

Last night's dialogue with more than 200 members of the Indian community was the latest in a series of sessions held to get Singaporeans' feedback on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's rally speech last month.

Organised by the People's Association Indian Activity Executive Committees Council, or Narpani Pearavai, the session had Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair, Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Janil Puthucheary on the panel.

Past dialogues have targeted different groups, like young people, the Malay community and the general public.

The issues raised last night mirrored those covered in previous discussions. Some participants were worried about the cost of housing and transport, while others raised concerns about the pressures on businesses from the tightening of the supply of foreign workers. Others brought up the need for more to be done for the elderly and disadvantaged.

One subject that was discussed at other dialogues but did not come up last night, however, was the influx of foreigners and immigrants. Dr Balakrishnan attributed this difference to the PM's message in his rally speech for Singaporeans to show more heart.

While acknowledging concerns over immigration, he said that "the Prime Minister's rally speech has helped to reset the tone of our discussions on this issue" and prompted many to discuss it in a more measured and constructive way.

But he also stressed that while Indians were prepared to be part of the solution to national challenges, they and other minority communities would always need the reassurance that they would be treated fairly.

"Whatever changes in the future - and there are some pretty fundamental changes that we will need to consider for the future - we must not depart from the principle of meritocracy, of multiracialism and creating a fair and just society," he said.

Echoing his observation, grassroots volunteer Chinnu Palanivelu, 35, said: "It's true that national issues are what's on Indians' minds. That's what we want to discuss."

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