The Romanticisation of JB Jeyaretnam and the Eulogy Meme
With JB Jeyaretnam sadly out of the picture, what would the opposition scene be like? The Reform Party, rhetorical old wine in new bottle like it or not, would have provided an interesting renewed challenge to the PAP in the coming elections.
Even in his death the vindictive PAP were not gracious enough to acknowledge fully his contribution to the discourse and tried to distastefully politicise the letter of condolence to JB Jeyaretnam’s family. Their political folly resulted instead when a genuine dignified condolence would have won them respect grudgingly. But the temptation of politicising his death was maybe not restricted to the PAP. The SDP have shamelessly propped him up as a rallying banner, just as El Cid’s body was in the battle for Valencia in 1099.
Nevertheless, the outpouring of kneejerk heartfelt euologies with the passing of JB Jeyaretnam and the posthumous decoration of a stalwart to the point of him being a de facto national legend is perhaps a bit too much, or perhaps it is just more convenient to do so in this social networking media age. I don’t remember David Marshall or Devan Nair having this sort of this Che Guevarisation . Nevertheless, one explanation is that JB Jeyaretnam more than any person romantices the idea of never surrendering despite being cornered and cracked at every political turn. He certainly deserves tremendous respect and recognition for his steadfast determination to offer change to Singaporeans. Sadly not enough of us bought his vision although Don Quixote he was not.
The late Devan Nair aptly described him, likely with a bit of dramatic flourish, and Lee Kuan Yew’s irate frustration with the man who demolished the notion that the PAP cannot be defeated until 1981 –
“Look,” he said, “Jeyaretnam cant win the infighting. I’ll tell you why. WE are in charge. Every government ministry and department is under our control. And in the infighting, he will go down for the count every time.” And I will never forget his last words. “I will make him crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy.”
Jeyaretnam was made of sterner stuff. To his eternal credit he never did crawl on bended knees, or ever begged for mercy.
The late JB Jeyaretnam was indeed made of sterner stuff. Sued, slandered and often silenced by the local papers until lately, he still held on and bounced back, as we can see in the eulogy meme by bloggers these few days. Unlike some opposition members, he insisted on a confrontational robust style in parliament. Unlike some opposition members, he did not court foreign organisations for support. That is why we like JB Jeyaretnam so much in retrospect. He was the best of the opposition in this heroless age, and I mean no disrespect to the current cohort of opposition parliament members intended.
Absence does make the heart fonder.