Murali ‘Ah Mu’ Pillai performing his ‘sacred duty’ 

From ‘Murali driven by sacred duty to serve residents’, 30 April 2016, article by Amanda Lee, Today

Calling politics not a “career” but a “sacred duty”, Mr Murali Pillai, the People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for the Bukit Batok by-election, kicked off his first rally of the election on a personal note, paying homage to the three “giants” who shaped his entry into politics — among them his late father and the constituency’s former Member of Parliament (MP), the late Dr Ong Chit Chung.

“This is not my career … this is a cause, this is a sacred duty. I am not interested to say things just to keep me in the post, that is not what drives me,” said the 48-year-old lawyer, who also emphasised his 16 years of community work in the ward.

Peppering his speech with smatterings of Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, Mr Murali — referred to as “Ah Mu” by the PAP’s Bukit Batok branch activists who took to the stage earlier to stump for him — said his late father, the trade unionist and former Barisan Sosialis member P K Pillai, had told him that if he entered politics, what he did should be for the people.

“He said when you leave politics, make sure you leave with just the shirt on your back. That was his advice to me when I asked him whether I could join PAP,” said Mr Murali.

The former MP who was the primary cause for the Bukit Batok by-election in the first place, David Ong, did leave with his shirt on his back, though it probably came off, along with pants perhaps, a few times during his brief stint as MP.

It seems that joining politics is never truly a ‘career’, notwithstanding the high pay that you’re rewarded with for performing such a noble deed. Former Cabinet Minister George Yeo was more realistic in his assessment of the job. In a 2015 interview he said:

“One should not engage in self-flattery about duty calling. I think most people who are in politics have a certain ambition, and I don’t see myself having the ambition for presidential politics”

Ah Mu isn’t the first to brag about the ‘higher calling’, of course. Many in the PAP camp are more than willing to pour their heart and soul into their ‘sacred duties’, though whether they’re willing to work just as hard for FREE remains to be seen. Like Murali, Christopher De Souza also summoned ‘sacred duty’ in a FB post last year.

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Minister Chan Chun Sing reminded everyone during the GE hustings in 2015 that politicians heed a ‘higher calling’ to serve, and not for ‘fame or glory’. Often, fame and glory are bestowed upon people in power despite their claims to the contrary. For some, it’s infamy. For that rare individual with a god-like reputation like LKY, there simply isn’t enough glory to go around.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition in politics, of course. You need ambition to run a country, and certainly for our politicians, that drive for success is hidden away from public scrutiny and revealed only to their employers in the form of CVs. For most people, answering a higher cause or a sacred duty will get you nowhere beyond donning a fireman’s helmet, a nurse’s uniform or monks’ robes. You also don’t need a paycheck to perform what some would call the most sacred of all duties: Being a mother. Doing something sacred for a living also doesn’t mean you’ll excel in it. We all know horrible doctors, shitty police officers, dishonourable politicians and corrupt SCDF chiefs.

So practically speaking, having a politician sacrificing his personal business and family for politics is fine and all, but there’s nothing that suggests that such a fawning servant of the people would do any better than a politician with an agenda to get ahead of the pack. David Ong and the rest of his philanderer ilk, I’m sure, would have pledged to give their lives for the people. Whether you’re out to prove yourself to the people, or prove something to yourself or your bosses, what ultimately matters is whether you’ve made a difference.

Ironically, trying to make a difference was exactly what made Ah Mu’s father, P K Pillai of Barisan Socialis, a political detainee. Not sure if the elder Pillai would have described his experience a small price to pay for performing his sacred duty.

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