Devan Nair

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C. V. Devan Nair
ദേവൻ നായർ
C V Devan Nair.jpg
3rd President of Singapore
In office
23 October 1981 – 27 March 1985
Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew
Preceded by Yeoh Ghim Seng (Acting President)
Benjamin Henry Sheares (President)
Succeeded by Wee Chong Jin (Acting President)
Wee Kim Wee (President)
Member of the Singapore Parliament
for Anson
In office
5 March 1979 – 13 October 1981
Preceded by P. Govindaswamy
Succeeded by J. B. Jeyaretnam
Member of the Malaysian Parliament
for Bungsar, Selangor
In office
18 May 1964 – 20 March 1969
Preceded by V. David
Succeeded by Goh Hock Guan
Secretary-General of
the Malaysian People's Action Party
In office
14 August 1965 – 9 September 1965
Preceded by Lee Kuan Yew
(Singapore and Malaysia)
Succeeded by Position abolished
Secretary-General of
the Democratic Action Party
In office
11 October 1965 – 30 July 1967
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Goh Hock Guan
Personal details
Born Devan Nair Chengara Veetil
(1923-08-05)5 August 1923
Melaka, Straits Settlements (now Malaysia)
Died 6 December 2005(2005-12-06) (aged 82)
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Nationality Malaysian; Singaporean
Political party People's Action Party
Democratic Action Party
Spouse(s) Avadai Dhanam
Children 4
Profession Labour unionist

Devan Nair Chengara Veetil BBM (5 August 1923 – 6 December 2005), also known as C. V. Devan Nair, was a Malaysian and Singaporean politician. He served as the third President of Singapore. Before his presidency, Nair led the Singaporean trade union movement and founded the National Trades Union Congress in 1961. He had also founded the Democratic Action Party in Malaysia. He was elected by the Parliament of Singapore on 23 October 1981, and served as President until his resignation on 28 March 1985.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born on August 5, 1923 in Malacca, he was the son of a rubber plantation clerk, I.V.K. Nair, who was originally from Thalassery, Kerala. He and his family migrated to Singapore when he was 10 years old and he received his primary education at Rangoon Road Primary School before enrolling in Victoria School for his secondary education where he passed his Senior Cambridge examination in 1940.[1] His disdain for colonial rule was apparent in those days, as he changed the lyrics of Rule Britannia to anti-British ones in a school choir performance before a British guest-of-honour.[2]


After the second World War, Nair became a Normal Trained teacher and taught at St Joseph's Institution and later, at St Andrew's School. In 1949, he became General Secretary of the Singapore Teachers' Union.[1]

Initially, a member of the Communist Anti-British League, he joined Lee Kuan Yew's People's Action Party (PAP) in 1954. Nair was detained in 1951 by the British for anticolonial activities. In 1956, Devan Nair was detained again under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance Act together with unionists Lim Chin Siong and James Puthucheary as suspected Communist subversives after the Chinese middle schools riots.[3] Nair was released in 1959 when the PAP won the elections in a landslide victory. He was subsequently appointed political secretary to the Minister for Education. He returned to teaching after a year. In 1960, he became the chairman of the Prisons Inquiry Commission and launched the Adult Education Board.[1]

He was the only PAP member to win in the Malaysian general election, 1964, winning the Bangsar constituency, near Kuala Lumpur. He stayed in Malaysia after the Separation, forming the Democratic Action Party,[4] but returned to Singapore to lead the National Trades Union Congress, the labour union movement which he helped establish in 1961.

He entered the Singapore Parliament in 1979 by winning the Anson seat in a by-election and retained the seat in the 1980 general election, but resigned the seat in 1981 to accept the largely ceremonial office of President.[5] This resulted in a by-election of the Anson seat which was then won by opposition leader Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, the first time in Singapore since 1963 when an opposition party candidate won a Parliament seat.

During his imprisonment in the 1950s, he read the writings of Sri Aurobindo, particularly the Life Divine and became his lifelong admirer and disciple. He visited Pondicherry and nearby Auroville a number of times and wrote and spoke on Sri Aurobindo's vision in the United States, Canada and other countries.


On 28 March 1985, Nair resigned in unclear circumstances. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew stated in Parliament that Nair resigned to get treatment for alcoholism, a charge Nair hotly denied.[6] According to Nair's counterclaim, he resigned under pressure when their political views came into conflict and Lee threatened him to a game of chess to then oust him as president. Nair also alleged that he was fed drugs to make him appear disoriented and that rumours were spread about his personal life in an attempt to discredit him. In 1999, an article about the case in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail resulted in a libel suit by Lee.[7] Some claimed that the suit was thrown out of court after Nair's counterclaim.[8] However, in a letter to The New York Times, it is said that Lee agreed to discontinue the suit only when two of Nair's sons issued a statement, reported in The Globe and Mail on 1 July 2004, maintaining that Nair was no longer mentally competent to give evidence in court.[9] The Globe and Mail statement concluded that "having reviewed the records, and on the basis of the family's knowledge of the circumstances leading to Mr. Nair's resignation as President of Singapore in March, 1985, we can declare that there is no basis for this allegation (of Mr Nair being drugged)."[10]

Post-presidency and death[edit]

After his resignation as President, Nair and his wife migrated first to the United States in 1988 where they settled in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Then later they moved to Bloomington, Indiana. The couple later moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where they lived out for the rest of their lives. His wife, Avadai Dhanam, died on 18 April 2005 in Hamilton, whilst Nair, who had developed severe dementia, died on 7 December of the same year as his wife in Hamilton, Canada.[11]


Nair is survived by his daughter, three sons, and five grandchildren. His eldest son, Janadas Devan,[12] is a senior editor with the Singapore newspaper The Straits Times. His second son, Janamitra Devan, was the former Vice-President of the International Finance Corporation,[13] and the World Bank. His third son, Janaprakash Devan[14] died in Melbourne, Australia in 2010. His only daughter, Vijaya Kumari Devan continues to reside in Hamilton, Ontario.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d "Mr Devan Nair". Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  2. ^ "Devan Nair: He formed and led the NTUC". AsiaOne. Retrieved 2017-08-19. 
  3. ^ "Who's Who - The Top 15 Names". The Straits Times. 1956-10-28. Retrieved 2017-08-19. 
  4. ^ Woon, Leven. "". MToday News Sdn. Bhd. Retrieved 5 December 2015.  External link in |title= (help)
  5. ^ Singh, Bajinder Pal. "Thailand's Indians hope for stability, peace after coup". Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  6. ^ "Obituary:Devan Nair, 82, ex-president of Singapore". The New York Times. 2005-12-08. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-08-19. 
  7. ^ "SW: Former president Nair criticises suppression of dissent". Retrieved 18 November 2010. 
  8. ^ Lee v. Globe and Mail (Nair v. Lee)
  9. ^ "Letters:Devan Nair". New York Times. 22 December 2005. Retrieved August 2011.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. ^ "Former Singapore leader stricken by illness". Retrieved August 2011.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. ^ Pandiyan, M.Veera. "LKY: Insights from a comrade turned foe". Star Media Group Berhad. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  12. ^ "Growing up in the Presidents' shadow". my paper. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Janaprakash Devan and Fiona Fernandes - Marriage Record". Graphiq, Inc. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  15. ^ "Devan Nair helped shape Singapore". Asian Pacific Post. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Benjamin Henry Sheares
President of Singapore
Succeeded by
Wee Kim Wee
Parliament of Singapore
Preceded by
P. Govindaswamy
Member of Parliament for Anson
Succeeded by
J.B. Jeyaretnam
Government offices
Preceded by
Seah Mui Kok
Secretary-General, National Trades Union Congress
Succeeded by
Lim Chee Onn
Preceded by
new position
Secretary-General, National Trades Union Congress
Succeeded by
ST Nagayan