Devan Nair

Devan Nair Chengara Veetil BBM (5 August 1923 – 6 December 2005), also known as C. V. Devan Nair, was a Malaysian–Singaporean politician. He served as the third President of Singapore & the commander-in-chief of the Singapore Armed Forces serving a three-year term from 23 October 1981 to 28 March 1985. He was elected by the Parliament of Singapore to be the next President of Singapore after former president Benjamin Henry Sheares died on 12 May that year. Nair was sworn in as president on 23 October 1981. On 28 March 1985, Nair resigned in unclear circumstances.[2]

C. V. Devan Nair

ദേവൻ നായർ
C V Devan Nair.jpg
3rd President of Singapore
In office
23 October 1981 – 28 March 1985
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded byBenjamin Henry Sheares
Succeeded byWee Kim Wee
Member of the Singapore Parliament
for Anson
In office
10 February 1979 – 13 October 1981
Preceded byP. Govindaswamy
Succeeded byJ. B. Jeyaretnam
Member of the Malaysian Parliament
for Bungsar, Selangor
In office
18 May 1964 – 20 March 1969
Preceded byV. David
Succeeded byGoh Hock Guan
Secretary-General of
the Malaysian People's Action Party
In office
14 August 1965 – 9 September 1965
Preceded byLee Kuan Yew
Succeeded byPosition abolished
1st Secretary-General of DAP
In office
11 October 1965 – 30 July 1967
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byGoh Hock Guan
Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress
In office
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Succeeded bySteve Nayagan
In office
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded bySeah Mui Kok
Succeeded byLim Chee Onn
Personal details
Devan Nair Chengara Veetil

(1923-08-05)5 August 1923
Melaka, Straits Settlements
Died6 December 2005(2005-12-06) (aged 82)
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Cause of deathDementia
Resting placeHamilton, Ontario[1]
Political partyIndependent (1981-1985)
Other political
CPM (until 1950)
DAP (1965-1967)
PAP (1957-1965), (1979-1981)
Spouse(s)Avadai Dhanam
ProfessionLabour unionist
Military service
CommandsCommander-in-Chief of the Singapore Armed Forces

Nair was a member of parliament for Anson from 1979 to 1981 and a member of Bungsar, Selangor from 1964 to 1969. He was the Secretary-General of the Malaysian People's Action Party in 1965 and 1st Secretary-General of DAP in 1965 to 1967 before being elected as the President of Singapore by the Parliament of Singapore.

Early lifeEdit

Born on August 5, 1923 in Malacca, he was the son of a rubber plantation clerk, Illathu Veettil Karunakaran 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.[2] 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.[3]


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.[2]

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.[4] 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.[2]

He was the only PAP member to win in the 1964 Malaysian general election, winning the Bangsar constituency, near Kuala Lumpur. He stayed in Malaysia after the Separation, forming the Democratic Action Party,[5] but returned to Singapore to lead the National Trades Union Congress, the labour union movement which he helped establish in 1961. He and P.P. Narayanan were advocates for the concerns of developing countries and voiced their concerns at the ICFTU as they saw economic and social policy documents that were biased towards industrialized nations. They wanted greater attention paid to extreme poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment of their countries. These proposals were accepted and later reflected in the work of ICFTU's Economic and Social Committee.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong stated in Parliament that Nair resigned to get treatment for alcoholism, a charge Nair hotly denied.[9] According to Nair's counterclaim, he resigned under pressure when their political views came into conflict and Goh threatened him during a game of chess to 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 Goh.[10] Some claimed that the suit was thrown out of court after Nair's counterclaim.[11] However, in a letter to The New York Times, it is said that Goh 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.[12] 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)."[13]

Post-presidency, death and legacyEdit

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 6 December of the same year as his wife in Hamilton, Canada.[14]

The Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability located in Jurong East was opened on 1 May 2014 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to recognise his contributions to the labour movement when he was Secretary General of National Trades Union Congress.[15]


Nair is survived by his daughter, three sons, and five grandchildren. His eldest son, Janadas Devan,[16] was a senior editor with the Singapore newspaper The Straits Times and is currently the Chief of Government Communications at the Ministry of Communications and Information of Singapore and also a director at the public policy think-tank Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). Janadas Devan is married to literary scholar Geraldine Heng. His second son, Janamitra Devan, was the former Vice-President of the International Finance Corporation,[17] and the World Bank. His third son, Janaprakash Devan[18] died in Melbourne, Australia in 2010. His only daughter, Vijaya Kumari Devan continues to reside in Hamilton, Ontario.[19]

See alsoEdit

List of Nairs


  1. ^ Independent, The. "Of best friends, bitter foes and the bane of sailing through a fog".
  2. ^ a b c d "Mr Devan Nair". Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  3. ^ "Devan Nair: He formed and led the NTUC". AsiaOne. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Who's Who - The Top 15 Names". The Straits Times. 28 October 1956. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  5. ^ Woon, Leven. "". MToday News Sdn. Bhd. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  6. ^ Munck, Ronaldo (2004). Labour and globalisation: results and prospects. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-85323-817-1. OCLC 897033047.
  7. ^ Singh, Bajinder Pal. "Thailand's Indians hope for stability, peace after coup". Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  8. ^ John, Alan (29 March 1985). "President resigns". The Straits Times. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  9. ^ "Obituary:Devan Nair, 82, ex-president of Singapore". The New York Times. 8 December 2005. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  10. ^ "SW: Former president Nair criticises suppression of dissent". Retrieved 18 November 2010.
  11. ^ "Lee v. Globe and Mail (Nair v. Lee)". 1 November 2006. Archived from the original on 1 November 2006.
  12. ^ "Letters:Devan Nair". New York Times. 22 December 2005. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
  13. ^ "Former Singapore leader stricken by illness". Retrieved 31 August 2011.
  14. ^ "Obituary:Devan Nair, 82, ex-president of Singapore". Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  15. ^ "Devan Nair Institute opens". Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  16. ^ "Growing up in the Presidents' shadow". my paper. Archived from the original on 11 August 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Janaprakash Devan and Fiona Fernandes - Marriage Record". Graphiq, Inc. Archived from the original on 8 January 2016. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  19. ^ "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
Trade union offices
Preceded by
P. P. Narayanan
President of the ICFTU Asian Regional Organisation
Succeeded by
Tadanobu Usami