Devan Nair

Singapore Infopedia

by Renuka, M.


Chengara Veetil Devan Nair1 (b. 5 August 1923, Jasin, near Malacca, Malaysia2d. 7 December 2005, Canada3), better known as just Devan Nair, was Singapore’s third president and first Indian president.4

Early life
The son of a rubber plantation clerk, Nair moved from Malaysia to Singapore with his family when he was 10 years old. He received his early education at Rangoon Road Primary School. He went on to pursue his Senior Cambridge Certificate at Victoria School.5

Trade Unionist
After the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), Nair joined the teaching profession, as there was a dire need for teachers. He first taught at St Joseph’s Institution and then St Andrew’s School. During this time, his interest in the trade union movement was ignited. He assumed the responsibility of general secretary of the Singapore Teachers’ Union in 1949.6

Nair was detained by the British authorities for participating in anticolonial activities in 1951. Despite the difficulties, his passion for workers’ welfare saw him return to trade union activities soon after his release in April 1953. This time, he served as the secretary of the Singapore Factory and Shopworkers’ Union.7

Political career
In 1954, Nair was called to be one of the convenors of the People’s Action Party (PAP). He was also a member of the PAP’s central executive committee. In 1956, Nair was again detained by the British. He was released three years later when the PAP came into leadership. Nair was appointed political secretary to the Minister for Education, a position he relinquished after a year. He returned to teaching. In the same year, he was appointed chairman of the Prisons Inquiry Commission and launched the Adult Education Board, becoming its first chairman, serving from 1960 to 1964.8

In 1961, Nair played an instrumental role in the establishment of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). He was also heavily involved in the parliamentary politics of Malaysia, as he earned himself a seat in the Bangsar constituency. After his term, he returned to assume his duties with the NTUC. As the first secretary-general of the NTUC, he went on to become its President in 1979. That same year, Nair stood for election at the Anson constituency and won the seat, though he only served as a member of parliament for two years as he resigned to become the president of Singapore.9

On 23 October 1981, Nair was elected by Parliament as Singapore’s third president and he assumed office the next day. During his term as president, Nair continued to champion workers’ rights.10 On 28 March 1985, he resigned from his position as president on the grounds of ill health.11

Public Service Star12

1976: Honorary doctor of letters, University of Singapore13

Nair married Dhana Lakshimi in 1953.14 The couple had known each other since childhood as Nair and Dhana’s brother were good friends.15 The couple had three sons and a daughter.16

Who lives if Malaysia dies? A selection from the speeches and writings of DAP leaders. (1969). Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Democratic Action Party.

(Call no. : RCLOS 329.9595 DEM).

Tomorrow - the peril and the promise: Report by the secretary general to the 2nd triennial delegates conference. (1976). Singapore: Singapore National Trades Union Congress.
(Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 NAT)

Socialism that works the Singapore way. (1976). Singapore: Federal Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 335.0095957 SOC).

Asian labour and the dynamics of change. (1977). Singapore: Singapore National Printers.
(Call no.: RSING 331.095 NAI)

Trade unions in Singapore. (1976). Singapore: Federal Publications.
Available via PublicationSG.

Renuka M.

1. Berend Wispelwey, South-East Asian Biographical Index (München: K.G. Saur Verlag, 2002). (Call no. RSING q920.059 SOU)
2. Melanie Chew, Leaders of Singapore (Singapore: Resource Press, 1996). (Call no. RSING q920.05957 CHE)
3. Conrad Raj, “Former President Devan Nair Dies,” Business Times, 8 December 2005, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Devan Nair,” President’s Office, accessed 25 January 2013.
5. President’s Office, “Devan Nair.”
6. President’s Office, “Devan Nair.”
7. President’s Office, “Devan Nair.”
8. President’s Office, “Devan Nair.”
9. President’s Office, “Devan Nair.”
10. C. V. Devan Nair, Nair, Not by Wages Alone: Selected Speeches and Writings of C.V. Devan Nair, 1959–1981 (Singapore: Singapore National Trades Union Congress, 1982) (Call no. RSING 959.57 NAI); A New Consensus, a New Goal: Address by C. V. Devan Nair, President of the Republic of Singapore at the Opening of the First Session of the Sixth Parliament on 25 February, 1985, and Addenda to the President’s Address (Singapore: Information Division, Ministry of Communications and Information, 1985). (Call no. RSING 354.5957 NEW)
11. C.V. Devan Nair: Circumstances Relating to Resignation as President of the Republic of Singapore (Singapore: Singapore National Printers, 1988) (Call no. RSING 324.22095957 CVD); Raj, “Former President Devan Nair Dies.”
12. President’s Office, “Devan Nair.”
13. President’s Office, “Devan Nair.”
14. Comrade President (Singapore: The Monitor, October 1981). (Call no. RSING 324. 22095957 COM)
15. “Comrade President.”
16. President’s Office, “Devan Nair.”

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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