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Tunku did nothing for the Malays? Seriously, Mahathir?

The first PM respected his cabinet colleagues as trusted allies who shared the collective responsibility of uplifting the wellbeing of the people

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By M Santhananaban

Cantankerous and controversial calumny committed by a censorious charlatan of a chameleon – that is perhaps a mocking characterisation of former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Mahathir reiterated in a recorded interview that the nation’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, had not done anything for the ethnic Malays. I could not believe what I heard.

I contacted the interviewer, and he confirmed what I had heard had actually transpired.

These utterances were also made to hold the Tunku partly responsible for the tragic May 13 incidents of 1969.

Khir Johari, in his contribution “Man of the hour” to an undated National Archives publication, Prince Among Men, observed: “It seems to me that even today a few people are still blaming Tunku for the incident. … To blame (the) Tunku would be to ignore the facts and would be, I would think, an act of deplorable ingratitude.”

I am writing this piece as I feel what Mahathir said in that interview was a distortion of history, scurrilous, despicable and outrageous. That baseless allegation has to be rejected outright.

Tunku Abdul Rahman was a prince, one of the sons of Sultan Abdul Hamid of Kedah. The sultan had reigned from 1881 to 1943.

Based on the Tunku’s own published recollection, when young, he was more than a handful, playing truant and often indulging in pranks. He was not particularly interested in his studies.

Partly on account of this playful nature, he was placed under the strict care of his beloved older brother, Tunku Yusuf, who was then working in Bangkok.

This exposure to life in Thailand in his early life and his later stays in England gave the Tunku a broad perspective and privilege denied to the people of his generation.

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The Tunku was a good judge of character and chose his appointees to various important positions carefully. The two colourful friends who got him interested in politics initially in the 1940s were Khir Johari and Senu Abdul Rahman, both of whom had been school teachers at some point in their lives.

Khir later served as education minister on two separate occasions and held other ministerial portfolios. He was subsequently appointed ambassador to the US and permanent representative to the UN.

Senu was the country’s first ambassador in Jakarta and served briefly in Bonn before being made a cabinet minister. He had attended university in California and then made his way to New York, where he worked with the Permanent Mission of Indonesia. He became a man-about-town for the various Indonesian VIPs who visited New York, especially from the Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs. This exposure stood him in good stead when he became the Federation of Malaya’s first ambassador to Indonesia in 1957.

Three other friends who rendered considerable help to the Tunku when he became Umno president were Sulaiman Abdul Rahman and his two younger brothers, Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and Mohamed Yasin. Two of these brothers became heads of the country’s missions in Washington DC, New York and Canberra.

Ismail was also the person who proposed and initiated the land development schemes from the mid-1950s, valuable work that was continued by the second Prime Minister, Abdul Razak Hussein.

The Tunku regarded Razak as a close friend and comrade-in-arms, although he sometimes made fun of Razak’s scowl, which, at the age of 35, made him look like a sexagenarian.

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The Tunku once related a story about the time when he asked Mrs Serrano, the wife of the then Philippines foreign secretary, to guess Razak’s age.

She guessed he was 60!

It was these three Rahman brothers, along with Razak, Khir, Senu, VT Sambanthan and Tan Siew Sin, whom the Tunku relied on to devise strategies and build the basic infrastructure – access to piped water, electricity, education, healthcare and social welfare – for the young nation that attained independence in 1957 during an acute “Emergency” situation.

That emergency was largely over by 1960 when the first development plan for Malaya was launched.

When the First Malaysia Plan was launched in 1966, people had high hopes for a better life. In his foreword to the plan on 25 November 1965, the Tunku wrote of the need for “a new comprehensive and integrated Plan for the development of all the constituent states of Malaysia”.

He added that the “progress made over the last five years in the Malaysian economy has been impressive and gratifying”.

In the final part, he wrote: “I would also like to pay a warm tribute to my colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, who, in spite of his many other heavy commitments, devoted his close and personal attention to directing the preparation of the Plan.”

The Tunku planned, initiated and succeeded in forming Malaysia and in leading the country through the years of “confrontation” with Indonesia, the separation of Singapore and the prosperous 1960s.

He ensured that the Malays in the peninsula would continue to have a dominant role in administering the federal government of Malaysia, somewhat disregarding the inclusion of the two humongous Borneo territories.

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Those few distinguished stalwarts who stood by the Tunku in the 1955-1963 period are highlighted to show the abiding spirit of teamwork, unity of purpose and camaraderie that held and guided the Tunku’s cabinet.

The Tunku was a magnanimous, munificent and charming prime minister of good humour who respected his cabinet colleagues as equals, friends and trusted allies who shared the collective responsibility of uplifting the wellbeing of the people.

There was a shared sense of collegiality and mutual confidence among the ministers in Tunku’s cabinet. He had only one deputy prime minister throughout his entire 15-year tenure, and he consistently gave this deputy the leeway to raise and act on any issue with the cabinet’s acquiescence.

Some three decades after the Tunku’s passing, to claim censoriously he did nothing is disrespectful and distasteful.

This letter is in response to Mahathir, who was interviewed by Ashaari Imran Azman Shah for the Harun Diaries. Ashaari, Harun Idris’s grandson, lives in London, where the interview was conducted.

M Santhananaban is a retired Malaysian ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Raymond Rayan
Raymond Rayan
12 Mar 2023 10.07am

NOW TUN M is desperate with the stand and persecution of the corrupt politicians and businessman by our PM DSAI. he is trying is best to win Malay support to oust the PM so that his family would not be prosecuted.
Any raakyat with a sane mind would like to know how his children became billionaires not millionaires
Tun is the mastermind of the racial and religious segration we are facing today. Tun u
you are actually destroying our peaceful and multi racial and religious country.
In the past everyone mix and enjoy each other company irrespective of their religious and cultural backgound. NOW whats happening
We are going back to the STONE AGES with all the DO.s and DON’T imposed by the religious bureaucrats that’s dividing the rakyat.

Dr. SNMN
Dr. SNMN
11 Mar 2023 5.07pm

SLM MSIA. AS MSNS WE NEED TO KNOW OUR COMMON HISTORY. N BE COMMENSENSICAL ALWAYS, FOR THE GOOD OF THE NATION. I BELIEVE THE TUNKU WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN THE ORIGINS OF THE USE OF THE TERM ‘BUMIPUTRA’. HE WANTED THE POSITION OF THE MALYAYS, BUMIS, MUSLIMS TO BE ALWAYS SECURE IN A FAST-MUSHROOMING PLURAL MSIA. I BELIEVE HE WAS QUIETLY AWARE OF THE IMPACT THE ACTIVE N HARDY CHINESE CAN HAVE OVER THE COUNTRY, BOTH ECONOMICALLY, POLITICALLY N SOCIALLY OVER TIME.HE ENSURED THE CHINESE,INDIANS CAN HAVE A PLACE IN THE MSN SUN. IT IS UP TO US, THE ‘OTHER’ TO STRIVE FURTHER, FOR NATION’S AND ONE’S GOOD. THUS BUMIPUTERAISM WAS GIVEN BIRTH TO, N IT IS NOW CONSTITUTIONALLY ENSHRINED IN ATR’153 FOR THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES.

Stephen Tan Ban Cheng
Stephen Tan Ban Cheng
9 Mar 2023 10.58pm

INIMITABLY INIMICAL DEMARCHE!

Your Excellency, that assertion on our dear Tunku having done nothing for the Malay rakyat by Tun Dr Mahathr Mohamad is such a stretch of the common truth and a denial of any common man’s rational behaviour, leave alone our Tunku.

I shall stand damned if I ever dignify it with any response after you highlighted this infamous inimitably inimical demarche from Dr Mahathir!

Orang Ulu
Orang Ulu
12 Mar 2023 10.28am

What did this M….. do during 22 yars and 22 months? Transformed [many] Malays to be ketuanan beggers.

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