FROM TUN MUTAHIR TO TUN MAHATIR the Indian Muslims who created ‘Malay nationalism’, not the Umno Malays



Young Malaysians in particular have increasingly suspected for long that our history has been highly politicised by Umno for their self-serving reasons. Their suspicions have been reflected to a certain extent in the proceedings of the Malaysian History Colloquium on Feb 25 at Universiti Malaya.

Panelist Professor Ramlah Adam, for one, pointed out that the British never really colonized Malaya — an Anglicised term derived from Tamil, for the southern half of the Kra Peninsula – or peninsular south. If anything, it follows therefore, that it was various communities from the Archipelago who colonised or squatted in the Orang Asli country of the peninsular south which was then ruled by Bangkok.

The Malacca Empire, started by a Hindu prince from Palembang, was also a squatter colony. Today, Muslim missionaries are trying to get the Orang Asli to “masuk Melayu” to create a fait accompli and erase their history. The Orang Asli are forbidden to build their Christian churches and denied their land.

Ramlah did not mention it but malai means hill in Tamil. The first in history, away from Cambodia where Malay originated as a dialect, was Malaiur (hill country in Tamil) in the Jambi Province, Sumatra. Now, the proverbial cat is out of the bag so to speak, albeit historically.
The British, according to Ramlah, merely administered the peninsular south, ostensibly on behalf of the “Malay” sultans, arranged a monthly purse — stipend or pension — and did away with the post of Bendhara (Chief Minister) and Temenggong (Defence Minister).

Ramlah’s outburst, like her other peers’ previously, had to happen sooner or later given that Umno leaders embark, from time to time, on a propaganda binge on what constitutes the history of the peninsular south.

Umno leaders, being the self-serving lot they are, have gone more than overboard on our history once too often. Sometimes, a Sultan or two joined the Indian Muslim-infested Umno in its political bull on our history.

Many people still remember that the previous Sultan of Selangor once “stripped” then MCA Deputy President Lee Kim Sai of his datukship for pointing out that the Malay-speaking communities in the peninsula south were also immigrants and descendants of immigrants just like the Indians and Chinese.

The Sultan, a Bugis, then sheepishly gave back Lee’s datukship by the backdoor when the latter returned the award’s medallion to the Palace. Lee was made to promise that he would not repeat his “offending” statement, even if true, given the “sensitivity” of Umno’s mantra on bangsa, agama, negara, the three sacred cows in the peninsular south.

Lee Kim Sai is a well-known anecdote, especially in the Kelang Valley Region (KVR), and illustrates the sheer hypocrisy that takes place whenever our true history is pointed out.

Orang Asli the true natives of the peninsular south

It’s true that the British were in our country at one point in our history. They left behind a Federal Constitution which despite Article 153 and Malay Reservation land does not state that the Malay-speaking communities in the peninsular south are Natives of the land.

This is not surprising since the Malay-speaking communities comprised many different ethnic and linguistic groups from various islands in the Archipelago, and Muslims from the Indian sub-continent and the Arab states, among others.

Many from the Archipelago were runaways for one reason or other including slavery and crime and made for hideouts in the swamps of the peninsular south. Their numbers increased dramatically during the British administration. In his Origin of Malay Nationalism, Professor William Roff estimates that as many as 85 per cent of the Malay-speaking communities in the peninsular south in 1885 were either immigrants or the descendents of immigrants

The one and only true Natives of the peninsular south are the Orang Asli just as the Dusun – including the Kadazan or urban Dusun and the Murut — and the Dayak are the one and only true Natives of Sabah and Sarawak respectively. In fact, the whole of the great island of Borneo is Dayak, a term which also covers Dusun.

As for the British…

The British were like the bull in a china shop but were nevertheless sufficiently focused to go to war with Bangkok, not once but twice, to carve out the peninsular south from Siam, the Thai kingdom. The British now had their own slice of Thai territory to plant rubber and mine tin.

All this is in our history books except that a political slant has crept in to depict the Siamese in a fairy tale as outsiders in the occupation of “Malay” land which, thanks to the British, had been freed from their control. In that case, why didn’t the British also seize what is now known as South Thailand, also inhabited by Malay-speaking Muslim communities besides other Thais professing the Buddhist faith?

The British found the sultans descended from Bugis pirates governing river states – kerajaan sungei – which did not extend beyond their toll collection points and the narrow stretches on both of the river land near the coastline. In early Arab and Muslim history, a sultan was not aristocracy but a democratically elected spiritual head – a mini Pope or mini Caliph – of the local ummah (Islamic faithful).

The British could not fathom a ruler – albeit of the squatters – who did not have territory in the western sense. They lost little time in drawing the territorial boundaries of various states, stopped the toll collection, and as aforesaid arranged for the sultans – convenient British puppets — to get regular pensions/allowances from their administration and stopped slavery, among other practices. They also started the Conference of Malay Rulers and stopped the practice of the Sultans sending the Bunga Mas – taxes in the form of tribute – to Bangkok. In future, the British would collect all taxes.

Again, all this is in the history books but it’s the highly politicised interpretation that’s misleading. Indians and Chinese, for example, have been trying to point out for decades since the British left that the Orang Asli are the one and only true Natives of the peninsular south and that the Malay-speaking communities don’t enter the picture here.

Muslim world influence?

There’s also Umno propaganda in our history books that the “independence” movement in the peninsular south was inspired by the Muslim world. Reference has been made to Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey.

Nothing could be further from the truth. How can anyone in the peninsular south look past the great freedom movement in an India on the march to places so far away for “inspiration”? Indonesia is an exception.

The reality is closer home. Muslims from Kerala, India, created the concept of Malay nationalism in Singapore to oppose Chinese economic domination. These Malayalees started the first press to print in the Malay language, reaching out to a wider population, and the first newspaper i.e. Utusan Melayu in Jawi and later Utusan Malaysia in Rumi.

Out of this first group of nationalists came Yusuf Ishak, whose portrait adorns the Singapore currency, and who became the first president of the island republic and city state. Another brother, Aziz Ishak, was sacked by first Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman as his Agriculture Minister. Aziz, alleged the Tunku, misused some money meant to buy feed for chickens. Rahim Ishak, the youngest of the brothers, became a Minister in Singapore.

Malay nationalism created by the Indians

The bottom line is that Malay nationalism had nothing to do with the Malay-speaking communities across both sides of the causeway.

It was a purely Indian creation, by failed anti-Chinese businessmen, drawing inspiration from Indian nationalism which led to Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience fueled-“Quit India” movement urging the British to leave the subcontinent.

Is it any wonder therefore that Mahathir Mohamad, of Malayalee roots, became the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia. He remains, after retirement, the de facto Prime Minister.

The efforts of the Malayalee Muslim creators of Malay nationalism have been rewarded in the Federal Constitution through the definition on Malay, Article 153 on Special Position – extrapolated in the New Economic Policy (1970-1990) –, Article 152 on the Malay language and Article 3 on Islam and Freedom of Worship, among others.

Malay language

The existence of a Malay language does not mean ipso facto that a Malay race follows. Language is no proof of the race.

Malay became the lingua franca of the Archipelago, hence Malay Archipelago, after the Hindu and Buddhist missionaries developed it from its Cambodian dialect origins into a medium of communication for religion, trade, administration and education.

The Hindus injected Sanskrit words into Malay. The Buddhists injected Pali – a Sanskrit dialect used by Buddhists – into Malay. Both Hindus and Buddhists found Malay to be an easier language to learn and promote unlike the major languages in the region like Javanese and Sundanese.

All these facts should be mentioned in our history books and credit given where it’s due. We should get the self-serving politics, and cheap at that, out of our history.

As long as thistyrant, Mahathir is till around, no Malaysian PM can run the country without his influence & meddling. He will always be a stone in their shoe.
Mahathir may have few regrets in his 22 years as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, but Malaysians have just one regret for 22 years – chosen Mahathir as their Prime Minister.
Mahathir ‘would throw people into jail without trial, but would also break down in public and weep’. — Reuters pic
Mahathir, flanked by Abdullah (right) and Najib, raise hands at the end of the Umno annual assembly in Kuala Lumpur on March 28, 2009. — Reuters pic
APRIL 3 —Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s favourite song is “My Way”, the lugubrious anthem with a French melody and English lyrics by Paul Anka that was made famous by Frank Sinatra, who hated it. “Regrets, I’ve had a few / But then again, too few to mention,” it goes.
Mahathir’s regrets do indeed remain too few to mention. In Barry Wain’s new biography, “Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times” (Palgrave Macmillan), we are reminded of how intriguing and pugnacious a figure we have lost from the front lines of regional and global politics.
Malaysia’s former prime minister is no longer causing such strife for Australia as he once did in his full, resplendent recalcitrance. But he remains constantly in the public eye at home, where he has become an insatiable blogger, in a mix of English and Malay, stirring trouble for his successors.
Mahathir is a bundle of contradictions, according to Wain, who brings the complexity of the character alive through layers of convincing and meticulous detail.
He has been simultaneously “a Malay champion who was the Malays’ fiercest critic and an ally of Chinese-Malaysian businessmen; a tireless campaigner against Western economic domination who assiduously courted American and European capitalists; a blunt, combative individual who extolled the virtues of consensual Asian values”.
Wain is an important Australian media figure in Asia, having worked in the region for 37 years, chiefly for The Wall Street Journal Asia, of which he became editor, and the late, much lamented Far Eastern Economic Review. He shifted to Asia after a promising career in Australia, where he worked for the Nine Network, the ABC andThe Australian.
Wain is now writer in residence at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. His book has topped the bestseller lists in Singapore, where it rapidly sold out three printings and is in its fourth. The Malaysian Home Affairs Ministry is more circumspect, not sure whether to permit its publication there.
No matter: large numbers are being carried into the country anyway, including by Malaysians returning home over the Causeway from visits to Singapore.
Wain interviewed Mahathir three times for the book, although it is by no means an authorised biography in the sense of being initiated by the Malaysian maverick who “delighted in bucking the system and opting for the unconventional course, especially if told he could not, or should not”.
The author adds: “Even while exercising tight political control, Mahathir never embraced the Malaysian establishment, preferring to try [to] create a new social and political order more to his liking.”
Wain says he was attracted to Mahathir as a subject because he is “one of the most outstanding and fascinating leaders of Southeast Asia since World War II. A person with really strong ideas.
“He became a doctor to gain a professional qualification to gain standing as a young person in the Malay community in order to go into politics. He evolved into a spokesman for the Third World and on Islamic issues, one who fitted into a pattern of authoritarian leaders who included Lee Kuan Yew, Ferdinand Marcos and Suharto. He is a bundle of contradictions.” Wain says Mahathir is a relatively softly spoken person one who stressed at home the traditional and religious values that had been drummed into him.
He and his wife, Siti Hasmah — a doctor who was his first girlfriend — had four children, then adopted three more when they were in their late 50s.
His grandfather, or possibly great-grandfather, had come from India, and his father, Mohamad Iskandar, was a Penang Malay, a locally-born Muslim with Indian ancestry. Mahathir grew up the youngest of nine children in Alor Star, in a lower middle-class family of battlers. He was precociously obstinate, Wain says.
Later, as national leader, “he would throw people into jail without trial, but would also break down in public and weep”.
“Neither was put on,” he says, “although his opponents would say, give him an Oscar.
“He had an ability to compartmentalise things. He never discussed politics at home. After a momentous day, the family would have to watch TV or read the newspapers to see what had happened.”
But there was nothing nuanced or ambivalent about his views of Australia. Several variations have circulated through the years, but Wain has unearthed what is likely to remain the definitive version.
Mahathir was invited to visit Australia under a programme that is still in place and that many countries run: rising stars are spotted by embassies abroad and taken on an all-expenses-paid tour intended to instil a friendly, informed understanding of the country. But he lost his parliamentary seat in the watershed 1969 elections that resulted in seat gains for a largely Chinese opposition party and precipitated Malay-Chinese race riots, and soon afterwards — a few days before he was due to leave — the Australians postponed the visit, citing variously a lack of funds and an overloaded visitor programme.
Mahathir ‘would throw people into jail without trial, but would also break down in public and weep’. — Reuters pic
He believed it was because of his political failure, which also involved him being expelled for a time from the dominant Umno. Mahathir said he was hurt. Two years later, he paid his own way to a seminar at Monash University in Melbourne and was then invited by the government to visit Canberra, “only to find the official hospitality in the capital as bleak as the wintry weather”, Wain says.
“An embarrassed junior official tried to save the occasion on his own initiative by hosting a dinner for Dr Mahathir.”
On his only official visit, in 1984, Wain writes, “he was immensely sympathetic to Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who broke down and wept during their meeting, having just learned of his daughter’s potentially fatal drug addiction”.
“Responding both as a fellow patient and doctor, Dr Mahathir went to considerable lengths to get information that he thought might help the Hawke family. But politics was something else.”
He responded to Australian MPs who complained about detentions without trial: “Please concentrate on fair treatment for the Aborigines and Asians in your midst, and leave us alone.”
At various times he delivered a stream of caustic comments while hosting a state dinner in Kuala Lumpur for Malcolm Fraser and complained that Hawke’s description of the execution of two drug dealers as “barbaric” applied to the entire Malaysian population. He lambasted Paul Keating for calling him “recalcitrant” for not attending the first Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders’ summit. And he attacked John Howard for expressing concern over his former deputy Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s first arrest and trials. Tensions are inevitable, says Wain: “He’s a prickly character, and Australians are outspoken.”
Mahathir introduced the affirmative action Bumiputera scheme to privilege Malays. Foreign investors flocked in even as he lambasted the West. “This time of easy money masked a lot of problems, though,” Wain says.
Now confidence has drained away and Malaysians are not investing in their own country. Mahathir doesn’t say his affirmative action politics was wrong but berates Malays for failing to seize the opportunities they have been given to get ahead. Umno has ruled the country for more than 50 years, since soon after independence from Britain. Wain says Mahathir turned it into one of Malaysia’s biggest business conglomerates.
Since the worldwide resurgence of Islam, Umno also has been steadily bidding on religious values against the main opposition PAS.
As a result, Wain says, it has become more extremist than PAS on some issues; for instance, Umno, unlike PAS, opposes the use by Christians of Allah for God, a usage that pre-dates Islam on the Arabian peninsula but one that has sparked riots and violence in Malaysia.
In part because of its state-sponsored religious surge, and also because of its economic slump, “the country is in a lot more trouble now than most people realise”, Wain says.
“But at the government level Malaysia is so inward looking, it hasn’t noticed this decline compared with other countries, such as neighbouring Indonesia.” Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who replaced Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the successor whom Mahathir worked hard and successfully to undermine, understands the problems and talks up inclusiveness and reform, Wain says. “But at the same time, parts of his own party, Umno, are spewing vitriol against other races and religions.”
The police and judicial process is also under a cloud of suspicion.
Teoh Beng Hock, 30, an aide in the opposition party led by Anwar — who was dramatically ousted as Mahathir’s deputy and is facing fresh sodomy charges — was interrogated on the 14th floor of a building in Selangor by officers in the anti-corruption commission for nine hours in connection with claims that his boss acted improperly over the purchase of RM2,500 flags. His body was found at the base of the building the next day. He was to have been married that day. The coroner’s finding was, bizarrely, simply “sudden death”. No charges have been laid, months later.
Malaysia inherited functioning institutions from Britain. But, Wain writes, “apart from turning Umno into a powerful patronage machine that eventually slipped from his grasp, leaving the party singularly ill-equipped to face a globalising future, Dr Mahathir cut Malaysia adrift institutionally”, emasculating institutions so he would meet no obstruction, creating a culture that rewarded only obedience. He says Malaysia has escaped much of the scrutiny to which it might have been subjected in recent years because of the succession of dramatic events in neighbouring Indonesia and Thailand.
When he was living in Malaysia in the 1970s and 80s, Wain says, “the country was always doing better than people said in public. Now it’s just the opposite.”
Mahathir’s timing, in other words, was impeccable. He quit in 2003 while the going was good, a very rare attribute in a national leader, especially one so long in office, 22 years in his case.
Now, as a crucial piece of unfinished business from the Mahathir epoch, Umno remains engaged in what Wain describes as “a life-and-death struggle with the forces of reform, skilfully marshalled by the articulate and resurgent Anwar Ibrahim”.
This struggle has already disposed of Abdullah, “jerked in all directions until he was thrown out”. Now Najib is trying to ride the tiger, with Mahathir jeering from the sidelines, still championing the claimed Asian way, but most of all his way. — The Australian

We as a nation would be proudly celebrating the 64th Independence of our country during this month. On this historic occasion, Indians at every forum try to recall the sacrifices made by the freedom fighters from all walks of Life. But unfortunately, because of our narrow approach and a prejudiced view, not all people are equally highlighted in the history and even in today’s media. Our unfair historians have given an impression that Muslim community has not contributed much to the freedom struggle. Hence let us turn back to the pages of history to find out the truth, about sacrifices of our Muslim revolutionaries.

How many Indians today know “Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan” (Frontier Gandhi) a great nationalist who spent 45 years of his life in jail for the freedom of India. Let us also recall the sacrifice of Barkatullah of Bhopal, one of the founders of Ghadar party, who created a network of anti-British organizations and who died penniless in Germany in 1927.

Syed Rahmath Shah of Ghader party, who worked as an underground revolutionary in France was hanged for his part in the unsuccessful Ghadar uprising in 1915.

Ali Ahmed Siddiqui of Faizabad (Uttar Pradesh) who planned the “Indian Mutiny” in Malaya and Burma was hanged in 1917.

Umar Subhani an industrialist and a millionaire of Bombay who presented blank cheque to Gandhiji for congress expenses and who ultimately gave his life for the cause of independence.

Mohammed Basheer, Khuda Baksh, A Zakaria, Allah Nawaz, Abdul Aziz, and tens of thousands of such revolutionaries have been ignored, The History book “Qaiseral Tawarikh” mentions the number of Muslims executed in Delhi alone during 1857-58 was 27000, excluding those killed in general massacre.

Some of our historians have made allegations that Muslims in general have a tendency of “separatism” and do not love India as their mother land. The answer to this is our own “TIGER of Mysore” Tippu Sultan who died in the battle field defending his own country.

At a time when most of the Indian rulers were incapable of understanding the consequences of the rise of British, Tippu Sultan had developed a world consciousness. He had sent envoys to turkey in 1784-85 to France in1787-88, to Zaman shah of Afghanistan in 1876 and in 1799 which was intercepted by British.

Tippu Sultan was a champion of Hindu- Muslim unity. The archaeological Department of the Government of Mysore still preserves his thirty letters written to Shankarcharya of Shringeri Mutt, a great saint of his time, reverentially begging to him to return to his state and pray for his success in fighting against the foreigners.

Dr. R.C. Majundar says “of all the Indian ruling princess of this period, Hyder Ali and his son Tippu Sultan were the most uncompromising opponents of the growth of British Political power”

Gandhiji in one of his articles calls Tippu as a greatest martyr of Indian freedom.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in one of his foreword writes. “The revolt against British scarcely had any tinge of communalism, in their struggle for freedom both Hindus and Muslims stood shoulder to shoulder with the single object of liberating themselves from the British oppression.”

During the first independence revolt of 1857, in Kanpur region, it was Nana Sahib and Azimullah who raised the banner of revolt.

In Delhi, during the same period, Moulana Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi who was an influential Moulvi, had addressed a congregation of Muslims in Jamia Masjid and gave a Fatwa (religious decree) to fight the British. When the revolt against British in Delhi was defeated, one of the British officers wrote “Hundreds of Ulema were blown by cannons while thousands were hanged and others deported to Andaman Island. Among the first batch of persons to arrive at the Andaman were well-known Moulvis like Mufti Mazhar Kareem of Delhi and Munshi Inayat Ahamed of Lucknow.

These are just a few instances I have quoted which is just a “tip of the iceberg” from the pages of History. Now I would like to put forth a few questions to our learned critics, biased historians, and intellectuals the following.

a) Are these facts not enough to acknowledge that Muslims have equally contributed to the freedom struggle?
b) Just by closing the eyes, do they think, they can change the facts of history?
c) Are we really following the principles of secularism by ignoring a particular section whereas highlighting the other sections?
d) Is this not the path of “Divide & Rule” policy which was followed by British tyrants who in turn destroyed the original Indian culture of “mutual respect”?
e) Is this tendency of hatred not dangerous to the future of this country?
f) Are these so-called “Intellectuals” not interested to see this country progress and prosper as a single nation?
g) Have they forgotten our own mantra of “Unity in Diversity”?

Finally, let us all sit together with an unbiased mind and agree that all sections have equally contributed to the freedom of this country. Let good sense prevail and we appeal to all our like minded, right thinking citizens to come forward and prove these critics wrong. Let us finally pray that God give the right guidance and wisdom to all Indians and let this country progress and prosper to become one of the greatest nations of the world.


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