Tunku will always be the true leader

My late grandfather often talked about Tunku Abdul Rahman fondly.

I remember Sunday afternoons at my grandparents’: tales of our first prime minister told under the watchful portrait of Tunku on his mantelpiece.

The signed photograph was given as a gift from Tunku himself and after my grandparents’ deaths, his portrait now sits on my study table – an aspiration for a better Malaysia.

For years, tales of Tunku enthralled me. From his good humour among friends to the stressful times of the communist insurgency and distress when Singapore split from Malaysia. My greatest regret was never penning these memoirs down.

I was a child then, but these passed-down tales of our founding father stuck with me through all these years.

“What would Tunku feel if he lived to see these times?” is a contemplation I wrestle with often while rustling through heated issues of racial and religious tension in the newspapers and online portals. Why have we gone so far down this crevice of strife?

A simplistic answer would be because of politics, greed and power.

The true answer is more depressing than that. It is our lack of appreciation towards history.

We lack a common narrative to strive forward with. In today’s narrative, we carry forward agendas of race and religion so strongly that we instinctively claw for space when the boundaries are threaded upon.

In today’s setting, Tunku would have not survived the politics. Like May 13 when it was politics that set him down from his premiership, the rules of today’s politics would have been more tense if not more damaging.

My grandfather often hailed Tunku as a visionary. A man who pulled everyone together, despite their ethnic differences, to free Malaya from the British.

He may have been an aristocrat and would have not been an exemplary Muslim (it’s an open secret that he often drank whisky).

He may have lost leadership quality in the face of May 13. And by all measures in today’s society, he would have been an idealist who would be met with cynicism, as many of our time. But he remains my inspiration.

Tunku teaches us the valuable lesson of having a common narrative. School textbooks paint a rosy but simplistic picture – making the narrative an Umno one as you continue flipping the pages.

It should also be remembered that Tunku himself decried Umno in the 1990s, saying that it had lost all objective of aspiring for national agenda.

Ironically, it was an Utusan Malaysia headline.

Our common narrative is now splintered with everyone trying to grab for the biggest piece of the pie and defending their fragmented rights.

Dialogue is contained only within certain classes and sects in public and more often than not, understanding is a conclusion rarely achieved.

When an Islamic NGO comes up to offer a RM1,200 bounty for slapping Teresa Kok, one could not help but scratch one’s head in disbelief.

But one could also not discount that Muslims themselves feel their rights trampled on by outside forces. This narrative exists.

Ask the common man on the street why they would not vote for the opposition: “They’ll take away the special position of Islam in this country. We’ll lose our Malay rights. Who will help us then?”

As banal as these responses are, they are also an indication of the insecurities and fears that opportunistic political parties would prey upon in order to stay in power.

And, on the other side of the coin, you have an opposition alternative that is proving itself a faded copy of Umno, employing the same politics under a different name.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s political manoeuvring in Kajang to “save” Selangor is no better example than the public’s trust being violated.

One only needs to find the contradictions in Anwar’s statements in chronological order. From resigning from Pakatan Rakyat to the existence of Bangladeshi voters – one could only afford to ask oneself if these are the politicians we deserve.

What we have in today’s Malaysia are politicians, not statesmen.

“Tunku was the people’s man. Post-independence was a hopeful time for us all. Everything was changing. We had our freedom to choose, to change, to be better and to be the best of ourselves,” my grandfather lamented often.

Civil servants in the building-block years of Malaysia were ones driven by purpose for a better country.

In our conversations, my grandfather and his contemporaries often had that hopeful shine in their eyes. If one looked closer, it was nostalgia for a more hopeful time.

In my heart, Tunku will always be the true leader of Malaysia.


This article was first published in The Malaysian Insider.