Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dollah Kok Lanas’ conversations with Tunku

 P Gunasegaram     Published     Updated

“People can say anything about me but none will accuse me of ever having been a hypocrite.”
- Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first prime minister.

QUESTION TIME Two days after the death of controversial political figure Abdullah Ahmad, once political secretary to and close confidante of Malaysia’s second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein, I looked for his book ‘Conversations with Tunku Abdul Rahman’ at a shop in Kuala Lumpur. It was released just months earlier.

I was curious as to what he had to say in the book and even more so the conversations with Tunku, Malaysia’s first prime minister, who stepped down in 1970 in the wake of the May 13, 1969 racial riots.

And the book did not disappoint for the useful nuggets of historical information it revealed which help to confirm long-held suspicions about May 13 and the way Tunku stepped down.

There’s lots more in the book but this review will focus mainly on May 13, Abdul Razak and Tunku’s relationship, Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman’s role in the conflict and what Tunku thought about Dr Mahathir Mohamad being chosen as deputy by Hussein Onn, who succeeded Abdul Razak as prime minister.

Curiously, the conversations were taped in the early eighties - 1982 to 1984 - more than a dozen years after Tunku stepped down as prime minister, and the book was written in 1985, over 30 years ago. But it was published recently in March 2016 for reasons only best known, but not divulged, by Abdullah, who was popularly known as Dollah Kok Lanas, after the Kelantan parliamentary constituency for which he was MP for a while.
 
The reasons why Dollah Kok Lanas (photo) took such a long time to publish the book died with him when he passed away last month from cancer, but when he published the book he knew that he did not have long to live and wanted that book to come out before his passing.

Significantly, Dollah dedicates the book “for the Tunku, still the greatest Malaysian” over Tunku’s successor Abdul Razak, whom Dollah was very close to, and former prime minister Mahathir, one of the then so-called young Turks which included former deputy prime minister Musa Hitam in their ranks, both of whom fiercely opposed the Tunku.

Dollah actually owes a debt of gratitude to Dr Mahathir, who wrote a foreword for this book, and who released Dollah along with others from detention under the infamous Internal Security Act. Dollah was detained from 1976 to 1981 during Hussein Onn’s time as prime minister by then-home minister Ghazali Shafie for being a communist. Dollah vehemently denied being a communist and alleged that Ghazali ordered his detention for being on the wrong side of political skullduggery at that time.

Looking through the book, the first thing that struck me was the inclusion of a letter from National Archives of Malaysia director-general Azemi Abdul Aziz dated March 11, 2015 certifying that there were indeed recordings of the conversation with Tunku and that the original tapes were deposited with the archives of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Suspected May 13 collusion

The book is not a continuous series of interviews but excerpts of interviews, with Dollah setting the stage with his own comments which, while always useful and interesting, are not always as impartial as they should have been. That also puts him in a place to pick and choose what he wants to use from the conversations, making the book in effect an edited conversation. But still there many nuggets of information which challenge the status quo.

Consider this extract of the conversation: “You (Dollah) knew Tun Razak well. He was a very ambitious man… When the 13 May (1969) race riots broke out he was in my house that day and Harun (Idris - then Selangor menteri besar and Umno leader) rang up my house and instead of asking for me, he asked to talk to Tun Razak... But Harun never rang me up.

“Remember the communist funeral procession? It precipitated the race riots. The permission to hold it was given by Tun Razak. I knew nothing of it… What perplexed me was, why did Tun Razak, and the security people (the police) allow the procession to take place this time, when the government had never before allowed them to hold demonstrations. To me, I think it was deliberately to embarrass me. Definitely to embarrass me!

“When Harun rang up to speak to Tun Razak, I suspected there must be some understanding. I don’t know. I don’t like to think about it.”
While Tunku said that Tun Razak “hurt me very much”, he had good things to say about Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman who re-joined the cabinet in 1969 following the May riots after stepping down in 1967.

“I have the greatest regard for Tun Ismail. He was very straight, very honest and very sincere. The work he did he did very well...

“You would remember wouldn’t you (to Dollah)? When you all wanted to play me out... Ismail told me, ‘You stay where you are. Don’t move. Let me do all the work for you.' So he came back to government. Tun Ismail stood by me during the race riots and during the subsequent power struggles in Umno.”  

Ismail became deputy prime minister to Abdul Razak after Tunku stepped down in 1970 but died in 1973, three years before Abdul Razak himself died of cancer in 1976 and Hussein Onn became prime minister.

The Tunku had some significant things to say about Hussein: “Hussein came to see me the day before he announced his cabinet line-up on March 5, 1976. He had come to tell me something but he never opened his mouth. The next morning, I heard he had made Dr Mahathir his deputy.

“I think he had come to see me to tell of his decision; but rather, he was following Tun Razak’s desire that Mahathir should be made deputy prime minister should he (Hussein) succeed him. He obviously picked Mahathir not because he wanted him but simply because he was carrying out the wishes of the man who had died.”

Tunku had expelled Mahathir in 1969 when he had criticised him and wrote an open letter against him. Mahathir was subsequently readmitted to Umno by Abdul Razak, given a parliamentary seat to contest in the 1974 election and given the important portfolio of education minister in Abdul Razak’s cabinet - one of the fastest, if not the fastest rise ever, among Umno leaders.

Tunku on Islam

These are just a sample of the interesting pieces of information emerging from the interview, appearing to confirm what people have been suspecting all along. There is more - on Tunku’s views about Islam, the Malays, the Indonesian confrontation, the rulers, the making of Malaysia and the expulsion of Singapore, all of which make compelling reading.

Here is just more extract - on his Muslimness: “Yes I was a playboy, a man of the world. I used to dance a lot. I smoke, I enjoy brandy, like my tea thick. I love horseracing and I play poker and other forms of gambling.

“But deep in my heart I have always been a religious man. I pray, I fast, I pay zakat fithrah (tithe) and I have been on a pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca)... and Allah knows all this and more. I have done and still continue to do a lot for Islam within Malaysia and outside Malaysia. None can and will deny that.

“People can say anything about me but none will accuse me of ever having been a hypocrite.”    

Certainly Dollah Kok Lanas’ book is an important one for it clarifies a lot in terms of the history of the times, establishing for instance even the Tunku’s preoccupation with maintaining Malay supremacy, while appearing to establish in Tunku’s mind at least, collusion between Abdul Razak and Mahathir in putting pressure on Tunku to step down.

It is a book that Malaysians who want greater clarity and accuracy of the events that shaped this country of ours would want to read, considering that much of recent history has been clouded and obfuscated by a controlled press which largely spews news favourable to the powers in office at the time and that there is little by way of research and study to make things clearer and closer to the truth.

Hopefully there may be more. The director-general of the National Archives says in the letter of affirmation of the tapes that “the complete recordings of their conversation will be made available after the demise of Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad”. Will there be more?

P GUNASEGARAM shares Abdullah Ahmad’s view that the Tunku is still the greatest Malaysian. Contact: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

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