Controversies of history - look at the facts please

I refer to the current controversy arising from the alleged statement made by Mohamad Sabu on the Bukit Kepong incident of Feb 23, 1950. Allow me to put the incident and the history of the Malayan Communist Party and left-wing nationalism in its proper perspective.

First, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was formed in 1930 to establish a communist republic in Malaya. One cannot deny the historical fact that the communists too fought for independence. Indeed, this fact is even acknowledged by our first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Second, it is also historically accurate to state that the communists played a major role in our nation’s independence. According to internationally renowned historian, Cheah Boon Kheng, “Not much recognition has been accorded the communist insurgents for the important role as a catalyst to Malaya’s independence.”

It is an undeniable fact that the communist insurrection speeded up the independence of Malaya. In the words of Tunku Abdul Rahman, “Baling led straight to Merdeka.”

Third, our current history textbooks (as compared to the earlier editions) have downplayed the role of left-wing nationalism in securing our country’s independence. For example, the earlier Form Three textbook (1990 edition) provided a fairly detailed account about AMCJA-Putera and the hartal organised in 1947.

The current Form Three textbook makes no mention at all about these facts which are only scantily covered in the current Form Five history textbook. The AMCJA-Putera coalition marks an important development in our nation’s history. As stated by Cheah Boon Kheng, “The AMCJA-Putera 1946-1948 anti-federation campaign marked the first efforts at a non-communal approach to Malayan politics.” This fact has been downplayed in our current secondary history textbooks.

Fourth, it is a little known historical fact that Chin Peng was indeed granted an Order of the British Empire for his contribution as a liaison officer between Force 136 and the MPAJA in his fight against the Japanese. Only later after the emergency was declared in 1948, did Chin Peng become Public Enemy No 1.

Nevertheless, it is improper for anyone to belittle the bravery of the policemen who lost their lives in defending the Bukit Kepong police station for at least two reasons. First, the struggle of the communists did not reflect the popular will of the people of Malaya at that time.

A vast majority of the people detested the armed struggle of the communists which by end July 1960 had resulted in the killing of 1,346 policemen, 519 of military forces and 2,473 civilians.

Second, the policemen fought bravely against the communist insurgents to defend their homeland. To my mind, they were heroes who fought bravely to uphold their honour and that of their country.

Merdeka or not?

According to press reports, an academician from the National Professors’ Council has commented that Malaya (with the exception of the Straits Settlements) was never a British colony. In a similar vein, a leading Malaysian historian has commented that the British never ruled our country; they had merely taken over the administration of our country. How valid are these statements? Who really ruled Malaya – the Malay rulers or the British?

It is true that pre-war Malaya was divided into three distinct groups of states: the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore which were British colonies and administered directly by the Colonial Office in London; the Federated Malay States (FMS) of Perak, Selangor, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan (with British Residents) which were protectorates and strictly speaking not colonies; and the Unfederated Malay States (UMS) of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Johore (with British Advisers) which too were protectorates.

Under the Residential System (a system of indirect rule) introduced by the British in Malaya, the Resident’s advice “must be acted upon on all questions other than those touching Malay religion and customs.”

However, as aptly stated by LA Mills (a highly regarded historian), “In actual practice there was little difference between the administration of the crown colony and the protectorates. British authority was much the same in both.

“The real rulers of Malaya were the British although legally every act of the government was done in the name of the ruler.”

Indeed, according to JM Gullick, “The administrative structure in the Federated Malay States was that of a crown colony.” The executive head of the state government was the British Resident. Federal departments were dominated by British officers.

The Malay rulers (particularly in the FMS) had lost most of their political and economic power to the British-dominated bureaucracy. Furthermore, the final authority for the whole of Malaya lay with the Colonial Office in London.

To conclude, the British were indeed the de facto rulers of Malaya. How else can one explain the necessity for us to seek independence from Britain in 1957 and the annual celebration of Hari Kemerdekaan. Let’s not muddle up our history by playing with semantics and stretching the truth.