We are about to celebrate the Independence of Malaysia once again but what troubles me is that many younger Malaysians do not know of the sacrifices made by our past leaders who sacrificed so much for our beloved country, Malaysia.
Come Aug 31, Malaysians will celebrate yet another year of independence from our colonial masters. In these 49 years, we have seen many leaders come and go. I would like to remind young Malaysians of yet another of our founding fathers and share the contributions made by Sir Clough Thuraisingam to this nation of ours.
Thuraisingam was born in Taiping, Perak in1898. He was a lawyer by profession and obtained his law degree at the Cambridge University and at the Middle Temple, London in 1925. At Cambridge he was active in student organisations and was president of the Ceylon Society.
A successful lawyer, Thuraisingam helped manage family-owned rubber estates in Johor and Perak during the pre-war days. He displayed a keen interest in rubber research and founded the Malayan Rubber Estate Owners Association.
In 1946, Thuraisingam felt the need to do more and it was at this point that he decided to enter public life. He founded the Ceylon Federation of Malaya (CFM), a political party representing the Sri Lankan community in Malaya and became its founder-president from 1946 till his death in 1975.
In his capacity as CFM president, he shared a very close relationship with the founder-president of Umno, Sir Onn Jaafar. Onn Jaafar left Umno in 1951 when his suggestion to make Umno a party for all Malayans was rejected by the Malays.
He then formed the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP) and Thuraisingam became his deputy. The IMP was formed with the aim of fostering a non-communal approach to Malayan politics. The IMP had the support of the MIC and the CFM under KL Devaser and Thuraisingam respectively, as both leaders were professed non-communalists.
Thuraisingham became a member of the Malayan Advisory Council, Selangor and later sat on the Federal Legislative Council in accordance with the Federation of Malaya agreement of 1948 as a representative of the Sri Lankan community. He played an active role in the council where he spoke on a wide range of issues which included the introduction of the pension scheme for civil servants.
He also spoke on legalising public lotteries and premium bond issues for financing social and welfare services in the country. Though he was strongly criticised by the council for some of his views, he often enjoyed the support of Onn Jaafar who convincingly argued on his behalf.
In 1951, the member system, based on ethnic representation, was introduced to administer the various government ministries. It was primarily to provide administrative experience to future leaders of the country. The British appointed six Europeans, three Malays, one Chinese, one Indian and one Sri Lankan. Thuraisingham, as leader of the Ceylon Federation, was made the first Member for Education, Federation of Malaya, and gained considerable experience in policy making.
During this period he played an instrumental role in establishing the Malayan Teachers Training College in the UK at both Kirby and Brinsford and also in the establishment of the Kota Baru Teachers Training college.
In 1953, when the Elections Committee was appointed to study the question of election to the Federal Legislative council, Thuraisingam successfully sought nominated seats for minority communities. He had warned that the test for qualification was 'whether the community in question was of sufficient size and importance to the life of the country as a whole to merit some representation in the council, but not so numerous, widespread and politically active as to ensure that its voting power must be taken into account by all political parties'.
In Thuraisingham the minority communities such as the Sri Lankans found a leader who protected their interests and gave expression to their traditional stand to support whichever government was in power.
For his selfless contributions to this nation, he was to become one of the very few local leaders to be knighted by the King of England then