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LETTER | The Malaysia-India Heritage Foundation, established to build a corpus of knowledge on important aspects of the heritage shared in common by the people of both Malaysia and India, takes great pride in honouring the memory of Hussein Onn, our third prime minister, on the occasion of his centennial birth anniversary.

Born on Feb 12, 1922, Hussein, like many other officers in the Johor Military Forces, had close links with India. At the young age of 20, he learned to be a soldier at the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, India. This was at the end of 1941, just before the Japanese occupation of Malaya.

The military training that he received instilled survival values for the battlefield, such as discipline, integrity, loyalty, and above all, solidarity and teamwork beyond race and religion.

Needless to say, the military ethos that he imbibed stood the nation in good stead when Hussein went on to become the prime minister in 1976. He expanded and modernised the armed forces in the fight against the Communists and succeeded in restoring peace and order to the nation.

During his official visit to India in January 1979, Hussein Onn expressed fond memories of his stay in undivided India:

“What had been taught to me at the Academy made a lasting impression on me. It has been a constant guide and inspiration in my later life.

“It not only taught me military service but what is more important, it taught me the art and quality of leadership, loyalty to one’s country and responsibility for the welfare and well-being of those who have placed their trust in you.

“If I remember with nostalgia my association with the Indian Army, I am proud of it.”

Switch of battleground

He used to be impressed by an inscription that was written on the wall of the academy as follows:

“The safety, honour and welfare of the men under your command come first, always and every time. Your own safety, comfort and welfare come last, always and every time.”

Hussein believed that “as a general in the army, the leader eats the last, sleeps the last and rests the last”.

On his return from military training, he decided to switch his battleground to the legal field, a move that helped strengthen the sense of moral leadership that he brought to the nation.

In the same banquet speech that he delivered in New Delhi, he identified similarities in the legal systems of the two countries:

“India and Malaysia have many things in common… both believe in and practice Parliamentary Democracy: many of the provisions of the Malaysian constitution are borrowed from the Indian constitution.

“The Malaysian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Law of Evidence, and the Laws of Contract and Specific Performance are based on the Indian ones.

“The decisions of the Indian Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal and High Courts will have persuasive authority and in some cases are followed by the Malaysian Courts.”

Hussein combined the various influences of his earlier life in his role as prime minister. If military training imbued a sense of inclusiveness and efficiency, his legal training sowed in him the values of moral courage, integrity and a sense of justice.

But over and above all, his life was moulded by universal values as evidenced in his interests for Dharma, the journal of Pure Life Society.

The saying goes, “old soldiers never die; they just fade away”. This soldier will not die and will continue to live in our collective consciousness for the values that he represented, and no less significant, as a link in the historical heritage shared in common by the people of both Malaysia and India.

PRABHAKARAN S NAIR is the founder of the Malaysia-India Heritage Foundation.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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