August 24, 2012
Tunku Abdul Rahman: A Great Leader and Statesman
By Dato Dr Ananda Kumaraseri@http://www.nst.com.my
TUNKU Abdul Rahman envisioned Malaysia as a nation founded upon the noble principles of liberty, human rights, natural justice and the rule of law, possessed of a leadership committed to serve the welfare, happiness and peace of the people as a whole, devoid of discrimination of any sort.
He resolutely believed in the supremacy of the Constitution, which he deemed must always be respected by all Malaysians, regardless of social standing, ethnicity, political preference or religious persuasion.
He firmly held that the principles of good governance enshrined in the political ideal of constitutionalism served as a permanent and reliable guarantee for the stability and the very continuity of the nation.
Driven by his ingrained political creed of liberalism and a deep consciousness of the country’s plural heritage as well as of his own immediate maternal Thai extraction, the Tunku embraced a liberal approach to the country’s rich and diverse cultures and religions throughout his life.
Little wonder that the Tunku was so fondly revered as Bapa Malaysia among Malaysians from all walks of life. This was true not just during the period he held the helm of the country as the first Prime Minister but right up to his very last days. Only a few world leaders can boast of such continuing adulation.
We also owe it to the Tunku’s insight in statecraft, sagacious statesmanship and diplomatic adroitness that we achieved political independence earlier than most people expected, and in such a healthy and amicable fashion.
This was all the more creditable in light of the challenges posed in garnering a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious populace into a cohesive and progressive nation that was to confidently take on its role and responsibilities in the international arena.
From its birth as an independent country, Malaya was drawn into the thick of the Cold War that was characterised by a fierce rivalry between the democratic world led by the United States of America and Western Europe on the one side and the communist bloc of countries represented by the Soviet Union, the Peoples’ Republic of China and Eastern Europe on the other.
The Tunku chose to steer the nation’s foreign policy in a distinctive pro-Western direction. Having experienced the atrocities and wanton destruction the internal communist insurgency had inflicted on the people since 1948 and overcoming the subversive communist threat in 1960, the Tunku could not help but be sensitive to the threats communism posed elsewhere in the world.
He never hesitated to take a strong stand against these threats. For a small, newly independent country to pursue a stridently anti-communist foreign policy most certainly constituted a courageous, principled stand.
The Tunku was among the very first to stoutly condemn communist China’s “rape of Tibet” when in 1959 Communist Chinese troops “subjugated” the people of Tibet. In the same anti-communist fervour, the Tunku vehemently castigated China for “naked aggression against India” when the Sino-Indian border-conflict flared up in 1962.
The Tunku was in India on that fateful day on an official visit. In several Indian cities, as part of his itinerary, he vehemently condemned China’s aggression and repeatedly reiterated Malaya’s support for India. I am told that, as a symbolic expression of camaraderie, he donated his blood for the Indian jawans (soldiers) who were bravely fighting in defence of democracy.
His spontaneous gesture was rewarded with profound appreciation by the government and the people of India from all across the country. On his return home, the Tunku embarked on a bold initiative in launching a public campaign, the “Save Democracy Fund” which raised over a million dollars to help India defend itself against communist Chinese armed attacks.
The Tunku’s spontaneous support in India’s hour of need had the electrifying effect of winning the hearts and minds of Indians. Thus, although he was a leader of a relatively small nation, the Tunku was held in high esteem in India for years to come. Our students located all over India can vouch how they were embraced with the warmest of hospitality by complete strangers and treated with brotherly affection because of the Tunku’s unequivocal support for India.
On a personal note, I nostalgically recall the “special treatment” accorded to me at the official level, as well as in private Indian circles, during my diplomatic stints as Assistant High Commissioner in Madras (present day Chennai) from 1969 to 1973, and subsequently, as Counsellor in our High Commission in New Delhi from mid-1973 to 1975.
Many a leader from among far more powerful countries was somewhat perplexed over the Tunku’s anti-communist policy stance which was distinctly vociferous even in comparison to the non-communist posture which neighbouring Singapore opted to adopt.
No doubt the Tunku’s staunchly anti-communist foreign policy was drawn from historical experiences of combating the internal communist insurgency and the steady spread of communism in the region.
His ability to successfully steer the development and progress of our infant nation in the face of serious challenges encountered in the international arena is largely attributable to his enlightened vision, sagacious statesmanship and diplomatic acumen.
The leadership qualities, personal skills and gentility which the Tunku personified and brought to bear in the country’s diplomacy and conduct of foreign affairs were in fact a unique feature of the Malay royal families, aristocracy and elite that merit appreciation in a separate article.