Agenda Daily


In expressing dissatisfaction with the powers to be .the ballot box - not racism,communalismmor extremism - the most powerful tool for changes

A SINGAPORE STRAITS TIMES CORRESPONDENT ASKED ME IF THE present security situation reminded me of the 1987 Operasi Lalang and my answer was ‘yes’. In some key aspects, today’s situation is similar to the run-up to the infamous event.


I also told her that I remember the May 13, 1969 incident well. I was 22 and waiting for my first job interview. I was supposed to attend an interview with the national news agency Bernama in

Kuala Lumpur on May 20. That was cancelled because of the bloody riot.

When I was finally interviewed in early June, the Bernama office on Jalan Tun Razak – then Circular Road – was under armed guard and Kuala Lumpur looked like the familiar coup scenes of Bangkok and Manila. Heavily armed policemen and soldiers were


When I started working in mid-June, the journey from my rumah haram (squatter hut) abode in Kampung Pandan to Jalan Silang and through Jalan Dang Wangi – then Campbell Road – to

Kampung Baru and onward to Jalan Tun Razak seemed to take forever.

Rumours of more racial clashes sent people scampering for shelter in mosques, churches and temples. Shopkeepers promptly boarded up whatever was left of their shops in the embattled Chow Kit area.

It took lorry loads of durians and countless multi-racial ‘durian parties’ – often graced by the Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra himself — to convince the durian-loving Chinese

that the Malays were not lacing the fruits with poison to kill them.

With the Chinese keeping away from their favourite fruit, the Malay durian farmers had nowhere to sell their produce.

As a cub reporter, I was assigned to follow my senior colleagues to report on these durian-eating orgies, which were held under the banner of muhibah (goodwill).

The Kedah prince of the people loved to describe himself as the ‘happiest Prime Minister in the world’, in no small way because he successfully proved the pundits wrong when multi-racial and multi-religious Malaya, and later Malaysia, survived and prospered without the British.

But his happiness was short-lived. Issues like uneven development and poor distribution of wealth, the adoption of Malay as the National Language and medium of instruction in

1967, and the instigation for the country to become ‘more Muslim’ caused the distrust among the races to boil over.

The scenes of burnt-down shophouses – read Chinese shophouses – cars and buses made the Kuala Lumpur of 1969 look like today’s Jerusalem, Beirut, Mogadishu, Islamabad and

Mumbai, where death and destruction are still a regular life’s serving.

From the ashes of May 13 rose the BN or Barisan Nasional (National Front) as the replacement to the Perikatan (the Alliance), and the New Economic Policy was born to address the racial and economic imbalances.

Today, a generation latter, May 13 is nothing more than a cross between a dirty word and a mystery as deep as the Chronicles of Narnia. It is taboo to talk about the bloody event.

From the hotbed of communal issues.

From the hotbed of communal issues

AGAIN, I was there when Operasi Lalang took place in October 1987. I was then the editor of the Malay newspaper, Berita Harian.

Upon reading reports and seeing pictures of inflammatory statements and banners coming out of the Umno Youth-led counter demonstration at the TPCA Stadium in Kampung Baru, I told my editors that neither the speeches nor the pictures would see daylight.

I told them that I was more willing to be condemned and damned for practicing self-censorship than to further fan the communal fire.

One hundred and six people were arrested and later detained under the British-era but ‘Malaysianised’ Internal Security Act (ISA).

Among them were the then DAP secretary-general Lim Kit Siang, Aliran president Chandra Muzaffar, DAP deputy chairman Karpal Singh, Pas Youth chief Halim Arshat, Umno MP for Pasir Mas Ibrahim Ali, Umno Youth Education chairman Mohamed Fahmi Ibrahim and MCA deputy president Datuk Lee Kim Sai.

The non-politician detainees included Dong Jiao Zong (Chinese Education Associations) chairman Lim Fong Seng and the publicity chief of the Civil Rights Committee, Kua Kia Soong.

It later became quite a ‘mystery’ that the leader of the Umno Youth-led demonstration, Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, was left unaffected by the ISA swoop.

Three newspapers, namely English daily The Star, Chinese daily Sin Chew Jit Poh and Malay independent tabloid Watan — accused of fanning hatred – had their publication licences suspended.

The Star resumed publication five months later as a ‘reformed’ MCA-owned mass circulation newspaper. Sin Chew became less strident on Chinese issues but more sensational.

Watan disappeared from the scene — another victim of licensing by the Internal Security Ministry and the weak Malay economy.

The Star went on to become the largest and most profitable English newspaper, thanks to the economic boom that followed, and Sin Chew beat everybody else to become the largest newspaper in the country.

And like May 13, communal issue was the impetus for Operasi Lalang. The whole episode started almost harmlessly as a debate on the Government’s proposal to overcome the shortage of teachers in national-type Chinese schools.

It was proposed that non-Mandarin-educated Chinese teachers be appointed senior assistants in these schools.

The Chinese educationists, who were perpetually suspicious of the official stance on Mandarin and Chinese education, opposed the idea. They took up the cause under the Dong Jiao Zong banner.

They were soon joined by Chinese-based organisations including assembly halls, trade guilds and clan associations, forcing the MCA to lend its political support. Its Youth chief Datuk Lee Kim Sai (now Tan Sri), took up the flag and provided the movement its political clout.

This, in turn, forced the Chinese-based opposition parties, mainly the DAP, to jump onto the bandwagon.

When the MCA, in particular its Youth wing, was cowed into submission in the name of the spirit of the BN, the DAP effectively hijacked the issue and an all-out war of words – inflammatory and much more – broke out with Umno.

On Oct. 11, 1987, Dong Jiao Zong held a 2,000-strong gathering at the Hainanese Association Building, beside the Thian Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, during which Chinese politicians present had allegedly made racially provocative speeches that angered the Malays.

Umno Youth, under the leadership of Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, responded by holding a rally of 10,000 at the TPCA Stadium in Kampung Baru. This was to be followed by a gathering purportedly to commemorate Umno’s 41st anniversary.

Then, out of the blue and with no links whatsoever to the political showmanship, bare-knuckling and posturing that were taking place, a ‘disgruntled/deranged’ Malay soldier, Prebet Adam, decided to abandon his Ulu Kinta camp and travel to Kuala Lumpur and, of all places, he picked the edgy Chow Kit area to do his Rambo act.

Claiming dissatisfaction over an alleged brutal act against his brother by a member of a royal household, he shot up a Shell petrol station.

Three bystanders took his bullets. When the news was delivered to me, I told my editors: ‘If a Malay victim dies, it’s an act of madness by the soldier. If a Chinese dies, it’s racial.’ A Malay victim died.

Laying the groundwork?

A former ISA detainee, Shaari Sungib, was on Dec 8 quoted by Malaysiakini as saying that authorities appeared to be laying the groundwork to invoke the ISA against key leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).

This, according to the independent news website, came after Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan accused the group, which led a rare mass protest of an estimated 30,000 Indian Malaysians on Nov 25, of having connections with terrorists.

Shaari, who was held under the ISA in 2001 with nine other pro-Anwar Ibrahim Reformasi movement activists, said the prevailing signs and indications were similar to the run-up to the

Reformasi arrests.

He said, ‘They accused us of using molotov cocktails and grenade launchers and had links with terror groups aimed at toppling the Government – an accusation that has not been proven until today.’

’ As Malaysian Business goes to print, the ominous talks of impending ISA arrests continue.

In addition to the IGP’s terrorist-link allegation, Umno Youth chief Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein had strongly demanded the use of the ISA if such an allegation was proven to be correct.

Hishammuddin urged the Government to invoke the ISA ‘if investigations reveal Hindraf poses a threat to public peace and national security’.

He said the Government must carry out thorough investigations into the activities of the movement, in particular the allegations that it intended to resort to violence and was planning to set up its own guerrilla squad.

The most ominous warning perhaps came from the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, himself, in a Dec 7 article published by the Asian Wall Street Journal.

Abdullah, among other things, said: ‘In all democracies, the right to protest is fundamental, but it is a right that must be matched by a responsibility to respect general public safety.

‘Malaysian law stipulates that marches or rallies must be agreed to by the police in advance. If protestors have not sought authorisation, then the police are bound by duty to enforce the

law and ensure public safety.

‘In exercising this duty, the police must balance the protestors’ rights with the safety and security of normal Malaysians. This is not always an easy balance to strike.’

Could the Prime Minister, who is also Minister of Internal Security, be preparing the minds of the people, including his foreign friends and allies, that the use of the ISA is eminent,

inevitable and imperative?

We may know about it sooner than later.

Malaysian Indians in a dilemma

SINCE the Hindraf Nov 25 demonstration, the Malaysian Indian community at large has been put in a serious dilemma and has taken quite a beating from within and without.

Clearly, not every Malaysian Indian agrees with the Hindraf protest and the methods it applies, including filing a suit against the British Government for bringing indentured Indian labourers

to Malaya some 200 years ago, and holding a march in the city.

They do not see the suit as appropriate and representative of the sentiment of Malaysian Indians, saying that not all Malaysian Indians are descendants of indentured Indian labourers.

A number of Malaysian Indian friends and several visitors to my blog ( The Scribe A Kadir Jasin) had pointed out that the nature of the Malaysian Indian community has either been

misunderstood or has not been sufficiently explained.

They pointed out that the Malaysian Indian community is not homogeneous and that fighting the cause of the community using a Hindu banner is inappropriate as not all Malaysian Indians are Hindus.

This is the translation (from the Malay language) of what I posted about the Malaysian Indians on my blog on Dec 7:

‘The notion that the Malaysian Indian community is homogeneous is incorrect. Malaysian Indians are made up of many ethnic, linguistic and religious groups.

‘The first are the Tamils. This is the group that forms the backbone of the Hindraf movement.

‘The Tamils make up the bulk of poor Indians and are mostly descendants of the British-era indentured labourers. Ironically they are also the staunchest supporters of the Government via

their support for and membership of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and Indian Progressive Front (IPF).

‘They are mostly Tamil-educated, originated from or still living in the rubber and oil palm estates. Due to their educational background and types of skills, they are generally employed in lower-paid, menial jobs.

‘From this group came leaders like the late Tan Sri V T Sambanthan and Tan Sri V Manikavasagam and the current longserving MIC president, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu.

The second are the Malayalis or Malayalees. They originated from the southern Indian state of Kerala and speak Malayalam.

In Malaysia they count among the most successful, educationally and economically.

‘This group counts among its successful members people like Datuk V C George (Judge), Datuk Tony Fernandes (aviation entrepreneur), Freddie Fernandez (musician), Tommy Thomas (lawyer) and Tan Sri B C Sekhar (polymer scientist).

‘The third are the Ceylonese. They originated from Sri Lanka and are highly successful in the business and professional areas.

Among their prominent members are T Ananda Krishnan (telecommunications and broadcasting tycoon), Tan Sri P Arumugam (military equipment broker), Datuk Punch Gunalan (sportsman), Tan Sri G Ganalingam (port and logistics entrepreneur) and Dr M Jegathesan (medical doctor/sportsman).

‘The fourth are the Punjabis who originated from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, and profess the Sikh religion. They are a small but highly successful community that counts among its successful members people like Datuk G S Gill (businessman), Tan Sri K S Nijhar (intellectual and politician), Tan Sri Darshan Singh (voluntary service worker and sports leader), Serbegeth Singh aka Shebby (TV sports commentator) and Santokh Singh (football player).

‘The fifth are the Indian Muslim who holds a unique position in the Malaysian religious and cultural diversity. Due to their faith, they are often associated with the Malay community. They are generally active in business and through intermarriages have assumed the Malay identity.

‘Then there are the smaller ethnic groups like the Gujaratis, Sindhis and Bengalis.’

A commentator of my blog reminded me that there are other groups like the Telegu and Hindi.

With this deep consciousness of our heritage, we should be harnessing our diversity to build a peaceful nation and to solve problems – whether real or perceived — within the boundaries of

law. The most powerful tool for change remains the ballot.

Notwithstanding our grouses and our unhappiness with the authorities, racism, communalism and extremism are not the answer. Poverty and alienation affect not just the Indians but other

Malaysian races as well.

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