Who struggled for the independence of Malaysia? That is the question. It is the appropriate time to look at some past writings on this issue...
“Lembu punya susu, sapi dapat nama”
(From left) Ishak Haji Mohammed, Dr Burhanuddin Al-Helmy and Ahmad Boestamam
Ishak Haji Mohamad’s secret trip to Japan was risky business, inviting prosecution for treason, punishable by death, but such was the dexterity of this pure nationalist. Though he was in the colonial civil service at that time, his patriotism and love for the country was never sacrificed to the colonial masters he served. In fact it was while in Japan that the name Sako was begotten. The Japanese found it difficult to spell and pronounce his name Ishak, so they called him Isako. Later it became his pen name, Pak Sako.
Formation of PKMM
“Merdeka!” was the greeting of party members whenever they met. It was said in a spirited voice with clenched fist brought to the chest. Anytime and anywhere they met, the greeting was “Merdeka!”
The PKMM, on the other hand, thought otherwise. The party wanted independence first; then there would be ample opportunity to educate the Malays as the country was rich in natural resources, and it would not be a failed state. These opposing positions divided the two parties and led to enmity.
Incidentally, the Malayan labour movement had affiliated itself with the world labour movement, the World Federation of Trade Unions(WFTU), whose headquarters was in Paris, and not with the American-controlled International Labour Organisation (ILO), whose headquarters was in New York. The WFTU was leftist inclined, and with the Malayan labour movement affiliated to it, the PKMM’s penetration into the movement heightened British suspicion of the party.
As expected, the British operative policy of divide and rule was immediately put into action. While pretending to acknowledge the labourers’ plight, the PKMM was declared illegal and its leaders incarcerated.
The organised strikes did not ease with the banning of the PKMM. Day by day, British economic interests were in jeopardy. The rubber and tin industries, the mainstay of the British economy, faced imminent paralysis. By this time the colonial government had sent a loud and clear message to Whitehall. By this time, Whitehall realised that the independence of India and Indonesia had given impetus to Malaya to free itself from the shackles of colonial rule. This aspiration could no longer be contained and sooner or later Malaya had to be given its independence.
With PKMM banned and its leaders incarcerated, the only organised movement that dominated the political scene then was Umno, which was seen as a safe bet. Firstly, most of their leaders were British educated and had embraced British culture and values ever since their high school days in Britain or at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar. Secondly, they were mostly the sons of the Malay rulers and chieftains who had been close to the British. These people had regarded the British as their icons and mentors and viewed them as their savoir.
The negotiations that followed were mainly technical and focussed on two major issues: to prepare the country’s constitution and to agree on the date of the declaration of independence. A body was formed, headed by Lord Reid, to look into a constitution and the date of independence was agreed as 31 August 1957. For political exigency, Umno would have to forge an alliance with the ethnic Chinese and Indian political parties, and hence “Perikatan” (Alliance) was formed.
Pending full independence, Malaya was ruled by the Federal Legislative Council consisting of appointed members representing the various races and professions. With independence granted on a silver platter, the British were successful in retaining the entire system and had their assets protected. For Umno and the Alliance, the declaration of independence was a jubilant moment as it was achieved without shedding a drop of blood.
Declaration of independence
On 31 August 1957, Malaya was re-reborn. As the clock struck midnight, the Union Jack was lowered and the new Malayan flag was hoisted in front of the clock tower opposite the Selangor Padang. The shouts of “Merdeka!” — no less than seven times — reverberated and resounded in the air. The shouts were led by Tuanku Abdul Rahman, who stood on a rostrum surrounded by his Cabinet Ministers, some of whom, I observed, were obviously drunk.
The official declaration of independence was held at Stadium Merdeka the next morning, attended by all the Malay Rulers, the British High Commissioner and the representatives of the Queen (Duke of Gloucester). I was there with my father and sibling “representing” Temerloh, Pahang.
Thus, Malaya was born as an independent state, a member of the British Commonwealth and member of the United Nations. It was the culmination of a long and difficult struggle, an achievement won not by the educated class, but by labourers, port workers and others — the downtrodden — whose existence we hardly knew.
They were the real fighters of Merdeka, whose actions created a landscape for independence. Those were the people who laboured endlessly to enrich the colonial masters in return for a pittance and who now lay in the graves unknown and forgotten.
They were Malays, Indians, Chinese and others and they were certainly not Umno members. They were the unsung heroes who sacrificed their lives and freedom for future generations, but who only found their own freedom in the silence of their graves. It is those people who deserve to be commemorated on 31 August every year and not “the patriots” who hoisted the jalur gemilang on the roofs of mansions at the prestigious addresses of Kuala Lumpur or those who flew the jalur gemilang on the roofs of their flashy cars.
Source: ALIRAN Website,