Towering Tunku and today’s power-loving politicians

Last Sunday, my WhatsApp was full of Father’s Day messages from relatives and friends. I’m sure yours was too.

I received more Father’s Day messages this year than in the past. A couple of friends said they too had seen a hike in the number of messages this year.

There were also special programmes on TV and radio. Astro, for instance, showed several father-themed movies.

Although I dislike the consumerist culture that has become attached to the celebration where children give, or feel compelled to give, their father a gift or treat, and businesses make money, I do see the merit of the thought behind the celebration. At least it brings attention to the father, who is often forgotten.

Society puts mothers on a pedestal but often forgets the sacrifices of the father. I received a cartoon WhatsApp message that demonstrated this brilliantly. The first picture shows a mother lovingly cuddling her child; the second picture shows the father carrying the mother and child on a round seat over his head while wading through breast-high water.

My observations over the years have convinced me that father’s care more for their children than do mothers. It is not that the mother doesn’t care, she does; but the father cares more, and does so without talking about it.

Today, I wish to talk about another father – the Father of Independence, the Father of Malaysia. Yes, the Tunku.

Tunku Abdul Rahman (Feb 8, 1903 to Dec 6 1990), the first prime minister of the nation, still lives in the hearts of Malaysians because of his leadership and personal qualities.

Those who have known him and who have written about him – Malaysians and foreigners alike – have described him as humble, honest, principled, easygoing and caring.

This is what the then prime minister of Australia John Gorton had to say when the Tunku retired. In a message on Sept 20, 1970, Gorton, among other things, said: “Tunku Abdul Rahman’s personal qualities are well known not only in his own country and to the Commonwealth, of which he has long been a deeply respected elder statesman, but to the world at large. These are notably, a profound tolerance and even-handedness, a concern for human values and a firm refusal to be diverted from his long-term objectives by alarms and pressures that he has judged to be transient.”

The Tunku was accepted by Malaysians of all ethnicities and religions as their leader.

How does he compare with the crop of leaders that we have today? How many of the leaders of political parties today can claim to be loved by Malaysians of all races and religions?

How many political leaders are humble or caring? I concede that many make an effort to come across as humble or caring in front of television cameras, but are they?

Today, politicians and political leaders have become the butt of jokes for hopping from one party to another or one political group to another. Many Malaysians consider most politicians as unprincipled, and that they’d do anything for power.

Here’s a story that demonstrates the dignity and principled stand of the first prime minister. When Tunku was studying at St Catherine’s College at the University of Cambridge, his application to stay at the college residence was initially rejected because of his skin colour. However, when the college authorities realised he was a prince from Kedah, they approved his application to stay in.

But, on a matter of principle, the Tunku refused their offer and instead rented a room throughout his studies.

Even those politicians within Umno who worked against the Tunku when he was prime minister never accused him of corruption directly or indirectly. How many leaders today are graft-free?

The Tunku was never accused of using his powers or influence to enrich his family members or friends. Today, we hear whispers about this or that leader abusing his power to help family members or relatives or friends get million ringgit contracts. People are aware, or suspect, that such activities have become normal.

As history shows, when the Tunku retired, he was not a rich man. In fact, the Tunku, VT Sambanthan and other members of his Cabinet are known to have spent their own money on party affairs and on ordinary people who came for help. None of them is known to have retired rich.

Today, almost every political leader has millions in the bank and even millions in cash stashed in apartments and elsewhere. Several ex-ministers have been accused of graft and there are whispers about many more. It is possible that a family member or relative of a leader today is poor or lives a middle-class life, but I haven’t heard of it. Have you?

Many leaders flaunt their wealth and their children think they deserve special treatment. Unfortunately, the authorities almost always treat children of ministers or ex-ministers as special.

The Tunku, as far as I know, never ordered or allowed anyone to be charged in court or harassed just because that person criticised him. I may be wrong, but I can’t remember the police rushing to charge critics of the Tunku or his government.

I’ve never heard or read of anyone calling the Tunku a hypocrite. How many leaders do you know today who are not hypocrites?

The Tunku wanted all Malaysians to live in harmony and to enjoy the fruits of development as equal citizens. He tried to patch up the differences between people of various ethnicities and religions.

He never tired of telling Malaysians to consider themselves as Malaysian, and not merely as Malay or Chinese or Indian or Kadazandusun. He considered everyone an equal citizen who had rights and responsibilities.

Look at what is happening today. Some leaders are dividing people based on race and religion. Some merely talk about unity of all Malaysians because it makes for a good soundbite. Some don’t even consider all Malaysians as equal citizens.

I met the Tunku a couple of times after his retirement. On one of those occasions, he said: “We must always live and let live. We must respect each other and help each other so that we can live happy lives. I want everybody to be happy.”

His one goal was to be head of a nation of happy, united people who would share the prosperity equally.

What is the goal of many of today’s political leaders? Would you say it is the happiness of all Malaysians? Or would you say it is power? Or perhaps pelf?

“Whatever we do,” the Tunku said, “We must think of Malaysia – whether our actions will harm or heal.” What a beautiful piece of advice, especially for today’s politicians embroiled in power politics.

The fact is, the Tunku stands head and shoulders above today’s leaders. No wonder he is Bapa Malaysia. No wonder people talk about him and love him even today.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.