Umno’s blunder with Chin Peng’s place in Malaysian history

(This post was originally published at The Malaysian Insider)

Almost two years after my meeting with Chin Peng in Bangkok on 2 October, I learnt – as did other Malaysians – of his death on September 16, 2013.  His passing on is not unexpected as he had been ill for some years. What is unexpected is the Government’s refusal to allow his ashes to be returned to Malaysia, his home country for which he fought for liberty and freedom, initially against the Japanese and then against the British.

Chin Peng was a freedom fighter in every sense of the word. His record of defiance and opposition to Japanese and British colonial rule in Malaya is unprecedented.  It is comparable or even exceeds that of anti-colonial leaders such as Ho Chi Minh, Mohammad Hatta, and Jawaharwal Nehru who were his contemporaries in Asia’s struggle to free itself from the yoke of western powers and Japan in the mid twentieth century. Other leaders that come to mind during that crucial period of nationalist ferment after the Second World War are Nkrumah, Nasser and Lumumba.

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In all those countries whether in Asia, Africa or Latin America where the anti-colonial and nationalist freedom fighters fought, they have been accorded due recognition and honour.

But not in Malaysia where Umno-putraism has sought to stamp its racial and religious politics on every aspect of life in the country -dead and living; past, present and the future.

Why Chin Peng’s ashes are not allowed back

It is sickening to read the lame excuses that Umno leaders, in particular Home Affairs Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, have given to prevent the homecoming of Chin Peng’s ashes. These excuses range from the allegation that Chin Peng never applied for citizenship to concern that a memorial may be erected for him and fear that he would be treated as a “hero”.

Well, I have news for Umno. Chin Peng is a patriot and hero in the eyes of many who are knowledgeable of that historical past of Japanese and British colonial rule in Malaya and the contributions of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) in fighting to free our country. Chin Peng had three failings.  One is that he and the MCP though engaged in an armed struggle against the British should have ceased it as soon as the country gained its independence.  This fact of MCP responsibility for killings and blood shed, including of innocent civilians, is undeniable and needs to be fully recorded.

He had two other failings – if we can call it that – which has prevented him from getting due recognition in his homeland.  The first is that he fought for the wrong ideology.  Now if he had collaborated with the Japanese and negotiated peacefully with the British and sucked up to them the way many other leaders did, perhaps he may not have been so vilified.

Our history books on the Japanese occupation of Malaya need to record the names of Umno and other leaders who actively supported and collaborated with the Japanese in their murderous and blood stained rule. Let Malaysians then draw their own conclusions as to who are the true nationalists and patriots; who are the opportunists and collaborators; and which were the families and loved ones that died during Japanese and British colonial rule and who do not want the return of Chin Peng’s ashes.

His other failing appears to be that he is a Chinese. Others have pointed out that if Chin Peng was a Malay, his place in Malaysian history and his ashes would be treated differently.  I am sure there is more than a grain of truth in this.

Chin Peng’s wish for Malaysia

My reason in writing this is not simply to remind of some uncomfortable truths and facts of our history but to point the Government towards a correct and fair closure of this particular episode of our history.

During my meeting with Chin Peng, I asked if he was keen to return to Malaysia and what is his advice for the Malaysian Chinese. His immediate reply was that he yearned to return to his homeland and to die in his birth place. He also emphasized that Malaysia is a rich country and that the Chinese must work together and cooperate with the Malays to make Malaysia a better country.

He had hoped that under the 1Malaysia policy the Government would allow him to return to the country to show that there is no bitterness towards the Malayan Communist Party since both sides were fighting against a common colonial power enemy. It would also show that the Government is serious about the truthful portrayal of the history of Malaya which is one in which all races have contributed.

This would also help in getting rid of the misunderstandings and distortions that have plagued our views of the past and lay the groundwork for racial unity and solidarity.

Treating the case of Chin Peng with compassion and statesmanship, and permitting him to return to Malaysia – his home country – besides putting the historical record straight- would have been an important building block for our race relations. The way Umno is going about it is totally wrong.

Governing the country is like managing a very large business corporation. The definition of good management is to get all your stake holders – this includes staff – to do their share of work. Staff can only do it if they are motivated. The Government should have taken advantage of this situation to win the Chinese over to work harder for the country. Sadly, this has now become more difficult to achieve because of Umno’s blinkered and narrow-minded ideology.

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