Tanda Putera — Kua Kia Soong
Thus, before every general election since May 13, 1969, the official propaganda organs, especially the mainstream press and television, have without fail, saturated their coverage with the spectre of chaos and bloodshed should the opposition win. This has been taken to a repulsive extent when scenes of arson and corpses during the May 13 incident have been used in official adverts by the ruling coalition, for example in the 1990 general election in which I participated as a candidate. Such adverts have been invariably accompanied by racist commentary on episodes such as the May 13 pogrom, aimed at engendering chauvinistic feelings among the majority Malay population against the Chinese who have been portrayed in official propaganda as the upstart “immigrants”.
Why Always Show Bukit Kepong?
All these years, FINAS (the film corporation paid for by Malaysian taxpayers) has provided only one film that has been shown at prime time before every general election, namely, “Bukit Kepong”. This was the episode during the Emergency when the insurgents – portrayed in the film as wholly Chinese – had attacked the police station at Bukit Kepong. Not surprisingly, all the mata mata were all portrayed in the film as Malays. The rationale for showing “Bukit Kepong” before the general election was never spelt out, although the crude intention to sow racist hatred among the Malay masses toward the “Chinese communists” was crystal clear.
UMNO’s “cultural hegemony” worked well for years, until the contradictions inherent in the Umnoputra-weighted New Economic Policy began to create irreparable fissures in the Malay community. Along came the affable PAS stalwart, Mat Sabu who introduced Mat Indera as the Malay leader in the Bukit Kepong assault to an erstwhile historically naïve public. He further pointed to the elephant in the room – namely, that the Bukit Kepong assault by the Mat Indera-led insurgents was against the British colonial power that controlled the country at the time and should be viewed as a patriotic act!
The even more tragic episode in Malaysia’s history is of course, the May 13 pogrom. The official rendition has been to portray the events as the result of “Opposition” (read “Chinese”) arrogance and insensitivity to “Malay” feelings, as well as being Communist inspired. Thus, “May 13” has been the most frequently used ghost story (in the words of the Tunku) in UMNO’s “soft” arsenal. The message before every general election was that “May 13” bloodshed would/might recur if the Opposition ever came to power…
Declassified Documents on May 13
My 2007 title was an attempt to bring to light the available documents on the May 13 incident and to provide an alternative to the official version which has now been thoroughly discredited. The declassification of the official May 13th records in the British Archives in 1999 had provided a welcome opportunity to research this painful incident more thoroughly. I would love to have similar access to the Malaysian Special Branch records for the period, if only they possessed the same integrity for historical records. (Would a victorious Pakatan Rakyat government declassify these records in the name of transparency and Freedom of information, I wonder?)
The British Foreign Office records drawn from files of confidential memoranda, embassy exchanges, correspondents’ despatches (banned in Malaysia at the time) certainly debunk the official Malaysian government’s version that the bloodshed was caused by “Chinese provocation” against Malays, that the communists had a hand in it, and that the fatalities only numbered 137. The thesis in my book is that the pogrom was orchestrated by the emergent state capitalist class in UMNO to secure their interests, which they have succeeded in doing until the present day, not least because of the threats of fascist violence used and reused at suitable junctures since then.
Tanda Putera: For Malay eyes only!
Judging from the online interview given by the director of Tanda Putera (TP), it is clear that this film had been produced in an attempt to counter the impact of my 2007 title. My authoritatively researched book invited Malaysians to review for themselves, the evidence that debunked both UMNO’s ghost stories and the notion that opposition votes in the 2008 general election would lead to mayhem. The reality was that the political tsunami happened and there was no mayhem.
Unfortunately for the makers of TP, as Abe Lincoln said, “We cannot escape history.” Or as Peter Carey, the writer has put it:
“History is like a bloodstain that keeps on showing on the wall no matter how many new owners take possession, no matter how many times we paint over it.”
Also, unfortunately for the director of the film, her film has been unceremoniously put on hold from general release for political expediency. It seems her political masters cannot afford to show this to the Chinese voters or it would be disaster for the 13th general election! Would an artist with integrity put up with such an indignity? Would an artist with integrity tolerate being treated like a mercenary to be used at the whims and fancies of her paymasters for their own narrow ends?
We now know that TP has recently been shown to a select captive audience of Felda settlers who happened to be in Kuala Lumpur for an official function. While journalists were asked to leave, some through their professional persistence, managed to stay and see the film. Thus we can only go by their reviews of the film, viz. that the Chinese are portrayed as the aggressors in the aftermath of the 1969 general election; that the Chinese had gone to Malay kampungs shouting arrogant and insensitive slogans; a scene of Chinese youth urinating on a flagpole at the Mentri Besar’s residence; Chinese youth vandalizing campaign materials; a Chinese crowd shouting “Malays go and die”; A Chinese crowd disallowing two Malay youth on motorbikes to pass through, claiming that Selangor belonged to them; that the communists had a hand in orchestrating the mayhem; that foreign correspondents at the time fielded unreliable despatches… all blood racing stuff to arouse Malay emotions.
May 13 Tragedy, Tanda Putera Farce
Is Tanda Putera art? Will it win any Oscars? Is TP a contribution to Malaysian history? If TP is supposed to be objective, why is it only fit to be shown to a Malay audience and not open to public scrutiny?
Voltaire said that “history can be well written only in a free country.” Our country is not even free enough to screen the film! At the moment, it can only be shown for “Malay eyes only”. From the review of the film, the webpage of the film and the utterances of the film director so far, I would conclude as Marx did in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:
“All great historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice … the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.
The litany of offences by the BN is now not only alarming but also is dangerous.
The latest, the closed door screening of ‘Tanda Putera’ to Felda settlers is not just reckless but is begging a spark to ignite a powder keg created by the BN.
Mature citizens have long forgotten this aberration in our history. By raising the spectre of May 13, it would seem that all rational thinking has departed from the BN political mindset.
It is akin to the scorched earth policy employed by Napoleon and Hitler whose armies laid waste to the land as they retreated from the battlefield, leaving the victors nothing but burnt land.
Meanwhile, the Home Affairs Ministry has lifted the ban on the ‘Viswaroopam’ movie after much delay due to public calls.
The film was banned on Jan 25 following complaints made to the Home Ministry by the Indian Muslim Congress (Kimma) and the Federation of Indian Muslim Associations (Permim).
The Film Censorship Board made 12 cuts on the film. But Kimma and Permim made further complaints which resulted in the ministry setting up a special panel comprising of the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) and censorship board officers to review the film, focusing on religious and security aspects.
The Home Affairs Ministry then made another 12 cuts and now has announced the lifting of the ban. I understand that the film distributor, Lotus films, doesn’t want to screen the movie after 24 cuts.
Kimma and Permim are Umno cronies and they want to be more Malay than Indian. They have more influence than all the other BN beggar parties like MIC, PPP and IPF.
These Indian based parties have no backbone and are depending on Umno and Premier Najib Razak to win back Indian votes.
In India itself ‘Viswaroopam’ is being screened after seven cuts on the movie after protests from smaller Muslim groups.
But in Malaysia, the film censor board has made 24 cuts before lifting the ban.
‘Viswaroopam’ is just like any other Hollywood or for that matter Tamil movie. This movie has been slaughtered beyond recognition.
Yet, without considering the consequences and the possible repercussions, Najib has allowed the screening of ‘Tanda Putera’ to 3,000 Felda settlers.
A movie criticised by many as seditious and harmful to a multi-racial society is screened to targeted rural groups to poison their minds.
On the other hand Najib is reaching out to Indian and Chinese communities with sweet promises with no results yet.
Najib and Umno are now possessed by sheer desperation to stay in power. They don’t care if its action can harm the people or the economy and take the country backwards.
They are forcing Malaysians of all backgrounds to choose only Umno/BN by hook or crook.
Where is the 1Malaysia feeling and spirit in these actions of PM and Umno. Is 1Malaysia a mere vote buying slogan? The PM must understand that action speaks louder than words.
In allowing venom to be spat at certain sectors of society by handpicked individuals, the BN is overtly encouraging and even supporting calls for the burning of religious books and the closure of Batu Caves just because it is inconvenient and causes a traffic jam once a year.
The founding fathers of this nation, including the PM’s father would never have brooked such flagrant abuse, deprivation and deception.
The silence of the PM on these issues is egregious and borders on utter insanity if he expects the events to lead to their calculated catastrophe.
It is almost as if the BN has given up on anything clean or above board. The exposé on the number of phantoms, the torrid revelations at the Sabah RCI, should have prompted immediate action by the EC.
Instead, the EC chairperson asks an infantile question as to what detergent to use to bersih (clean) the rolls! His response is preposterous, it can only elicit shock and disbelief from right-thinking citizens, coming from a person appointed to ensure free and fair elections.
And he has the audacity to say that we can expect ‘unexpected situations’ to occur! All he has to do is to carry out his appointed task with the same reverence as his appointment letter reflects.
By his own admission, former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad has openly admitted that BN “is the devil you know.” There is more truth in that Freudian slip than meets the eye.
S RAMAKRISHNAN is a former senator.
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