Ghani – Get Your Facts Right!
Ghani reinventing history using Onn Jaafar
by Neil Khor
Johor Menteri Besar Ghani Othman said recently that we should respect the concept of ‘kenegaraan’ as interpreted by the late Onn Jaafar, the founder- president of Umno. Ghani went on to clarify that Onn’s ideas about a Malaya – and by extension, Malaysia – predicated along ethnic lines was the best formula for the country. This with a first-class citizenry made up of people like himself (Ghani) and all the rest of us remain second-class forever.
As a former academic, Ghani should not attempt to re-invent history without doing his homework better. The concept of ‘negara’ or nation state is very different from ‘kerajaan’ or one based on kingship. It is quite amazing that Ghani has used Onn’s good name in total disregard for what Onn stood for.
He only has to read the biography of Onn written by his ex-UM colleague Dr Ramlah Adam for she clarifies that Onn was certainly promoting the idea that Malaya can only be a viable nation if ethnicity was played down and the concept of the nation elevated. Here ‘kenegaraan’ does not refer to the narrow needs of ethnicity but to the nation-state.
I think that Ghani is grasping at straws here. Playing to an imagined gallery, he needs to shore up all ‘nationalistic’ feelings in the Malay community. By nationalistic, he means Malay nationalism. This is fine but he should not smear the good name of Dato’ Onn for his own political aims. I am quite amazed that Hishamumddin Hussein, the grandson of Onn, is not feeling hot under the collar over this re-invention of history.
To clarify, Onn founded a political party to galvanise the Malays in order that they may have a say in how the various Malay states were being unionised. He was also concerned about the economic disparity among the various ethnic groups, hence the setting up of Risda, of which he was also its architect. Onn realised that some form of special rights for the Malays will help preserve their place in the country of their birth – hence the term bumiputera.
In this Onn was a visionary for he knew that the people had to be heard. As Malayan Union was replaced by the Federation of Malaya, Onn quickly switched to the business of building a viable nation-state no longer predicated on the person of the sultan but with the ideological concept of a Malayan nation.
This is ‘kenegaraan’, which included all other ethnic groups. The special rights of the Malays would later be reflected in Malay becoming the national language, the maintenance of the Malay royal houses and some economic privileges that would end once ethnic-parity was achieved.
All this does not mean that non-Malays were beggared. Some like the Straits Chinese, were accorded citizenship by operation of law when they gave up their British subjecthood. It must be remembered that the British would only allow for independence if all the ethnic groups could work together. This was what happened but the route taken by Onn soon diverged with the one taken by Umno.
Onn left Umno after the party rejected his aim to open the party’s membership to non-Malays. He had wanted to change Umno from being the United Malays National Organisation to the United Malayans National Organisation. He later founded the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP) but Malayans, preferring the safe option of voting according to ethnic lines but under the larger umbrella of the Alliance, which represented multi-ethnic cooperation, meant that the IMP did not make an impact.
But on the whole, the people then voted for Malayan independence disregarding ethnicity and religion. That was why Umno, the MCA and the MIC could win in areas where ethnically, they were in the minority.
Hence Ghani’s misreading of history, particularly his attempt to re-kindle the anti-Malayan Union affair and by association, tar both the Rakyat Malaysia and Bangsa Malaysia concepts, is particularly sad. Ghani is correct in one thing though – we need another visionary like Onn Jaafar, a man much ahead of his time who would support a national ideology where Malaysia, not narrow self-interest, came first.