Tuesday, 04-Feb-2003 7:47 AM
UMNO -- a British running dog
I have a late 1940s black-and-white picture
hanging on my living room wall of an UMNO Club’s meeting at Malaya
House (later called ‘Malaysia Hall’) in London.
In that picture are various personalities like Tunku
Abdul Rahman (first Prime Minister of Malaysia), Tun Abdul Razak
(second Prime Minister), Tun Dr Ismail, Raja Yaacob,
Tan Sri Kadir, and many other Malaysian students who later went on
to become Ministers, Governors, judges, corporate chiefs, and so
The picture can be regarded as a sort of who’s-who
of pre- and post-Merdeka Malaya and, in that
same picture, are my father, uncles, and many “Old Boys” of the
Malay College Kuala Kangsar. My
grandfather was then the Malayan High Commissioner to Britain
(also an old boy) who later, when Malaya
achieved independence, became the first Governor of Penang.
No study of early Malayan history would be complete
without a mention of the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, or better-known as MCKK.
MCKK was founded 98 years ago on 2nd January 1905. It was then called the Malay
Residential School and was initiated with a vision and mission
to produce a vigorous and intelligent race of young men who would
be in touch with modern progress but not out of touch with old traditions.
“...establishing at a suitable locality in
the Federated Malay States,
a special residential school for education, of Malays of good family
and for the training of Malay boys for the branches of the government
Thus were the words of the British Inspector
of Schools for the Federated Malay States,
R. J. Wilkinson, during a Rulers Conference (Durbar) in 1903.
Wilkinson’s efforts paved the way for the birth
of Kolet, as it is fondly referred to by the old boys
of MCKK. Invariably, MCKK was the first residential school in Malaya,
and its syllabus would contain the essence of modern education with
knowledge of Islam and Malay culture.
Some say MCKK was a secret weapon of the British
colonial masters of that time. They realised,
one day, they would have to hand this country back to the locals.
The British decided that the Chinese would inherit commerce while
the Malays, the administration of this country. If they had to hand
the administration of this country back to the Malays, reasoned
the British, they might as well groom these Malays who would eventually
The British knew their only hope for the future
-- in an independent Malaya -- would be if they could deal with
cricket-playing, whisky-drinking, English-thinking Malays, rather
than with a bunch of ‘religious-minded fanatics’ who would probably
kick the British out the first chance they got. And so these cricket-playing,
whisky-drinking, English-thinking Malays would need to be groomed,
and then sent to England
for the final ‘polishing’.
doors were first thrown open to the Malays immediately after the
Second World War, and my father was amongst this first group of
Malayans who stepped onto England’s
shores. Others were the likes of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun
Abdul Razak, and many future leaders of
Malaya, most of whom received their education
In the beginning, MCKK was only open to the
sons of royalty and of the elite; that is, sons of the Datuk
Bergelar (titled Datuks) of the various Istana
(palaces) all over the country. Then, more and more scholars but
sons of the orang kebanyakan ('common
people' or proletariat) were let in and the elite crowd dwindled
to but a mere fraction of the total intake. Invariably, amongst
some of these sons of the masses, were people not too fond of royalty
or of the British colonialists.
What the British did not anticipate then was, educating the Malays had its drawbacks. While they were able
to mould the minds of these young and impressionable boys to become
more English than the Englishmen, education also gave the Malays
the power to think. And think they did. And they thought, why allow
the British to continue mismanaging this country when the locals
can do exactly the same? (And the Malays did eventually take over
from the British and screw up the country worse than the British
The Japanese occupation also brought new ideas
into the heads of the Malays. If the all-mighty and all-powerful
British could be defeated by a lesser-power like the Japanese, then
the British are not that invincible after all.
1946 was a significant year for Malay nationalism.
That was when UMNO was formed. UMNO was merely a collection of many
societies, associations and what we would now call NGOs. With it
saw the emergence of many independence fighters.
I cannot resist mentioning that many of these
early independence fighters like Sir Dato Onn
bin Jaffar (Hussein Onn’s father), Dato Abdul Wahab
(Dato Panglima Bukit Gantang
and one time Menteri Besar of Perak),
Dato Laksmana Razali, Tun Aziz bin Abdul Majid (one time Governor of Melaka),
Dato Haji Kamaruddin
bin Haji Idris (Dato Suhaimi’s father),
Tun Abdul Razak (Dato Seri Najib’s father), Raja Sir Tun Uda, Dato Bahaman, Dato Andika Indera,
and so on, were mostly old boys of the MCKK.
MCKK had become the seat of Malay nationalism.
This was probably the biggest blunder the British ever made in Malaya.
If R. J. Wilkinson was still around today, he would probably say,
“Give the Malays education, old chap, and they start having VISIONS!”
Ironically, the father of all visions (Vision
2020), Dr Mahathir, did not get his education at MCKK. Maybe that
is why he turned out the way he did. Some say he did try to get
into MCKK but was rejected, but this could not be confirmed.
The independence movement had begun and the
British knew they could not resist it. But they needed an independence
movement they could control. (As they say, if you can’t beat it,
join it). And UMNO fit this bill perfectly. While many of the other
non-UMNO political dissidents and independence fighters were rounded
and up and jailed by the British, the UMNO “fighters” were left
Was it a coincidence that the early UMNO leaders
were mostly sons of the elite, nobility, and those who had received
an education in MCKK and Britain?
Certainly not! And Dato Andika Indera
(another MCKK Old Boy) related a very interesting story that gave
an insight into the British plan for UMNO.
“I was then the ADO
(Assistant District Officer) for Dungun
(Terengganu),” said Dato Andika.
“The DO was, of course, an Englishman.”
“At that time, the UMNO leaders were touring
the country to set up branches and campaign for support in the fight
for independence. They were due in Kuantan
that weekend and the DO suggested that I attend the gathering.”
(Today, the FRU and their water cannons would be out in full force
and the organizers arrested under ISA for holding an ‘illegal gathering’).
“The DO gave me five days leave so that I could
attend the UMNO gathering in Kuantan,”
related Dato Andika. “In those days, there were no bridges so it would
take a day and a night to travel from Terengganu
to Pahang, unlike today where it would take just three hours
“At first I did not want to go, but the DO convinced
me that I should. He explained that I should join UMNO so that Malaya
could one day achieve independence. He was not only supportive of
the idea, in fact, he even gave me the money to go there.” (Dato
Andika later set up the UMNO Dungun
Division and became its first division leader).
The British were in full support of UMNO. Not
only that, if anyone opposed UMNO, they would be arrested as “anti-British
elements”. Clearly, not only was MCKK and a British education aimed
at controlling the minds of the future Malayan leaders, but UMNO
itself was an “independence movement” that not only received encouragement,
but full British backing as well. The British wanted to ensure that
the future Malayan political leaders as well as their political
party would, as the Chinese say, become British running dogs.
RAJA PETRA KAMARUDIN