I THINK we are farther apart now than we were in 1969.
But you have to remember that I grew up going to an English school, to a university where there were people of all races. At that time, although we did think in terms of race, it wasn’t in the way people do now. We felt that we were Malayans. We socialised much better than we do now.
Bahasa Malaysia can be a unifying factor. But it can be a factor separating people, too.
As Sukarno would say, “The important thing is the jiwa.”
You don’t have to have a common language, if you have the same jiwa (heart, spirit, passion, devotion). This is what we don’t have right now.
In 1956, the historical society of Universiti Malaya went to India.
There were lots of Indians in the group, but they didn’t think of themselves as Indians, they thought of themselves as Malayans.
That’s the jiwa.
But later on, because of certain reactions, suddenly people stayed away from this jiwa — they don’t feel as though they are fully Malaysian. They are made to feel that way.
When I was in the service, there were lots of non-Malays in the civil service, holding good positions. But do you see them now? If you go to the universities, where are the non-Malay professors?
After 1969, suddenly there was this drive to make sure that all university vice-chancellors and faculty deans were Malay. So, in the end, we chased away all the best brains among the non-Malays.
When schools say you must start school with a doa (Muslim prayer recitation), you push away all the non-Muslims. When I was at school, we never had any prayers. Whatever we learnt in religious class was a separate thing.
I think it’s more important that we bring people together, rather than pushing religion so hard that it alienates other people. This is what’s happening. I can’t blame the Chinese and Indians; why should they go to a sekolah kebangsaan (national school), when they have to do all these things?
All the things are breaking down. Our school system is not as it used to be. We are producing supposedly so many students with so many As, but what do they know? Are we happy about it? The leaders seem to be happy about it.
We came up with the Rukun Negara because, after 1969, there was the feeling that the nation was breaking down. People had forgotten what it was all about. So, we thought we could bring people back together — unite them. That’s what the first part of the Rukun Negara is about: the objectives of the nation.
Unfortunately, we did practically nothing to promote an understanding of the Rukun Negara. And when schools make mistakes, nobody corrects them. That should have been the role of the Department of Information.
In the beginning, Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie did try to apply the test of whether something was in consonance with the Rukun Negara or not. But then, the government just forgot about this.
We are supposed to be a united nation, not only in terms of state, but also in terms of people: that they would all consider themselves as Malaysians, and that this was their country and their nation. We wanted all these people to share the wealth of the nation.
One of the things we thought contributed to ’69 was the economic disparities, joblessness.
The New Economic Policy was a policy for all Malaysians; not just for the Malays. But we wanted to restructure the economy so that the Malays would come out of the rural agriculture sector into the commercial sector. We wanted Malay participation at all levels of economic activity. We wanted to uplift the Malays without reducing the position of the others. — “eradicating poverty regardless of less”.
And this was supposed to be in a situation of growth. Not just sharing the existing cake, but the cake must grow, so that these people also have the opportunity to grow.
At the same time, we also hoped that the Malays would grow a little faster. So, they set this target of 30 per cent equity in 20 years. I was not much in favour of that because I didn’t think it was achievable. I felt that participation was more important than wealth.
We never thought that we would produce multi-billionaires. That was never the intention of the NEP. If some people can come up as everyone comes up, it’s okay. But it wasn’t supposed to be about some people getting contracts.
We did say that we should have Malay millionaires just as we should have Chinese and Indian millionaires, but not so much so that you don’t have to do anything.
You must differentiate between dominance and domination. As Tun Dr Ismail said, “We want to be dominant, but we don’t want to dominate.” Dominant in the sense that we wanted the Malays to be everywhere; but not to dominate all the others.
But we seem to be dominating; and I don’t think that’s healthy for the nation. It’s not about taking your share and not caring about the rest.
By Datuk Dr Agoes Salim – This article was published in Malaysia-today on June 5, 2009
Datuk Dr Agoes Salim is an an economist and first secretary-general of the National Unity Ministry. He is also former chairman of Bank Pertanian. He was on the public service secretariat of the National Operations Council following the riots and helped draw up both the Rukun Negara and the NEP