31 August 1998

The nation that Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra created in 1957 and enlarged six years later has endured, as has its reputation.

Malaysians shall always be grateful to him for freeing them from British colonialism, preventing the nation from being overtaken by the communists, avoiding it being dominated by a group of ambitious and callous men and averting disintegration by Sukarno's Indonesia's Confrontation.

Among the post colonial nation builders surely the Tunku stands out.

If 1970 saw the end of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra's political career, it also marked an achievement (of sorts) in Islamic diplomacy. He founded the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Jeddah and became its first secretary-general.

When he returned home in the mid-seventies, he was invited to be chairman of Star (to avoid a takeover he claimed) and began writing his weekly column.

Though he could not possibly have been described as a journalist per se in the opinion of some people, his column stood out because it had been based on primary sources even if it was mainly himself.

How we wish the Tunku had written his autobiography. If he did, it would have been, I am sure, in every sense his magnum opus.

The "Father of the Nation" - our George Washington - would, on the 41st anniversary of Merdeka tomorrow, have been 95 years plus had he lived.

The Tunku made more sacrifices than any one else in our struggle for freedom even though it was a peaceful process.

He led the constitutional struggle with flair and a gift that only he had, accompanied by many lighter sides and amusing stories and anecdotes. Merdeka cleansed any stains of his past.

The May 13, 1969, racial incident noticeably affected him and he suffered many in dignities in silence following his (hastened) retirement.

He,told me during many hours of conversation in early 1980s that he was placed in a bad light by several people, one or two being important personalities. What hurt him, he said, was that they knew what they were saying were untrue.

I told him those were the ways of "politics. He agreed, though he did not expect it to have emanated from where it came.

I always hint in my Utusan Malaysia column (every Monday) that since we do not seem to have many modern heroes we should foster the memory of the few national legends we cherish.

One national hero whom the government does not seem to cultivate in image as it does P. Ramlee (reruns of his movies festivals, exhibitions besides a memorial and more reruns of his films) is the Tunku.

I am happy that we are remembering and honouring Ramlee but what are we doing to honour and perpetuate the memory of that man who gave us freedom and identity?

I am well aware of what the government of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has done in acknowledgment of the Tunku`s colossal contributions.

The renaming of Universiti Pertanian Malaysia to Universiti Putra Malaysia and calling the country's mega-modern future administrative centre Putrajaya are proof.

I also know that the Tunku made one or two films, one of which was Mahsuri. It would be nice if our television stations screen and rescreen them and if museums and the Memorial Tunku hold exhibitions, talks and seminars on the Tunku's legacy from time to time.

Malaysia should remember that had the Tunku and Umno (and the Alliance party) not been so strong and resolute we might have had to wait another ten years before achieving Merdeka.

Datuk Onn, the British preferred leader, agreed to delay independence by a decade or more and he lost out.

It was a tragedy that the prince whose reputation for integrity and political skill was unchallenged for almost two decades, should have left office under circumstances which Tunku did.

It is well to recall this Kok Lanas truism or folk wisdom that a man's reputation depends on everything he has done not simply on a particular phase of his career.