The Bukit Kepong Incident — Tai Zee How
September 10, 2011
(from Malaysian Insider)
SEPT 10 — There is an ongoing heated debate about Mat Indera’s status as a patriotic independence fighter or a villain threatening the peace of the then Malayan peninsular.
There have been numerous freedom fighters who fought against their colonial masters since the 16th century. Their contributions to the nation must not be forgotten — people like Mat Salleh, Yam Tuan Besar Negeri Sembilan, Dol Said, Tok Janggut and Dato Maharaja Lela, who were rightly and unanimously heralded as national heroes.
Where does Mat Indera fit in all this? Some history is needed to put his role as a freedom fighter in context.
After the downfall of British rule in India, which was by far its biggest colony in 1945, the British government no longer held expansionary imperialism as a doctrine. Instead, the British facilitated the ability to self-govern with the people of its colonies and granted (reluctantly, I might add) independence either wholly (which was the case in Malaya, India, Burma) or in a de facto sense (which happened in Canada and Australia).
Prior to 1957, there is evidence to show that the British facilitated or attempted to facilitate the self-governance of the Malayan people. We can trace this back to an incident in 1946, where the United Malay National Organisation (Umno) was formed to oppose the idea of the Malayan Union, which gave Citizenship to Malayan-born people according to the Jus Soli principle. The Policy was defeated by Umno, which was led by the late Datuk Onn Jaafar, and replaced by the Federation of Malaya.
Note that the activism of Umno was non-violent but effective. It served as a reminder to the British of its experience in India, and they must have begun to realise that it was no longer possible to hold Malaya as a colony any longer, and that teaching Malayans self-governance (albeit reluctantly) to prepare them for independence was the best option.
The fact that a general election was held in 1955, just two years before independence shows that the British actively prepared our leaders for independence. There was no bloodshed, no violence, and no call to arms.
One of the main reasons for Britain’s reluctance to allow immediate independence was the threat of Communism (the Cold War was taking place at that time, with the US leading the capitalist block and the USSR leading the Communist block). The fall of China, Vietnam, and North Korea might have sparked a domino effect in the Asia-Pacific region, leading them to favour the communist bloc.
Moving on to the Bukit Kepong Incident.
The Incident at Bukit Kepong is rather clear-cut. A team of Communist insurgents attacked a police station in Bukit Kepong. The issue that we need to address here is who should be deemed hero because of it?
Logically, if one is deemed a hero, his foe should be a villain. More so when cheered as the People’s hero, then his/her opponent should be labelled as the People’s villain.
Mat Sabu’s claim is that the police were working for their colonial masters and that Mat Indera fought against them to achieve our country’s independence. Thus, his efforts should not be denied and he should be known as a national hero.
Achieving independence for one’s ideology and achieving independence for the people is not the same thing. Mat Indera led a team of communist fighters against the police and killed 25 people in total. The first thing I would like to ask is what did he want to achieve?
Without a doubt in my mind, his idea was to create a communist state. This is unless someone can convince me that Mat Indera intended to call for an election so that the people could elect their choice of a leader as soon as independence was achieved. Communism in Malaya is distinct from Communism in other parts of the world, as none of them have been identical. From a historical point of view, there was a brief period of communist rule (14 days) after the surrender of Japan in August 1945. In fact, some of them were indeed recognised as anti-Japanese fighters by the British Military Administration (BMA). However, during the 14-day period of ‘bermaharajalela’, they (the former MPAJA or Parti Bintang Tiga) came out from the jungle, and ruthlessly killed whomever they suspected of being a traitor, or aided the Japanese. No rule of law or a fair trial.
I would like to make an assumption for which any rebuttal would be most welcome; that most of Malayan citizens feared the Communists, and they rejected the idea of having them rule the country.
Mat Indera, no doubt, fought against the British police. But why? For independence that the people wanted, or for HIS own version of independence, which was Chin Peng’s version and Karl Marx’s version?
Furthermore, as I briefly touched on earlier, the insurgency delayed the independence of Malaya that would have been granted earlier. Tunku led his team to London in 1954 to negotiate for our nation’s independence. One of the reasons for that delay was the insurgency. Effectively, Mat Indera was one of the people who delayed our nation’s independence.
A constitution was drawn up under recommendations from the Reid Commission, and elections were held in 1955 and 1959. There was no bloodshed, and the Alliance party swept to power with a staggering 51 out of 52 seats in the Parliament.
Mat Indera’s team, on the other hand, killed 25 people. His team held an unarmed lady (the wife of a policeman) hostage and demanded the surrender of the police, which was rejected. The woman was then executed. They also caught another women and a CHILD, and demanded again for the police to lay down their weapons, which they again refused. Mat Indera’s team executed the woman and the child for that.
There are rules of war. In Islam, you are not allowed to kill women and children. In the Geneva Convention, the killing of women and children are considered crimes against humanity.
Perhaps for that one reason, there is no cause for us to respect Mat Indera as a hero. Heroes deserve respect. They have earned it. His act, or his omission from doing anything to save them deprived him of the right to be respected.
The British were not ruthless against the Malayans then. The Communists were. The police, who worked for the British administration did not swear their loyalty to the Queen, but to the sultan of the state, in this case, the Sultan of Johor. To be precise, Sultan Ibrahim of Johor. Mat Indera killed the Sultan’s subjects, those he deemed worthy of protecting Johor’s citizens. For that, Mat Indera was a traitor to the Sultan.
In summary, in my humble opinion, Mat Indera does not deserve respect as a hero, nor a fighter for following reasons:
1.) He fought for his version of independence against the will of the people;
2.) He killed or chose not to do anything when his troops killed women and children;
3.) He killed the Sultan of Johor’s subjects; and
4.) He delayed the process of gaining independence by continuing the insurgency.
* Tai Zee How reads The Malaysian Insider.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified
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