Portrait of a leader

By Maf73

Malaysia's first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj’s contribution to this beloved country of ours cannot be overstated.


The fact that we attained independence through peaceful negotiations, without what seems like the obligatory bloodshed, should in itself say something of the man who spearheaded the struggle towards sovereignty.

Born into the royal family of Kedah, as the 20th child of Sultan Abdul Hamid, the 24th ruler of the state, the circumstances surrounding the Tunku’s birth is one for telling. Suffice to say here that his conception stayed the hand of his father and spared the life of a man.

His Siamese mother Che Menjalara, who was the fourth wife to the Sultan, believed that the compassion and mercy associated with her son’s birth distinguished him from his siblings. She was right, but only partially, for his son would go on to be a distinguishable figure quite apart from other men of his time.

The Tunku proved to be a natural leader. He had a keen foresight, was headstrong, gregarious in character, and had this amazing ability to gain people’s trust and friendship, irregardless of their background, race or religion. There were no airs about him, and he seemed to adapt naturally to his surroundings.

This served him well when he entered into civil service after his return from England where he did his B.A in Law and History from Cambridge. (He would, years later, return to London to sit for his Bar Final, which he passed).

He displayed his strengths as a leader of the people early on in his career, taking inspired initiatives which often times put him at loggerheads with those above him in the State government, but always coming out tops. Needless to say, his popularity with the people helped him rise quickly to the top echelon of Malayan politics.

Picture this to gain a simple example of his hands-on leadership: The Tunku, then the District Officer of Sungai Patani, standing with other volunteers in the river, helping to cut Bakau wood for piling to erect a mosque.

The great man made many decisive decisions, and achieved far more important things in his political career, but it is the pivotal role he played in lobbying for Malaya’s independence for which he would be remembered.

Tunku: A Pictorial Biography divided into two volumes, details this achievement and plenty others besides, some of which he was not credited for.

Volume 1, with a foreword by Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, tracks Tunku’s background, his student days, his early years in civil service, and his struggle for independence.

Volume 2, with a foreword by our third Prime Minister, the late Tun Hussein Onn, covers the period from Merdeka to the Tunku’s 84th birthday.

What’s wonderful about this biography is that it provides the reader with a glimpse of the late Tunku, the person, himself; not merely the ever-diplomatic statesman.

He was generous, charming, driven, and patient, and had a healthy sense of humour. He was also a man with a variety of interests – football, horseracing and dancing, to name three – and showed a knack of devising ways in which all these interests could be developed to benefit others. The Malaya Cup (later changed to Malaysia Cup) football tournament is just but one example.

The author Tan Sri Dato’ Dr. Mubin Sheppard had the benefit of having direct access to the Tunku, whih makes this one much, much more personal – we get an idea of how the Tunku came to make a decision, what he was thinking at the time.

Of course, being a pictorial biography, there’s plenty of photos, to complement and further enhance the pleasure of reading this important publication.

Highlighting the importance of this book to today’s generation, Dr. Mahathir, in Vol 1. puts it succinctly, that “the younger generation should be made aware that independence was not given to us on a silver platter”. Indeed.

Today's generation of Malaysian leaders would do well to pick this one up, and learn from the elder statesman’s story – how he worked diligently to achieve his goals for the nation; how he worked around problems; how he spoke for all Malaysians, regardless of colour or creed.

An extremely insightful publication that provides a detailed account of a great man’s life, a great leader’s achievements.

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