By Azmi Anshar (NST)
DATUK Seri Najib Razak's ascension to prime ministership can be earnestly described as the most arduous in the nation's history.
Najib had entered in an epoch of spectacular socio-political and economic turmoil, stuttering from the effects of global financial and security bedlam and stuttering in the local socio-political scene.
If it wasn't the best of times, it was probably the worst (to paraphrase Charles Dickens' iconic opener in A Tale of Two Cities) instance to run this country.
Najib had phased into the most elite of dominions when public confidence in the government was shaky, political infighting and graft problems had escalated into a niggling quagmire, a sputtering economy registered tanking percentages though there have been lately signs of life and, worse, a viciously demonising campaign being stoked to tie him to the murder of a Mongolian femme fatale.
We don't envy you, Mr Prime Minister, but we do know a single uncompromising individual who does so obsessively. Najib inherited, not to put a fine point to it, a fine mess, forced also to tackle brutish assaults on his competence, sincerity and tenuous culpability.
Months before it was apparent that Najib was to take over the premiership, the veritable long knives slid out of their sheaths in striking malevolence. His harshest critics, and that included senior leaders of Pakatan Rakyat, tried to pin him down on any conceivable rap, even if Najib wasn't even a sniff away from the plot. And that was before he became PM.
They doctored an image of him wearing a Hindu priest's garb, they blamed him for a police crackdown on a ceramah crowd in Kedah, and they further blamed him for closing down briefly Suara Keadilan and Harakah.
If Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang had collectively slipped on a banana skin and bashed their heads silly, they'd blame that on Najib, too!
Now that he is prime minister, the demonisation agenda with other forms of nastier trickery has been forged. If there are no hard facts to play with, then an urban legend concocted in the months before he became PM will do.
That legend is now throttling in perceptive reality: the idea that Najib had metaphorically wielded a kris at an Oct 18, 1987 Umno Youth rally in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, and claimed that the blood of the Chinese would be soaked in the dagger if they (Chinese educationists, DAP, MCA and Gerakan) did not back out of their demands over non-Mandarin trained principals placed in Chinese primary schools, or else...
There's one nagging problem with that urban legend. It's just not true because I was there covering the rally for the New Straits Times.
What is it about blood, mayhem, murder and violence that consumes the likes of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, DAP and Pas leaders that they chose that as the twisted prism to judge Najib?
The idea of soaking kris in blood, of course, is downright ridiculous, and just as ridiculous as the murder rap the opposition is desperately trying hard to jackhammer on Najib.
The prime minister made no such assertion but somehow that incendiary line had been germinated, nurtured and blasted into a life of its own. There are no respites for a PM in power.
Out of the blue, Najib was confronted with that accusation on Monday in the Dewan Rakyat, thrown on the table by Karpal Singh (DAP-Bukit Gelugor) during Question Time.
While Karpal did not reprise the inflammatory words that Najib was accused of uttering at a time when political tension was running amok and Operasi Lalang was just days away, the feisty lawyer did toggle this loaded probability: "You had waved a kris in challenge to the Chinese community. If it was true, are you prepared to ask for forgiveness from the Chinese community?"
"If it was true" being the operative words, outlandish as they are, then even the astute Karpal does not know for a fact if the kris-uttering incident actually occurred. But it doesn't hurt the opposition's standing to tango with this kris mythology to score brownie points that may embarrass the prime minister.
Najib, however, wasn't about to bite the bait in Karpal's unconvincing fishing expedition. "The incident did not take place," Najib retorted, calmly in his trademark baritone.
"I have never said that. The one who should apologise is the YB concerned, not me."
A review of clippings of press reports on the Oct 17 Umno Youth rally, when Najib was a springy acting Umno Youth chief of 34 who had just taken over from the very individual now obsessed with toppling him, showed not a single word of those morbid remarks. And this included reports by the Singapore Straits Times and the now defunct Asiaweek.
I contacted Ismail Kassim, the respected Singapore Straits Times correspondent who covered the rally then, whether he had actually heard Najib uttering the kris verse. Now in his 60s, the ex-journalist conceded that with the passage of 22 years, his memory of the rally was simply a montage of people, faces and words but he emphatically contended that had Najib uttered those "savage" words, "I would have duly reported it." The Singapore Straits Times of Oct 18, 1987 did not and neither did the Asiaweek issue of Oct 30, 1987.
Ismail did remember that many foreign correspondents covered the rain-soaked rally but no one ventured to reproduce the incendiary words or recollected that Najib had even uttered them in the first place.
Readers might be reminded that the rally was staged before Operasi Lalang and, more crucially, before The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan were shut down, when newspapers and the foreign press were gung-ho in their approach to news gathering and reporting.
It strongly meant that words that Najib was implied of emitting would have been pristinely recorded, printed and broadcast with bold impunity. But none surfaced. Because none existed.
Perhaps the urban legend was fuelled unwittingly further by Ismail in his memoirs No Hard Feelings: A Reporter's Memoir, published last year that carried this highly circumstantial sentence ..."From the grapevine, I heard that inspector-general of police Tan Sri (now Tun) Hanif Omar had summoned Najib to his office and advised him to cool down. Najib had not only alluded to the May 1969 racial riots, but also talked of kris being drawn and of spilling blood".
This was Ismail's version of the urban legend, quoting from an unattributed grapevine. A grapevine, according to a dictionary definition, is "person-to-person method of spreading rumours, gossip, information, etc., by informal or unofficial conversation, letter writing, or the like..."
A lot can be alluded, inferred, implied or insinuated from Ismail 's perception of Oct 17, 1987 but nothing, and nothing, can be firmly concluded, least of all the very graphic and very lucid line of a "kris soaked in blood". Unless your ultimate goal in life is to destroy the prime minister, reputation, career and all.
Sure, Najib, in his baritone that turned somewhat hoarsely soprano during the rally, may have had the tendency to trash talk -- the usual bravado stuff attributed to a young politician trying to prove his worth as a leader of a pressure group but the reference to the racial riots tied to the drawn kris and spilled blood is most likely attached to socio-political history, tradition and speaking to the gallery of the faithful.
Like all up-and-coming politicians then and now, talking to the massive mob of supplicants had always retained a measure of bluster and blowhardiness, better still if nationalism, glory of the race and enemies who try to stifle progress are added in the explosive mix. Ask Khairy Jamaluddin.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that nowhere did Najib ever suggest that murder must be committed, especially genocide, if the urban legend is to be literally devoured.
This, however, does not stop the persistence of the urban legend gaining traction through subtle innuendoes and viral marketing, with plenty of gullible listeners and readers of anti-Najib websites and blogs ready to gobble up what is essentially a sadistic prank.
The fact also remains that the conspiracy to slam, distract and unnerve Najib is rooted in fear. Fear that Najib, soon after taking over from Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, had begun the healing process of bringing back the shiploads of Umno members and supporters who deserted the mother ship and voted for the opposition, not because they saw the left as an alternative government, but because they despised wholeheartedly the existing leadership and what they represented.
Even the masses who voted for the opposition on March 8, 2008 are regretting their impulsiveness and are ready to return to the fold, partly because Najib has taken over and partly because they are tired of the opposition's dogma -- every day until today is a March 8 moment. It was as if Najib had been complacently static.
But Najib has not been static. The few by-elections seemed to have underscored the reverse trend of Malay voters returning to Umno's comfort zone, inconclusive as they are.
But for the opposition, Najib is now deemed as the turnaround artist. That is why Najib must be demonised, with apparent murder and apparent genocide, for he is the real threat to the opposition's five-state hegemony.