Umno riding on the slippery Mat Sabu bandwagon

It’s OK if Mat Sabu has done something wrong. But the awful truth is that he has done nothing wrong. Mat Sabu has only exposed the myth that Umno is the only one who fought and gained Malaya’s independence from the clutches of the colonial power.

By Kim Quek

If you do not believe that Umno has already passed its expiry date as a potent political party, all you need to do is to watch how its entire leadership as well as its entire propaganda machineries have been fully engaged in the past week to indulge in an orgy of attacks against Mat Sabu – PAS’ deputy president.

It’s OK if Mat Sabu has done something wrong. But the awful truth is that he has done nothing wrong.

Mat Sabu has only exposed the myth that Umno is the only one who fought and gained Malaya’s independence from the clutches of the colonial power.

His illustrative mention of Muhammad Indera (fondly known as Mat Indera) as an independence fighter was only in the context of lambasting Umno for ritualistically twisting the Bukit Kepong assault incident on every Merdeka Day for Umno’s self-glorification – as if it is the only body accountable for the country’s independence.


Pouncing on Mat Sabu’s positive mention of Mat Indera, Umno bays for Mat Sabu’s blood. It accuses Mat Sabu – and by extension PAS – of praising communists and glorifying communism and wanting to turn the country into a republic.

While the entire might of Umno has been unleashed on a non-stop assault on Mat Sabu’s alleged advocacy of communism, has any one of them paused to reflect that the word “communist” or “communism” was never mentioned by Mat Sabu in his entire speech? 

For the sake of truth, let us recapture the relevant part of Mat Sabu’s speech, delivered in a ceremah at Tasek Gelugor, Penang, on Aug 21:

“When it’s near Merdeka Day (television programmes) on Bukit Kepong will be aired. The police who died in Bukit Kepong are police who belonged to the British.

“Those who attacked Bukit Kepong were the ones fighting for independence. The one who attacked Bukit Kepong was Mat Indera (Muhammad Indera). He is a Malay, but this is not in the history books.

“Jins Shamsudin made a film (about this). Jins Shamsudin is from Umno. (His film on) Bukit Kepong criticised (the attackers) as the villains.

“The police are British police. Before independence, our country was ruled by the British. But in the film, the heroes were the British and the (insurgents) were terrorists.”

 Mat Sabu also criticised in his speech how Umno had perverted the essence of Merdeka Day into self-glorification and ignored non-Umno elements that had also contributed to the country’s independence.


For a better understanding of the issues, let me put the Bukit Kepong incident in its proper historical perspective.

The time was 1950, two years after the declaration of Emergency (to deal with the armed insurgency by the Malayan Communist Party) and seven years before the country gained its independence. It was at the height of the guerilla war waged by the MCP to seek independence from the colonial master Britain.

One night, on 23rd Feb 1950, a band of guerilla fighters attacked a remote police station at Bukit Kepong, Johor, and killed 25 persons who were mainly policemen and their family.

The attack was led by Mat Indera, a Malay, and the policemen were also Malays, serving the British colonial government.

This incident was only one of numerous skirmishes within in a larger war staged between the independence fighters led by the MCP on the one side, and the British colonial government determined to protect its colonial rule on the other side.


The question we want to put to Umno is: since this is a guerilla war for independence, in what way was Mat Sabu wrong when he said Mat Indera was fighting for independence?

And also, in what way Mat Sabu was wrong when he said the policemen who died belonged to the British? Weren’t they serving the colonial government? Didn’t they fight to protect the colonial power?

Since no “communist” or “communism” was ever mentioned, how did Umno come to the conclusion that Mat Sabu was praising communists or glorifying communism? Haven’t Umno leaders and Umno propangandists been taking a big flight of fantasy to conjure up the PAS – Communist nexus?

Isn’t it true that all Mat Sabu was saying was simply that Umno had used the wrong analogy to self-glorify on a false claim – that it alone has brought Merdeka?

What Mat Sabu has uttered has nothing to do with communism. Neither was such uttering intended to downplay the contribution of Malay leaders to the country’s independence movement – as wrongly accused by Umno leaders.

With regards to the role of MCP in our independence struggles, we have to say this. While we might not like communists or agree to the communist ideology, there is no denying the fact that the MCP fought for Malaya’s independence. In fact, it was the high toll caused by the MCP armed insurrection that had prompted Her Majesty’s Government (Queen Elizabeth) to shorten the transition of power to its hand-picked successors to ensure continuity of its legacy. In that sense, the MCP struggle had hastened Merdeka.

And even under the canopy of the MCP, not everyone was a communist, as many had joined the guerilla warfare not to serve the ideology of communism, but to fight to get rid of colonial rule.


As for Umno’s claim as the sole power that has brought this country independence, this is a far cry from the truth. 

Apart from MCP, other nationalist forces had been at work right after World War II (even before Umno was formed) to struggle for an independent Malaya. These were grouped under two umbrella bodies, namely, PUTERA (Pusat Tenaga Rakyat) comprising Malay-based organisations, and AMCJA (All-Malayan Council of Joint Action), a coalition of multi-racial bodies and unions, which included the MCP. These two umbrella bodies quickly joined forces then to press the British colonial government to grant independence to the then Malaya, for which even a draft People’s Constitution was proposed in 1947. But the British rejected this proposition.  

In the subsequent crackdown on this joint political movement, during which many leaders were arrested, some Malay nationalist leaders, including Mat Indera, joined forces with MCP to continue their independence struggles through armed insurgency. As mentioned earlier, it is this armed struggle, which began in 1948 when Emergency was declared, that had served as the constant prod that pushed the British into a speedy hand-over of power.  

Thus, it was the confluence of forces that had brought Merdeka in 1957. Admittedly, the Alliance – a coalition consisting of Umno, MCA and MIC – as the political group favoured by the British, had played a major role in the negotiation that led to independence. But for Umno to claim sole credit for this independence achievement, as it has done in the country’s official version of history, to the exclusion of even its own coalition partners MCA and MIC, would be to do a great injustice to all non-Umno Malayans who have contributed. Other nationalist movements, including those led by prominent leaders like Burhanuddin al-Helmy and Ahmad Boestaman, as well as the MCP, had also made significant contribution towards the speedy realization of Merdeka.

From this perspective, Mat Sabu in raising the Bukit Kepong example has done the nation a great service in awakening the country from the great distortion of history perpetrated by Umno.


As for Umno’s current campaign to vilify Mat Sabu, it is sheer vulgar propaganda aimed at critically damaging the electoral support for of PAS and through it, the entire opposition alliance of Pakatan Rakyat, as Umno’s accusation is nothing but concoction of twisted accounts, unsupported by facts or logic. 

That Umno has to resort to such childish and untenable strategy to salvage its precarious political fortune clearly indicates that it has already lost its potency as a political force – it has neither the substance nor the confidence to compete on a legitimate political platform.