A sign of insanity

Well, if 300,000 people did converge on a field that can only fit 12,000 people, as Anwar had hoped, then the excess would definitely spill over to Dataran Merdeka. And that was the game plan — to ‘occupy’ Dataran Merdeka and trigger a ‘Malaysian Spring’ that would finally bring down the government that Anwar had been trying to bring down for 15 years since 1998.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”Albert Einstein

The first demonstration that I got involved in was around 1968. That was the Chinese organised protest in front of the Pudu Jail and was when I first ‘tasted’ tear gas. This was followed by various election campaign rallies leading to the 10th May 1969 general election. 

I was just 18 then and still too young to vote. Nevertheless, it was not the elections that attracted me to these ‘civil commotions’ but the fun of being involved in chaos. I suppose this is what interests youngsters — the commotion behind the activity rather than justice, democracy and whatnot.

Soon after that, the May 13 race riots exploded and that sort of ‘woke me up’, if that is the right term to use. I began to realise that Malaysia was not really one-nation-one-country, as I had always believed over those many years. Malaysia was many nations in one country.

My early perception of Malaysia was that ‘nation’ and ‘country’ means the same thing. May 1969, however, showed me that we might be one country but that does not necessarily mean we are also one nation. And maybe that is why the Native Americans (who used to be called ‘Red Indians’) come in many ‘nations’ although they may all be Americans.

And note that I use the word ‘nation’ and not ‘race’. Prior to 1901, Malays were called a nation. It was not until 1901 that the British Colonial Government decided to replace the word ‘nation’ with ‘race’ — Reid, Anthony (2001). “Understanding Melayu (Malay) as a Source of Diverse Modern Identities”. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 32 (3): 295–313.

In his 1775 doctoral dissertation titled De generis humani varietate nativa (On the Natural Varieties of Mankind), Blumenbach outlined four main human races by skin colour — namely Caucasian (white), Ethiopian (black), Native American (red), and Mongolian (yellow).

In 1795, Blumenbach added another race called ‘Malay’, which he considered a subcategory of both the Ethiopian and Mongoloid races. The Malay race belonged to those of a ‘brown colour: from olive and a clear mahogany to the darkest clove or chestnut brown’. Blumenbach expanded the term ‘Malay’ to include the native inhabitants of the Marianas, the Philippines, the Malukus, Sundas, Indochina, as well as the Pacific Islands like Tahiti.

Hence the term ‘Malay’ is a very wide definition and includes more than just the ‘brown-skinned natives’ of Malaya (and now Malaysia). Nevertheless, this distinction did not strike me until 1969 when I began to realise that we may hit the streets as ‘fellow-Malaysians’, but when the shit hits the fan and push comes to shove, we are still divided by skin colour.

I suppose I can say that it was a rude awakening for me at a time when I was yet to discover Islam. Around ten years later, when I finally ‘discovered’ Islam — what I describe as the time I became a ‘born again Muslim’ — I began to realise that we are further subdivided by religion.

For 20 years thereafter I conducted myself as a Malay-Muslim and became heavily involved with the Malay Chamber of Commerce (Dewan Perniagaan Melayu) and PAS (the Islamic political party) to further the Malay-Islam cause.

Twenty years on, in 1998, I got my second wakeup call. This happened when the Reformasi movement exploded onto the Malaysian scene with the arrest of Anwar Ibrahim and the birth of Parti Keadilan Nasional (now Parti Keadilan Rakyat) about seven months later. And that was when I realised that the fight cannot be just a Malay-Muslim fight but a fight of all Malaysians regardless of race and religion.

Invariably, I became involved in both PKN and the Reformasi movement and was one of the organisers of the Kesas Highway demonstration in November 2000. That demonstration took many months to plan and attracted about 100,000 participants — the second largest demonstration after the historic 2nd September 1998 demonstration at Dataran Merdeka.

Dataran Merdeka: 2nd September 1998

Kesas Highway: 5th November 2000

The 5th November 2000 demonstration resulted in ten of us getting detained under the ISA — as did the 2nd September 1998 demonstration that not only got the organisers detained but Anwar Ibrahim as well.

Thereafter, we tried to keep the fire burning by organising gatherings at Anwar’s house in Damansara Heights every Thursday night. At first the area around Anwar’s house was like a pesta (festival). However, as we went along, the crowds dwindled and towards the end we could no longer get even 100 people to attend the Thursday night pestas at Anwar’s house.

In March 2004, the message finally sunk in when the ruling party won 91% of the seats in Parliament and the opposition lost Terengganu and almost lost Kelantan that it first won in 1990. And this message was that the people were tired of rallies and demonstrations and these ‘street events’ were no longer enough to win the support of the people.

And that was when we decided to change tactics. After all, did not Einstein say ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results’?  Hence, since we were doing the same thing over and over again and appeared to be failing, would it not be insane to keep doing it?

And this new tactic that we came up with was to take the fight from the streets to the Internet. And that was why we decided to launch Malaysia Today, five months later in August 2004, just two weeks before Anwar was released from jail.

And the March 2008 general election proved we were right when we managed to reverse the debacle of the March 2004 general election and the opposition won five states and denied the ruling party its two-thirds majority in Parliament by winning 82 Parliament seats.

Now the opposition is turning the clock back. It is going back to 1998, 1999, 2000, etc., which we had already abandoned in 2004 when we decided to change tactics and take the fight from the streets to the Internet. If 10-15 years ago the government could not be brought down by ‘street action’, what makes them think this can happen now?

I suppose the ‘Arab Spring’ created the perception that the same thing can happen in Malaysia if the crowd is large enough — say 300,000 demonstrators. In fact, that was what Anwar had hoped would happen last weekend — that 300,000 people will converge on Padang Merbuk, a field that can accommodate only 12,000 people.

Well, if 300,000 people did converge on a field that can only fit 12,000 people, as Anwar had hoped, then the excess would definitely spill over to Dataran Merdeka. And that was the game plan — to ‘occupy’ Dataran Merdeka and trigger a ‘Malaysian Spring’ that would finally bring down the government that Anwar had been trying to bring down for 15 years since 1998.

But the 300,000 did not turn up in spite of Husam Musa declaring that those who were to die last weekend in a bid to ‘occupy’ Padang Merbuk would die a martyr’s death and would go straight to heaven (and probably be rewarded with 72 virgins).

Not only were people not prepared to die they were not even prepared to get chocked by the air pollution. So don’t even talk about dying in a hail of bullets. They don’t even want to suffer breathing problems. Instead, Husam got arrested for sedition for instigating the people to die — because to be able to die would mean you first need to trigger violence.

The ‘Arab Spring’ flags at last weekend’s demonstration

So, are we doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results? If that is what we are doing, then, according to Einstein, we are mad. Many of us have abandoned the 1998-2000 tactic of ‘street action’ long ago. After the 2004 general election disaster, we came to the conclusion that what we were doing was futile and to be able to make inroads we would need to change tactics. To now go back to the ‘old ways’ of doing things is going to result in whatever gains the opposition made in 2008 and 2013 lost in the next election in 2017/2018.

So what, then, should we do instead? Well, maybe we can take a leaf out of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s struggle against the British. What we need is a Malaysian Gandhi. Anwar cannot be Malaysia’s Gandhi because he has chosen ‘civil commotion’ instead of Gandhi’s ‘civil disobedience’ as the route to take. And Anwar’s civil commotion has failed, as it has failed over 15 years since 1998.

Anwar is a politician. He is the Opposition Leader in Parliament. Gandhi was not a politician or the Opposition Leader of India. And that is why Gandhi succeeded where Anwar has failed — and will continue to fail right up to the next general election when Umno and Barisan Nasional will, again, win the election.

So, will Malaysia’s Gandhi please stand up! We need you to bring changes to Malaysia.


The Non Co-operation Movement

The redressing of injustice of Punjab and Khilafat and the attainment of Swaraj became the key issue. The masses were getting awakened. Gandhi announced the inauguration of Non-violent Non-Co-operation Movement on the 1st August 1920. A special session of Congress in September accepted the programme. The Nagpur Congress in December 1920 endorsed it enthusiastically.

The programme consisted of the following points:

Surrender of titles and honours given by the British Government,

Boycott of law-courts,

Boycott of educational institutions,

Boycott of councils and elections,

Boycott of foreign cloth,

Boycott of Government functions,

Picketing of liquor shops,

Refusal to get recruited in the army.

The programme was not just negative. It included the building of new institutions. National Education was encouraged. Stress was laid on Khadi. Charkha became the symbol of freedom.

The Congress was completely reorganised and a new constitution drafted by Gandhi was adopted to make it a mass organisation and a useful tool for the struggle. The movement started with hartal, fasting and prayers. It soon spread like wildfire. The freedom movement had become a mass movement. Gandhi declared the Swaraj could be won within one year if the programme was fully implemented. People showed great unity, determination and courage. Hundreds of National schools were established. Tilak Swaraj Fund was over-subscribed. About 20 lakh charkhas began to be plied in the country. The boycott shook the Government.

1921 was the year of the rise of Indian Nationalism Gandhi became a Mahatma, the most loved and revered figure in the country. Masses looked to him as a saint, as an incarnation of God who had come to free them from slavery and poverty. The Government started repression. Arrests were made. Firing took place at some places. The country boycotted the visit of Prince of Wales, the British Prince in November 1921. Disturbances broke out at Bombay and Gandhi had to fast to control the situation. By the end of 1921, the number of prisoners had risen to 30,000. Processions and meetings were being broken up.

The masses were getting impatient. Call was given for Civil Disobedience. Gandhi wanted to start the campaign step-by-step. He chose Bardoli in Gujarat for starting the campaign. Notice was given to Government on the 1st February 1922. However, the movement had to be called off within a few days. On the 5th February, a mob including Congressmen set fire to a police station at Chauri Chaura in U.P., killing about 22 policemen. Gandhi was shocked. He realised that people had not fully accepted non-violence. He persuaded the Congress to suspend the agitation. Gandhi was arrested in March and was sentenced to 6 years’ imprisonment. He was kept in the Yeravda jail near Pune.

Gandhi Research Foundation: http://www.mkgandhi.org/intro_autobio.htm