TUESDAY is my weekly marketing day but before procuring the items on the grocery list, I always make it a point to pay the second hand book seller a visit first. His stall lies within the market compound, among a sea of push carts offering almost everything under the sun, from fragrant nasi lemak to freshly ground coffee powder.
Although his stock of vintage Straits Times annuals and Journals Of The Malaysian Branch Of The Royal Asiatic Society have diminished significantly over the years, there are still occasional treasures to be found.
Just recently, as I was looking at the items spread out on a blue tarpaulin sheet, I came across an interesting book titled The Sultan Was Not Alone. Flipping through the pages, I discovered to my delight that it contained a compilation of draft letters written by Sultan Badlishah ibni al-Marhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah. The documents were aimed at repealing the Malayan Union policy imposed on Malaya after the Second World War.
My marketing that day must have been completed in haste as I simply have no recollection of it at all. I just remember getting home, passing the food stuff to my wife and and heading up to my study to pore over the book for the rest of the day. Coming across that same book while clearing my table now prompts me to look back at the chain of events concerning the contentious Malayan Union policy.
First unveiled by George Henry Hall, Secretary of State for the Colonies during the British Parliament sitting in October 1945, the Malayan Union was vehemently opposed by the Malays for two main reasons.
First, the proposed “Jus Soli” citizenship policy allowed Indian and Chinese residents who were already in Malaya to easily become citizens as long as they were of good character, able to understand and speak the English or Malay language and swore an oath of allegiance to the Malayan Union Governor.
The second reason involved the Sultans, traditional rulers of the Malay states, conceding power to the British Crown on all matters except those concerning the Islamic religion. During that same speech, Hall announced that Sir Harold Alfred MacMichael would represent the British Government in getting the Malay rulers’ consensual signatures.
MacMichael arrived in Malaya on Oct 11, 1945 and began his whirlwind tour of the nine Malay states starting with Johor. He visited Alor Star on Nov 29, 1945 and held an audience with Sultan Badlishah at the Anak Bukit Palace. This was followed by three days of lopsided and threat-laced meetings with members of the State Executive Council, headed by Menteri Besar, Mohammad Sheriff Osman.
MacMichael threatened Sultan Badlishah, the ruler during the Second World War, with dethronement after accusing the monarch of collaboration with the Japanese during the Occupation. Despite knowing that it meant loss of political power, Sultan Badlishah finally relented and signed the Malayan Union Agreement under duress on Dec 2, 1945.
Employing the same underhanded tactic repeatedly, MacMichael accomplished his task with four days to spare before Christmas that same year.
His ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ caught even the most seasoned British official by surprise.
Unhappy with the way things were conducted, Sultan Badlishah subsequently sent a protest petition to the Colonial Office in London, bringing to light the unfair methods employed by MacMichael. A Member of Parliament then read a copy of that petition in its entirety to his peers in the British House of Commons.
Among the drafts in the book was one involving a letter sent to the Yang diPertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan two months after the signing. In it, Sultan Badlishah wrote “...my signature was obtained not with my goodwill but under threat to use force and that I already protested before signing.”
In that same draft, Sultan Badlishah explained the reason why he chose to sign the agreement: “...if I was not accepted as Sultan my protest would be valueless as the British Govt. would not deal with me. And in case someone else was appointed Sultan, he, having pocketed the prize, might not struggle for the State.” Sultan Badlishah ended the communique by expressing surprise at the latest revelation that MacMichael wasn’t authorised by Hall to deal with the Malay rulers ‘in such a brutal manner’.
UNITED AGAINST THE BRITISH
In the state capital, the people began rallying behind their Sultan upon realising what had actually transpired. Drawing inspiration from Sultan Badlishah’s stand against the British, a procession of 50,000 Kedahans paraded around the streets of Alor Star on Jan 19, 1946 showing support for their monarch. For the first time in history, the Malays were united against the might of the British.
Acutely aware of the situation in Malaya, the British government produced a White Paper, explaining in detail matters pertaining to the Malayan Union. In response, the Malays held a second rally in Alor Star’s Padang Court on Feb 3, 1946 to adamantly reject the British proposal.
The United Malays National Organisation (Umno), a Malay political association formed by Datuk Onn Ja’afar on March 1, 1946 organised a congress attended by 41 political bodies to oppose the Malayan Union. The men wore white bands around their songkok to signify mourning for the loss of their beloved Sultans’ political rights.
Opposition to the Malayan Union continued even after it came into existence on April 1, 1946. The Malays utilised civil disobedience effectively as a means of protest. They refused to attend installation ceremonies of the British governors and rejected calls to participate in Advisory Council meetings. In short, Malay participation in the government bureaucracy came to an abrupt stop.
The final straw that broke the camel’s back was the huge rally in Alor Star on May 30, 1946. Crowds lined major road junctions as Datuk Onn brought Hall’s representatives, Lt. Col. David Rees-Williams and Captain L.D. Gammans, to the Kedah capital. It must have been quite a sight for the foreign visitors to see trees by the roadside, trishaws and even bullock carts peppered with posters calling for an end to Malayan Union rule.
At the same time, landing points in Pengkalan Kapal and Tanjung Chali were filled to the brim with boats ferrying villagers from as far away as Kuala Kedah and Tobiar. That afternoon, Padang Court was filled with no less than 10,000 protesters as office workers and students joined the crowd in a show of solidarity.
That very evening, Rees-Williams, with the support of Captain Gammans, sent a telegram to Hall expressing the gravity of the situation and advocating that the Malayan Union be replaced immediately.
Three days later, on June 2, 1946, Malcolm MacDonald and Sir Edward Gent informed the Conference of Rulers that their petition to King George VI was accepted. The Sultans were given assurances that a new constitution would be drafted soon.
While the news was received with great euphoria throughout the nation, the fact remains that was a great personal victory for Sultan Badlishah. It was the monarch’s petition that rang the death knell for the Malayan Union.
Having learnt from their past mistakes, the British sought the opinion of all major races in Malaya while preparing the new administrative system. On Feb 1, 1948 the Federation of Malaya came into existence.
Kedah continued to prosper under the sound leadership of Sultan Badlishah. The state escaped largely unscathed during the Malayan Emergency with Alor Star being among the first towns to be declared a safe white area on Feb 20, 1954. Sultan Badlishah passed away on July 13, 1958. His legacy of exemplary righteousness and integrity continued to live on in two of his sons who became successive ruling Kedah monarchs after him.
A NEW DAY
Sultan Badlishah was succeeded by his eldest son, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah ibni al-Marhum Sultan Badlishah as the 28th Sultan of Kedah. During his 59 year reign, Sultan Abdul Halim made history by serving as Malaysia’s Supreme Head of State twice. His tenure as Yang di-Pertuan Agong lasted from 1970 to 1975 and 2011 to 2016.
Kedah’s present ruling monarch, Sultan Sallehuddin ibni al-Marhum Sultan Badlishah ascended the throne on Sept 11, 2017 upon the demise of his half-brother. Born on April 30, 1942 Sultan Sallehuddin spent his childhood at the Anak Bukit Palace before receiving his early education at the Alor Merah Malay School. As the third child from Sultan Badlishah’s marriage to Sultanah Asma ibni al-Marhum Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah, Sultan Sallehuddin followed the footsteps of his brothers by furthering his secondary education at Sultan Abdul Hamid College.
There, the young prince mixed freely with his peers who came from all walks of life and became actively involved in various sporting activities like rugby and football. His proficiency as an orator made him an asset to the school’s debate team.
An adventurer at heart, Sultan Sallehuddin joined his school mates on a bamboo rafting expedition in 1958.
During the four day event, they traversed the Sik River right up to the place where it meets the Kuala Muda River.
Upon completion of his local education, Sultan Sallehuddin went on to pursue his higher education in India. After returning to Malaya in 1962, His Majesty took up a temporary teaching position at Iskandar School, Alor Setar.
During that time, Sultan Sallehuddin developed a keen interest in the armed forces and returned to India on July 23, 1962 to undertake a one year military course at the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun.
Returning home after graduation, Sultan Sallehuddin was elevated to the rank of Leftenant on Feb 12, 1964 and was subsequently posted to the Second Battalion Royal Malay Regiment (RMR) based at Kelantan’s Pengkalan Chepa.
At the height of the Indonesian Confrontation, Sultan Sallehuddin and his battalion were posted to Kalabakan, Sabah. They routinely patrolled the border, especially the areas surrounding Kampung Mentadah, Simpang Tiga and Apas Balong.
A known hotspot for Indonesian troop incursions, this region gained notoriety a year earlier when seven RMR soldiers lost their lives while 18 more were mortally wounded during an ambush near the Kalabakan River in Dec 29, 1963.
After that tour of duty, the Second Battalion returned to Pengkalan Chepa in 1965 and then moved on to the Sungai Besi Camp a year later. This was followed by stints along the Sarawak border and at Kedah’s Tok Jalai Camp.
The May 1969 racial riots saw Sultan Sallehuddin and his battalion conducting patrols in Penang. About five years later, on Feb 14, 1974 Sultan Sallehuddin retired from the Armed Forces.
Today, Kedahans throughout the state joyously celebrate Sultan Sallehuddin’s first official birthday as Kedah’s ruling monarch. Sunday Vibes takes this opportunity to wish His Majesty a long and prosperous reign.