Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra was born in Alor Setar, Kedah on February 8, 1903. He was the twentieth child of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halimshah, the twenty-fourth Sultan of Kedah. Tunku's mother, Nerang, better known as Che Menjalara, was the daughter of Luang Nara Borirak, a descendent of Chao Phya Maha Kota, head of Mataban, Thailand.

At the age of six, Tunku went to a Malay school in Alor Setar, then an English-medium Government English School. In 1913, when he was ten, his mother sent him to Bangkok to stay with his eldest brother, Tunku Yusuf, who was working there.

In Bangkok, Tunku did quite well at Debsurin School, where he made many friends. However, his brother, Tunku Yusuf, passed away in 1915 and Tunku had to return to Kedah. He then studied in a Malay school for a year and then joined the Penang Free School.

When he was seventeen, Tunku left for England to continue his studies. There he sat for a University Entrance Examination after a period of coaching and was accepted into St. Catherine's College, Cambridge University.

That was when he had his first taste of racial discrimination. His application to stay in the college was rejected because of colour. Later, when it was learnt that he came from a royal family, he was offered a place, but he declined on principle and stayed in rented rooms throughout his university course.

The experience deepened his faith in the equality of man as an ideal to be fought for. At the same time, it kindled a desire in him to free his people from British rule.

Tunku obtained a bachelor's degree in law and history from Cambridge University in 1925. In 1926, Tunku returned to Kedah. Four months later, his elder brother, Tunku Ibrahim, who was Raja Muda (Crown Prince) of Kedah at that time sent him back to England to continue his law studies at Inner Temple, with a view of qualifying to be a lawyer or a magistrate.

In England, Tunku found that the number of Malay students had increased but they had no association or organisation. He showed initiative, leadership qualities and a nascent nationalism in the way he got them together to form 'Kesatuan Melayu Great Britain' (The Malay Association of Great Britain). He was elected secretary of the association.

His heart was not in his law studies, however, and after five years returned to Kedah. He joined the Kedah Civil Service as a cadet in the Legal Advisor's Office, and then District Officer in several districts of Kedah.

Two years later, in 1933, Tunku married a Chinese lady who became a Muslim and took the name Meriam. They had two children, Tunku Khadijah and Tunku Ahmad Nerang.

In 1935, when Tunku was in charge of Kuala Nerang, he fought to improve health and medical conditions there, for the district was malaria-ridden. Tragically, his own wife died after contracting the disease. Even in his grief, he went on striving to better the lot of the people.

Another attempt to complete his law studies in England was made in 1938, but when the Second World War broke out Tunku had to return to Kedah. He was appointed District Officer of Sungai Petani and later of Kulim.

Earlier Tunku had married Violet Coulson from England, but the union was short-lived. In 1939, he wed Sharifah Rodziah bt. Syed Alwi Barakbah. Theirs was a happy marriage that lasted to the end of Tunku's life.

1n 1940, Tunku was appointed Deputy Director of Civil Defence, Southern Kedah. When the Japanese handed Kedah over to Thailand in 1941, Tunku was made Supervisor of Education, a post he held till the British took over Kedah and the rest of the country.

Determined to complete his law studies, Tunku joined the Inns of Court in England in 1947. He received his legal qualification in 1949 and returned to Kedah.

Soon after his return to Kedah, Tunku was made Chairman of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Kedah. When Dato' Onn bin Jaafar resigned from his post of UMNO President, a delegation asked Tunku to accept the leadership of the party. Tunku became President of UMNO on the 26th of August, 1951.

In the next few years, Tunku worked towards unity, travelling all over the country to speak to the people. His simplicity and warmth won him the respect and affection of people from all communities and all walks of life.

His efforts and those of Chinese leaders, saw fruition in a political alliance of UMNO and the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) in 1952; later was known as the Alliance Party. The Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) joined the Alliance in 1955.

The people of Malaya, as the country was called then, were sufficiently united to push for self-government in their progress towards independence. In July 1955, the first general election was held. The Alliance won 51 out of the 52 seats contested. Tunku was appointed Chief Minister and Minister of Home Affairs.

As Chief Minister, Tunku made a big effort to end communist terrorism in a peaceful way. On the 9th of September 1955, he declared an amnesty for communist terrorists who surrendered. As a follow-up, the Baling Talks were held on the 28th-29th December 1955 between the Malayan Communist Party, represented by Chin Peng, Chen Tien and Rashid Maidin; and the Government represented by Too Joo Hing, David Marshall, Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tunku. The talks failed when Chin Peng rejected Tunku's proposal that the communists lay down their arms unconditionally. Tunku was more determined than ever to vanquish the terrorists. Five years later, the concerted effort of Malayans succeeded in ending the Emergency caused by communist terrorism.

In 1956, Tunku led a delegation to London to hold talks with the British Government concerning independence for Malaya. The Malayan delegation, comprising of four representatives of the Malay Rulers and four Alliance representatives, convinced the British Government to set a date for independence: 31st August 1957.

Achieving independence peacefully needed a great deal of wisdom and give-and-take. Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra and other leaders like Tun Abdul Razak, Dato' Sulaiman Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Tun H.S. Lee and Tun Sambanthan, made invaluable contributions to the Merdeka cause.

On the 30th of August 1957, at the Selangor Club Padang (now known as Dataran Merdeka or Independence Square), as the clock struck midnight the Malayan flag was hoisted to take the place of the Union Jack. Early the next morning, the 31st of August, at the Merdeka Stadium, Tunku read the Proclamation of Independence. On both occasions, Tunku's shouts of 'Merdeka!' were joyously echoed by thousands of Malayans who were there, and the millions who followed the proceedings through the radio.

Nearly three years later, Tunku mooted the idea of Malaysia, to comprise Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei. An inter-governmental committee was formed. On the 6th of January 1962, the governments of Britain and Malaysia set up the Cobbold Commission to find out how the people of Sabah (North Borneo) and Sarawak felt about joining Malaysia. The Philippines and Indonesia opposed the formation of Malaysia. Brunei decided not to join. On the 9th of July 1963, Malaysia was formed consisting of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak. Unfortunately, Singapore left Malaysia on the 9th of August 1965. The decision to let Singapore go was a sad one for Tunku.

        Just as Malaysia seemed securely set on a course of peace and prosperity, the race riots of May 13, 1969 jolted everyone into realising that there were imbalances and rifts in Malaysian society, which must be corrected. Emergency was declared, Parliament suspended, and the country governed by the National Operations Council chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak. On the 22nd of September 1970, Tunku, profoundly saddened by the May 13 Tragedy, stepped down, and Tun Abdul Razak became Malaysia's second Prime Minister.

Tunku could not stop serving his beloved land. Through his newspaper columns, books and occasional speeches, he continued to emphasize the importance of national unity, religious tolerance and the eternal values of truth, justice, freedom and compassion among men.

He received numerous awards in recognition of his role and efforts from State and Federal Governments, universities, charity organisations and foreign governments.

Right to the end of his long life he remained vocal and active, deeply concerned with national, regional and global issues. He wrote articles for his 'As You See It' columns in the daily tabloid, The Star. He also wrote several books - 'Viewpoints', 'Something to Remember', 'Lest We Forget', 'Challenging Times', 'May 13, Before and After', 'Political Awakenings', 'Contemporary Issues in Malaysian Politics' and 'As A Matter of Interest'.