I learned something new about first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman when I read a Bernama report about some things Mahatma Gandhi and Bapa Malaysia had in common.
The report, published in FMT on Oct 2 and coinciding with the International Day of Non-Violence which is observed on the birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, quoted remarks made by Tunku Sofiah Jewa, the Tunku’s paternal niece.
Among other things, she noted that Tunku and Gandhi were deeply concerned about the well-being of common folk and that they believed independence was meaningless without the spirit of service.
Our leaders today should reflect on this. Do they really care for the well-being of the ordinary Malaysian or are they more concerned about making hay while the sun shines so that they can retire in luxury?
Do they have the spirit of service to the downtrodden that Gandhi and Tunku had or are they more concerned about serving the welfare of fellow elites and family members?
Sofiah narrated a story about the Tunku that I had not heard before. This happened before he became involved in politics.
One day, while Tunku the deputy public prosecutor was in a courtroom in Kedah, he heard a voice resembling that of his father Sultan Abdul Hamid calling out his name.
Sofiah said: “After the case was over, Tunku went to his father’s room in the old palace nearby, reclined on his father’s rocking chair, and fell fast asleep. He then dreamt of his father. ‘Putra, bela lah rakyat’ (Putra, look after the people). Tunku woke up then, but since he was very tired, he fell asleep again.
“And can you imagine who he saw in his dream? It was none other than the greatest of Indian nationalists, Mahatma Gandhi, and also the then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
“The signal was clear for Tunku. He knew at once that, like it or not, he was destined to lead his people to freedom. Tunku became president of Umno. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
What a charming story.
Sofiah also said: “If we are truly serious about commemorating Gandhi’s birth anniversary, let us remember what he had said on his last birthday: ‘If you really want to celebrate my birthday, it is your duty not to let anyone be possessed by madness; and if there is any anger in your hearts, you must remove it.’”
The madness that Gandhi is referring to is not the hospital variety; it is unrelated to sensory overload or scholarly eccentricity or depression or suicidal tendencies. He is talking about the madness that makes men act in hurtful and savage ways against fellow humans.
There are more than a few madmen in our midst and you can find them among politicians, NGO leaders, government officials and religious leaders, including preachers.
Most often, madmen prey on our ignorance or gullibility or greed or misplaced ideals to achieve their goals.
Hubris can create madness, as can an inability to think clearly. Fanatical adherence to dogmas or blind loyalty to leaders can create madness. A combination of greed and ambition can create madness, as can extreme fear or anger.
Madmen are completely blind to their own false reasoning or lack of reasoning, and their loss of common sense.
One type of madness causes those gripped by it to see enemies everywhere. Drawing on figments of his imagination, such a person conjures up “enemies” who have nothing better to do than “destroy” him or his group. Constantly feeling threatened by this or that person or group, he psyches himself and his followers up to wage battle against named or unnamed “enemies”.
The madman is ready to kill or urge others to kill in the name of his belief or some dogma, not realising that we are all equally creations of God or the Absolute, no matter what name you give Him/Her/It. Overcome by bigotry and its related family of diseases, the madman does not realise that by killing or hurting another person he is killing or hurting a creation of God; that he is in fact betraying God.
I count among madmen those crafty politicians who play on the gullibility of their supporters to cause disunity or hatred or even violence to achieve their ambition of gaining or holding power regardless of the irreparable harm their actions cause to others and the national fabric.
Those suffering from another type of madness insist that only they are right or that only their way is right. They don’t see, or refuse to acknowledge, the plurality of life, the diversity of cultures right before their eyes. They are quick to turn everyone else into “the other”, and therefore, to be suspicious of or detested.
There is also a more common type of madness, where one is unable to control or manage his or her emotions, particularly anger, often leading to disastrous consequences for himself or herself and others.
The truth is that many of us are unable to manage our anger. We get angry over some of the smallest things and damage our relationships with others – whether in the family or society. At the national level, anger coupled with a herd mentality does untold damage to unity and a nation’s progress, especially if this anger arises from racial or religious intolerance and turns into madness.
Many of us don’t realise that anger harms our inner self too.
That is why Gandhi tells us to remove anger from our hearts. That is why he urges us to ensure no one is possessed – and possessed is the right word – by such madness.
A quote from the Mahatma is appropriate here: “We may never be strong enough to be entirely non-violent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep non-violence as our goal and make strong progress towards it.”
For Malaysia, I’d like to rephrase it thus: We must keep unity in diversity as our goal and make strong progress towards it.
In his International Day of Non-Violence message, UN secretary-general António Guterres said: “We need to recognise, as Gandhi did, that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. That peace provides the only pathway to a better future for all.”
This is what we must hold on to as we negotiate our way among the madmen in our midst.