Rebutting Burhan Gafoor – Part 3

This is part 3 of the rebuttal to Singapore High Commissioner to Australia Mr Burhan Gafoor’s “Response to Poh Soo Kai’s allegations”.

No about turn by Singapore Leftists

Mr Gafoor wrote:

But when the Tunku offered merger through Malaysia in May 1961, the communists made a startling about-turn. They determined to derail merger, even though they had all along insisted that Malaya and Singapore were one entity.

[Mr Gafoor’s reference: Chin Peng: My Side of History, page 437]

Mr Gafoor only had to flip one more page to understand the so-called ‘startling about turn’. Chin Peng explained on page 438:

Singapore, we maintained, would be entering Malaysia on terms that would be unequal to the other territories. Malaya’s legislation, we said, strongly favoured the Malays to the disadvantage of the Chinese and this situation would remain in force within the new Malaysian concept. We knew the Chinese of Singapore would be deeply worried by the prospects for education in general and Chinese schools in particular under a Malaysia controlled from Kuala Lumpur.

Thus, the anti-merger group (including Barisan, David Marshall and others) weren’t doing an about turn but merely expressing concern that Lee Kuan Yew was pushing Singapore to join Malaysia on unequal terms. History has validated the anti-merger stance with the communal riots that led to Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia.

Alignment isn’t conformance

Mr Gafoor wrote:

Chin Peng later made it clear that the CPM wished to sabotage merger or delay its implementation at that stage. He disclosed that “(The) three of us (Chin Peng, Siao Chang and Eu Chooi Yip) came to the conclusion that it would be in the best interest of our Party (italics inserted for emphasis) if we plotted to sabotage (merger). If we couldn’t derail it, at least we might substantially delay its implementation”. The Barisan conformed to the CPM line and mounted a strong challenge to the PAP on merger.

[Mr Gafoor’s reference: Chin Peng: My Side of History, page 437]

Mr Gafoor should not mistake the common stance taken by the Barisan and the CPM on the merger issue as evidence of Barisan conforming to the CPM line. At that time, David Marshall also stood with Barisan against merger. Going by Mr Gafoor’s logic, would it be Barisan conforming to David Marshall’s line or David Marshall conforming to Barisan’s line?

In addition to the Barisan, David Marshall and a number of others led a campaign against Singapore joining the Federation on the proposed terms.

[Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control, Carl A. Trocki, page 111]

After they lost the debate on Singapore’s referendum bill in July 1962, a group of Assemblymen led by the Barisan Socialis and David Marshall sent an appeal to the United Nations.

[Looking East to Look West: Lee Kuan Yew’s Mission India, Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, page 89]

David Marshall, leader of the Workers’ Party, was opposed to the citizenship provision, and argued that he would continue his opposition to merger unless “the Tunku [was] prepared to agree either to a common citizenship for Malaysia with the right to vote limited to the state in which the citizen was living, or that any alteration …

[Creating “Greater Malaysia”: Decolonization and the Politics of Merger, Tan Tai Yong, page 94]

Even till this day, opposition parties often adopt the same or similar positions on various issues but that doesn’t imply that one opposition party is toeing the line of another opposition party or vice versa.

Anti-British League not necessarily communist

Mr Gafoor wrote:

At least seven of the Barisan’s 16 central committee members were known CPM or former Anti-British League (ABL) members. (The ABL was a CPM underground political organisation set up in 1948 and disbanded in 1957.)

Mr Gafoor should take note that Anti-British League members weren’t necessarily communists as most were free radicals or anti-colonialists.

The first thing to realise is that although left-wing and anti-colonial radicalism flourished to unprecedented levels during the first half of the 1950s, the Communist Party itself was diminishing as a controlling force in Singapore over the same period. The Party machinery was almost completely smashed by the colonial security forces in 1948, and although the surviving operations – most notably the Anti-British League – were notionally answerable to the party, their members and activists were mostly free radicals, swept up in a surge of anti-colonialism. Many were not communists at all and some were much more militant than the Party.

[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project, Michael D. Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš, page 26]

While there is no doubt that Lim Chin Siong, being an ex-Anti-British League member, was ideologically close to the MCP, there has been to date no conclusive proof to indicate that four years after ceasing contact with his direct superior in the ABL, Lim had not evolved into a nationalist socialist leader in his own right. It was in this new, semi-autonomous political role that Lim, as recently revealed in this history of the PAP, Men in White (2009), met Fong three times between the late 1950s and early 1961. It remains difficult to assess the full impact of the MCP on left-wing politics in Singapore until the full content of these meetings is made known.

[The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity, Edgar Liao and Lim Cheng Tju and Seng Guo Quan, page 169]

What’s wrong with Fong Chong Pik using the Chinese press?

Mr Gafoor wrote:

On his part, the Plen frankly revealed that he had used the Chinese press to try to delay merger. He wrote: “A lot of the opinions expressed in the newspapers originated from me. “These included slowing down the process of merger, and adopting the form of a confederation.”

[Mr Gafoor’s reference: Fong Chong Pik: The Memoirs of a Malayan Communist Revolutionary, page 161]

He was also behind the agitation against educational reform in the Chinese middle schools, resulting in the examination boycott of November 1961. His aim was to arouse public dissatisfaction with the Government in the run-up to the merger referendum.

Mr Gafoor’s reference, reproduced below, shows Fong Chong Pik explaining that he used the Chinese press to delay merger because he felt merger was too hastily prepared and could have caused racial conflict and because it was the only way he could counter slanders against him and his party:

Question: … Do you have anything you wish to say about the period when you went underground in 1951, to the emergence of the Singapore Malaya merger plan in 1963?

Answer: To discuss the past history after several decades may seem like wise after the event. But I felt that some of the actions of Lee Kuan Yew, particularly his haste in pushing through the merger, were mainly aimed at making use of the Malaysian government to suppress the left-wing and consolidate his rule of Singapore. If the left-wing did indeed cause a popular uprising, suppression was quite possible.
Secondly, knowing that the British could easily raise racial issues with the Tunku, I was worried that if the Malaysian government began to suppress the left-wing in Singapore, and the left-wing fought back causing a racial conflict, I would no longer be just political suppression. The wound and pain resulting from such conflict would require several generations to heal. Because of these worries, I did not agree to the merger.
Thirdly, at the time, the rumour in Singapore was that they were intent on obtaining the leadership in Malaysia following merger. They slandered the communists, accusing them of attempting to use Singapore as a base to subvert Malaysia. But we, the communists, could not step out and challenge this to defend ourselves. A lot of the opinions expressed in the newspapers originated from me. These included slowing down the process of merger, and adopting the form of a confederation. It was not all as they said, that the left-wing was opposed to merger because we were afraid of suppression by the Malaysian government.

The Singapore newspaper, Lianhe Zaobao, reprinted the Nanyang Siang Pau interview. Later, on August 4, 1997, Lianhe Zaobao carried a letter to the editor written by Madame Yang Yoon Ying, Lee Kuan Yew’s press secretary, commenting on my interview. Assuming that Madame Yang’s view had originated from Mr. Lee, it was most interesting that her first paragraph should deal with none other than the “merger” issue.

Mr. Fong Chong Pik said that he agreed with the merger, but his words are inconsistent with his actions in the 1960s. He was strongly opposed to merger, and ordered the later Lim Chin Siong to split the PAP to stop the merger. It shows that the material evidence and witness to what had happened are still present.

Obviously, these comments were not aimed at promoting a discussion on the historical evidence of “merger”, whether “merger” was a success or failure, right or wrong. But the thrust was to twist the issue by accusing me of being inconsistent.

I wrote a reply to Madame Yang through Lianhe Zaobao. On September 7, 1997, Lianhe Zaobao published my reply. On the “merger” issue, I had this to say:

First your comments accused me of being inconsistent. This is not in conformity with the facts. Indeed, it is twisting the facts.

In the Nanyang Siang Pau interview, I clearly said: ‘Because of these worries, I did not agree to the merger.’ I did not contradict myself. Where is the inconsistency?

In addition, it needs to be pointed out that those people who stand for ‘unification between Singapore and Malaya’ do not have to accept any unsuitable ‘merger arrangement’. The hungry will search for food, but do not have to ingest poison to satisfy hunger. Where is the inconsistency?

I said in the Nanyang Siang Pau interview, ‘That the 1963 merger was short and temporary demonstrates that the conditions for merger were not ripe.’ Is this not a fact?

My interview was reprinted in the Lianhe Zaobao. Had Madame Yang not read it?

[Fong Chong Pik: The Memoirs of a Malayan Communist Revolutionary, page 160-162]

Mr Gafoor did not provide any reference to Fong Chong Pik’s supposed agitation against educational reform in the Chinese middle schools. In any case, historians have explained why these educational reforms were such a big concern to the Chinese community then that no communist agitation was required for these societal issues to explode into political hot potatoes.

The second issue was the conversion of Chinese middle school structure into an English-medium, multi-ethnic school system and the repeated denial of full government support for the newly established Chinese-medium Nanyang University. When the battle over educational reforms fused with the 1961 internal party split within the PAP …, the campuses of these four tertiary institutions were rocked with protests. Students from these institutions often banded together to launch manifestos, classroom boycotts, hunger strikes and street marches so as to protest against government raids, arrests, expulsions … The post-independence period from 1965 was similarly turbulent as the PAP was determined to follow through with its educational reforms by using the Wang Gungwu Report on Nanyang University … In October and November 1966, hundreds of students again had another serious clash with the police at the Ministry of Education

[The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts, Lysa Hong and Huang Jianli, page 138]

… in another major student protest, the examination strike of 1961, which was also sparked by the government’s initiative to change the Chinese school system. The examination strikes that took place in 1961 were prompted by changes made to the Chinese school system. Traditionally, the Chinese middle schools followed the so-called “3-3 system” … Lim Yew Hock’s … government announced that … Chinese middle school system would be changed to a four-year system in line with the English school system … this new system was opposed by Chinese educators. One major concern was that Chinese schools would disappear … There were also worries that students who failed the Middle Four examinations would lose two years of education … When the PAP took over … in 1959 … the new government planned to go ahead with the change from the “3-3 system” to the “4-2″ system.” … the new government also announced that, starting in 1962, all students in the Middle Four classes would have to take a general school-leaving examination set by the government before they would be allowed to go on to the next level (pre-university). The implementation of the new policy caused conflict between the PAP government and the Chinese educators and eventually led to the examination strikes by the Chinese students.

[Singapore Chinese Society in Transition: Business, Politics, & Socio-Economic Change, 1945-1965, Liu Hong, page 153]


One Response to “Rebutting Burhan Gafoor – Part 3”

  1. dotseng Says:

    Most informative, educational and thought provoking. Thank you for your well research piece.

    Best Wishes

    Darkness 2015

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