Nazri's opinion on May 13 sure to stir debateCOMMENT Tourism minister Mohd Nazri Aziz is entitled to his opinion that the Chinese caused the May 13 incident.
This is despite the fact that the entire episode 44 years ago is so shrouded in mystery that an unequivocal opinion like Nazri's on a sensitive issue must seem imprudent, coming from a sitting minister in a government ostensibly pushing for reconciliation after a divisive general election.
The May 13, 1969 racial riots have constituted a wound on the nation's psyche, colouring all that has happened in our history since.
It's the skewer in the innards of the nation, making it nearly impossible to think without emotive encumbrance on matters to do with race and, its Malaysian corollary, religion.
Because the health of nations, as of individuals, depends on some measure of release from past wounds, this chapter of our history has to be exhumed and ventilated.
Like the puzzle of an unsolved crime, the May 13 incident continues to disturb the national consciousness; closure will only come when an investigation and ventilation of the issue is over and done with.
For that reason Nazri's opinion is useful as stimulus for public discourse.
Seemingly jaundiced, it will draw fire, with the ensuing debate certain to spur calls for an exhumation of the painful events that led to the race riots in the immediate aftermath of what was the country's third general election.
Coterie of Umno politicians
To be sure Nazri's opinion is not the only controversial opinion aired in recent times on the febrile subject.
A few months ago, Tamrin Ghafar (left), son of former deputy prime minister and Umno stalwart, Ghafar Baba, revealed that he and Anwar Ibrahim were told by the late Ghazali Shafie that May 13 was engineered by a coterie of Umno politicians who saw it as a way to oust incumbent Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and replace him with his deputy, Abdul Razak Hussein.
Ghazali, the once powerful home minister, was said by Tamrin to have aired this version of events to an Umno Youth delegation, led by Anwar, which visited him in the mid-1980s to seek his views on current affairs.
A slew of visitors to the Tunku's residence in Penang in the last year of his life (he died in December 1990) heard things from the country's founding PM that tended to corroborate Ghazali's version.
The Tunku , in the last years of his long life (he died at the age of 87), had arrived at some conclusions as to what happened in the prelude and aftermath of the race riots of May, 1969.
Those conclusions were stinging about Razak, a trusted lieutenant of the Tunku's until the May 13 incident.
Till the end of his life, the Tunku could not accept the riots as something that was inevitable given that pervasive Malay poverty was tinder against which the match of racial strife could easily be struck.
The Tunku (right) always felt that the riots were a contrived rather than spontaneous explosion.
The Tunku had prided himself on being the world's "happiest prime minister"; it was matter of great grief to him that the race riots occurred on his watch, as if in mockery of his claims.
The riots ended his tenure as PM, although he had intimated that he would quit the PM's post when it became the turn of the Sultan of Kedah (the same one who is King now) to ascend the throne as King. The Sultan was the Tunku's nephew.
The Tunku reportedly said it was unseemly for a democratic country to have the uncle as PM and the nephew as King. (The Sultan of Kedah was slated to become the King of Malaysia in September 1970.)
Bundled out of office
But before the Tunku could act out his reservations about the uncle-nephew tie, fast-moving events in the immediate aftermath of the race riots contrived to ease him out of office.
The Tunku was aggrieved by the haste to bundle him out of office. He nevertheless yielded with grace to the tide of events that swept him aside, taking up the position of secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Solidarity in Jeddah, given him by then Saudi King Faisal who had a soft spot for the Tunku.
In later years, though, the Tunku's recall of the prelude and aftermath of May 13 would become increasingly bitter, especially about the way he was bundled out.
Where once things had been murky, in retrospect they took on a sinister hue, with consequently damaging reassessments by the Tunku of the roles and motives of principals like Abdul Razak (right).
All this would come up in the event that the pivotal happenings of more than four decades ago are disinterred as a result of controversial opinions such as Nazri has just voiced.
Nazri's opinion is welcome for its propensity to excite debate and for reason of the need to parse a murky period of our past.
TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.