We were educated to be Malayans and later Malaysians six decades ago and it came as a shock that the Deputy Prime Minister said in 2010 that he was Malay first and Malaysian second

I was in Batu Pahat on Friday night to celebrate the 98th birthday of the my brother-in-law, Ho Lai Chee, which was also a reunion for me with Lai Chee’s far-flung offspring from Sydney, Singapore, and London.

Early before dawn on Saturday, I spent two hours walking the streets of Batu Pahat, to smell the air and revisit the sights of the town where I spent my primary and secondary years, starting from Cheng Siu Chinese primary school to Batu Pahat English School and then Batu Pahat High School.

I savoured the coffee in two coffee shops and later met up with my two of my classmates Pek Teck Soon and Tan Tik Seng at a hawker centre. Three of us are over 240 years old.

But it was in Batu Pahat when we became Malayans and later Malaysians, not Chinese, Malays, Indians, Kadazans, or Ibans

During my school days, there was no ethnic, linguistic, religious, or cultural separateness but the consciousness that we must build unity in diversity of our different identities to achieve a common national identity.

We celebrated all ethnic and religious festivities, whether Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, or Christmas, and in the class magazines which we started, we even tried to ensure that all the languages were represented.

I remember when I was in Form I in 1955, together with Tan Tik Seng and Goh Chay Foo, we cycled from Batu Pahat to Malacca (spending a night in Muar) in what was then regarded as an unusual school holiday expedition, and during the whole trip, what engrossed us was the first Asian-African Conference being held in Bandung, Indonesia.

The Afro-Asian conference in Bandung marked the rise of Asia and Africa from the hegemony of the West as it was the first time that the voices of Asia and Africa were being heard over the voices of the colonialists and the West in global affairs, and it was attended by leaders like Zhou En-Lai of China, Nehru of India, Nasser of United Arab Republic (UAR), U Nu of Burma, Kwame Nkrumah of then Gold Coast and later Ghana.

The fifties in the last century were stirring times. In 1955, there was the Bandung conference. In 1956, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal which led to Suez Canal crisis and the Hungarian Revolution, a premonition of the fall of Berlin Wall and the dissolution of Soviet Union more than three decades later in 1989. In 1957 was Malaya’s Independence.

We were educated to be Malayans and later Malaysians six decades ago, and it came as shock when the Deputy Prime Minister of the country said he was Malays first and Malaysian second in 2010.

Where have Malaysian nation-building gone wrong that six decades of Malaysian nation-building has led to Malaysians being more disunited and polarised?

But all is not lost. Rafidah Aziz has written an autobiography entitled “Being Malaysian First”.

The Ministers in the Anwar Cabinet are having a retreat today.

The single biggest task of the Anwar Cabinet is to make Malaysia a first-rate world-class nation once again.

In my 57 years of political life, I have travelled to and visited more parts of Malaysia than an average Malaysian, and I can say with conviction that there is no anti-Malay, anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, anti-Kadazan, anti-Dayak, or anti-Muslim, anti-Buddhist, anti-Hindu, or anti-Christianity sentiments on the ground, but certain political personalities and political parties want to continue to poison the minds of the people that the Malays and Islam are under threat.

Where does the threat to Malays and Islam come from?

The Ministers’ Retreat’s greatest task today is two fold: to last five years and to unite Malaysians to carry out a reset of nation-building principles to make Malaysia a first-rate world class nation and not to crumble to end up as a divided, failed, and kleptocratic state in another three or four decades.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Veteran