Friday, March 23, 2007

The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time

The Launch: May 22, 2007, Danga Bay, Johor Bahru
"I will do for the country what I will not do for myself and my family" - the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman.

A little bit longer and the name Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman would remain in footnotes of history books.
We would find many young Malaysians unashamedly hesitate, falter, stutter, stammer before replying to a question on who Tun Dr Ismail was.
And they would most probably get it wrong.
Just consider this - a true story. Someone when asked the question, replied: "Oh, wasn't he the founder of Taman Tun Dr Ismail" ( a housing estate in KL, named after him).
That is why the book on Malaysia's second Deputy Prime Minister is so important. So awaited.
It has taken more than 30 years after his death (on Aug 2, 1973), for a book on him to be written.
Better late than never at all.
Malaysians must know this man. They must be made to remember him. This great man known for his integrity and principles who contributed immensely to the struggle for independence.
He was an integral part of Malaysia's nationhood.
More importantly, "The Reluctant Politician:Tun Dr Ismail and His Time" will set straight some record on events and policies in Malaysia's political history such as the New Economic Policy, communal politics and race-based political parties.
His eldest son, Tawfik was still a student at the University of New England, Armidale in New South Wales, Australia. when Dr Ismail died.
Tawfik was in possession of some of his father's documents and letters for a very long time before deciding to have them preserved and stored for safekeeping.
It was sheer coincidence that Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) director K Kesavapathy came to know of Tawfik's intention.
Kesavapathy knew of Dr Ismail as a great man, of what he stood for. He wasted no time in meeting Tawfik over lunch. Tawfik then handed him the letters.
"I went home after that and spent the whole night, until 5am reading the letters," he told guests at the launching on Thursday, March 22 at a Danga Palace/International Restaurants.
He was overwhelmed and without much ado, agreed to have ISEAS coordinator of Malaysia Study Programme, Ooi Kee Beng to author a biography of Tun Dr Ismail.
According to Ooi, Tawfik had wanted him to "do it".
"I was honoured", Ooi told us (four bloggers - Ahirudin Attan, Jeff Ooi, Zaharah Othman and I -together with Utusan Malaysia features/Op ed editor Zin Mahmud as well as Karim Raslan of Karim Raslan Associates) over breakfast at the Hyatt Regency just before the launch.
Penang-born Ooi has degrees in Public Administration and Chinese Language Studies as well as a doctorate in Sinology, all from Stockholm University, Sweden.
For him, putting the pieces together, interviewing personalities to get an insight of Dr Ismail, and then authoring the book had been an awesome journey.
Later, at the launch, Ooi said:
"I am convinced that this book is a recovered time capsule, and Tun Dr Ismail's thoughts, and the story of his life, will inspire Malaysians, and inspire Malaysia's future. Perhaps more importantly, there is the chance that Malaysians of all races can read about Tun Dr Ismail and identify themselves with him, and with how his life reflected the suffering as well as success of the country as a whole."
Ooi said the launch was fittingly held in his hometown of Johor Bahru, "attended by people who knew him well, and also by people who are most proud of him."
"It is also fitting that the launch is officiated by Tun Musa Hitam, the Malaysian politician most influenced by the late Tun.
"Both these men were deputy prime ministers of Malaysia, both are anak johor, and both have been named in different contexts as the best prime ministers Malaysia never had."

"Our Own Glocal and Towering Malay", Says Musa.

Musa, in his speech, confessed to having been Dr Ismail's follower and admirer since his childhood days in school.
He said in many ways Dr Ismail contributed greatly to shaping his political career.
"I never stopped being overawed by him. He was always encouraging me and goading me and inspiring me.
"Political performance to him was service-based and not personal based or personal-loyalty based."
Musa said what we are today was what Dr Ismail had prepared us to be.
"As a Malay leader, he was modern and progressive. He was not a Melayu lama even though he lived in that era. He certainly would not qualify as a Melayu baru, i.e. the new Malay since more rather than less of them are obssessed with materialism and when facing challenges tend more to turn to government in the Melayu lama way, yet as a back-up, easily turn to religion as a form of escapism.
"If at all, he could be fitted into the category of Melayu Glocal, as conceptualised by Dato Najib,our Deputy Prime Minister. Added to that, Tun Dr Ismail definitely qualified as the towering Malay, that our Prime Minister has been advocating".
Musa recommends people from both sides of the causeway to read the book, "to understand and appreciate an important part of our history and the sacrifices and the principles that the late Tun represents."
"To understand the famous Johore Malay insistence on principle, here is the best example.
"Let us honour him, and be proud of him.Let us use him as an example and an inspiration. And let us be proud of the country, our country Malaysia, that he and his colleagues gone by had built up leading to what it is today and what we are today".

I met Tawfik right after the launch/luncheon. I knew him from the time he joined the newly-set-up Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Berhad (TV3) as one of its first top executives, through the time he went on to join politics.
We had not met for a long time.
"Twenty years, maybe?", Tawfik asked.
Yeah, close.
I congratulated him.
"(The book) long time coming," I said.
Well, it's out, he smiled. I could sense a sigh of relief.
He told me that some 10,000 copies have already been sold, both sides of the causeway.
We chatted.
Really so glad for you, Tawfik.
And there will be a Malay and Chinese versions of the book.
(Also read Rocky's and Jeff's. )

Coming soon : A review.


Fauziah Ismail said...

We never knew much about the man who was our deputy prime minister.
The book debunked some myths about him and contains information many of us post-Independence children do not know.
Yes, I've read the book and my copy is making its rounds among close friends.

elly said...

Am definitely going to get a copy of the book real soon!:-)

a malaysian in riyadh said...

I trust someone is working on another great Malaysian hero - Tun Ismail Ali.

Rocky's Bru [Ahirudin Attan] said...


I forgot to ask Ooi Kee Beng one question: How it felt to have 4 bloggers for breakfast! If he reads this, I hope he can leave a comment in your blog Ena.

I did ask why it was Singapore and not Malaysia that made the book possible. If Kee Beng was surprised at my "Singapore syndrome" (to borrow Tun Musa Hitam's phrase), he hid it well. There was "nothing political", he said. Like you said here, it was a co-incidence. I am not that convinced of that, too.

Why - and it's not just me who has been asking the question - let Singapore do the book?

BUt like I told you, Ena, I believe Tawfiq did the right thing. For over 3 decades, Malaysia and Umno particularly did not see the need and did not show any desire to produce a book on one of its most famous sons. If Tawfiq had not gone to Singapore, his father's name would have been reduced to just a footnote in history. Lesser politicians have had volumes written on them, all glowing and full of praises.

I would like to thank Isis Singapore and congratulate Kesavapathy for his foresight. Tawfiq and Kee Beng told me, separately, that several Malaysians, including in the media, had been approached to see if they were interested to produce the book. It's not like Tawfiq did not try to get Malaysians to pay tribute to his dad by getting a book on him out.

Kesavapathy said the book is the product of three ex-Malaysians, him and Kee Beng included. The other is Verghese, the former Singapore hi commissioner to KL. Verghese was never a Malaysian but married someone who was Malaysian. Three former Malaysians do not make the book a Malaysian product but I thank Kesavapathy for trying to make me feel a little better about the whole thing.

But I do feel proud that the Singaporeans saw it fit to pay this fitting tribute to a great Malaysian.

elviza said...

Dear 3540 Jalan Sudin,

I got the book, read the book - still in awe with the book.

Cant wait for your book review Kak Ena, dont make me wait too long! Have a good weekend ahead of you

Kak Ainon of Besut, said...

Hi Noraina,
InsyaAllah, will definitely get a copy of the book when I go back to KL in a few weeks time. If I'm NOT MISTAKEN (dont mean to LIE if wrong!), it's already at #2 on Non-Fiction Book-Chart (after Adibah's As I was Passing). Overheard on RTM1 this morning, but wasn't really paying attention, itu yang ta' berapa sure.

I can still identify myself with the late Tun. I was in primary-2 @ 1957 and started working @ 1973; had been reading some Jawi magazines like Mustika, Qalam and the Utusan belonging to my late father in those early years. So, am quite familiar with most of our early leaders / statesman.

Nice photoes in Jeff's Blog. Baru puas hati tengok gambar You and Kak Teh (Rocky tu dah ada banyak Posters done by Sheih) and also the author.

Sorry for the long chat! Have a good weekend. I rasa, you mesti pergi tengok little Sharmaine, kan? Wassalam.

tokasid said...

Salam to NAS.

Going to KL tomorrow and will get the book( and Dina's too).
I agree with Rocky,Kalau malaysia( BN and UMNO lah tu)nak tulis ttg Tun Dr Ismail dah lama they can do that.
Now that the book is out, I think maybe UMNO will write about Tun Ghafar Baba kot.


Eheh.. Fauziah..... how are you?

I knew who TDI was. He died when I was in lower six (pre-U). I dont know if my Bapak was close to him. I know that Bapak knew him as at that time Bapak was at NST.
I do know this, that he and his wife were guests-of-honour at my sister, Kak Ton's wedding in 1971.
And he was the one who helped my Bapak, Mak and siblings obtain our citizenship. I believe, the Tunku had a part in this too.
I told this to Tawfik when I met him after the launch. Tawfik was surprised.
"I didnt know that," he said.
well, yeah, it's not something to be told to all and sundry. never needed to tell anyone.
I will be interviewing my Bapak soon, just to find out what he remembered of TDI.



many among the younger generation of malaysians have no idea who this man was. This is an understatement. They know the Tunku, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein and, of course Tun Dr Mahathir.

I never knew TDI. I know his son Tawfik, and his daughter Zailah whom I met in 1980 in the US. At that time Zailah came to Boston for a visit, and we met and got on well.I and my housemate, Hawa, cooked lunch. Sometime later,we met again in Bringhamton, New York State to attend a Malaysian Students' Seminar/conference or something like that.
The last time I met Zailah was at Zeti Aziz's Hari Raya open house about three years ago, I think.

Anyway, I am digressing.
From what i have gathered, TDI was a highly-principled man. Straight and strict.
There werent many like him then. And if he were alive today, (as a political leader) he would indeed be a rare exception to the rule.

I feel so humbled after learning about this man, from a privileged background, but never, once, abused that.

Ok ok.../ the review is coming. and we can discuss...



Malaysians have shown their ugly pathetic side.
If they dont benefit from it, they're not about to work on it.
It is so easy to forget great leaders of the past.
Hell...look at how some people are deconstructing Dr Mahathir's legacy.
Perhaps, for many politicians, TDI reminds them of what they SHOULD be but do not want to be.
Life has been too comfortable and dandy for most of our politicians, especially those who have taken the shortest cut to gain influence and position.
Rocky, in my working life, I have seen the degeneration of today's political leaders. There are, of course, honest ones. But too few and far between. I know I stand criticised here especially by those who believe that there are no good and honest politicians to walk on theface of this good earth.
I am sure, they are wrong.
There are still a few good men.
Howeve, I know that there is a price to/for everything.
People say so conveniently that "oh.. thats the way it is... you need money to make things happen in this country. to be able to win position".
You know what. Who says that cannot be changed?
That can. But no one wants the change.
It would mean too much hardship. And no money.
SO I dont quite agree with Musa's remarks that TDI would agree with the political developments today.
I did ask Kee Beng, whether TDI would change his views about Dr Mahathir if he were alive today.
Any repsonse to that would be purely speculative. But no one would really know. The man that TDI was. If he were alive, certainly our political landscape would be different.

nstman said...

Malaysians are so busy screwing each other that they forget they have an icon in tun ismail. Stupid, idiotic Malaysians, you should be ashamed of yourselves. You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things. Instead of playing pollitics day in and day out, why not ponder for a moment and think of honouring our past heroes.
Footnote: Had a chat with a so-called professional at a pub recently. I asked him whether he read Tun Ismail's book. He asked me who was the guy. I told him he was a former deputy PM who played a pivotol role in the country's development. His reply: 'Ya, kah, but i thought he was a fictitious character.' I rest my case.

Mr. Smith said...

Some twenty years ago I visited the then dethroned Johor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Othman Saat at his residence.
This was what he said," Oh, you still remember me? Nowadays, nobody visits me. Those who kiss my hands do not know me either."

I also remember a speech made by Tan Sri Musa Hitam after he resigned as deputy Prime Minister. He said ," When I was DPM, even before I could complete a sentence everyone will say " Yes Dato, Yes Dato.
"Now I am no more the DPM, they criticise me."
This is a fact of life in Malaysia that once you are out of office, you are forgotten.
When political affiliation is based entirely on patronage, personality is irrelevant. Character is irrelevant. Morality is irrelevant. Uprighteousness is irrelevant.
It's all about--- "What can you give me?"
Do you think Anwar Ibrahim will ever be mentioned in UMNO history? Or his portrait be seen in the party's photo gallery?
Now even lowly Nazri can mock Tun Mahathir. Tun is even blacked out in the media.
Not a single UMNO leader today can measure up to the integrity of Tun Dr Ismail. It will be shameful for them to mention his name and his deeds.
Need I say more?

A Voice said...

Mr Smith, Quoting your words below:

I also remember a speech made by Tan Sri Musa Hitam after he resigned as deputy Prime Minister. He said ," When I was DPM, even before I could complete a sentence everyone will say " Yes Dato, Yes Dato.

"Now I am no more the DPM, they criticise me."

Perhaps, Musa can be ask now why since you are no more UMNO office bearer and Minister, you dare to shoot your mouth on issues in conflict with Article 153, Pasal 3 Perlembagaan UMNO, Malay Perjuangan, etc.

There is a mirror, you shd look at it once in a while.

Yuckkk Musa,

I just never fancy him. Like Hisham Rais, you are coward who chicken out and run than fight on. But you are better than ANwar , becasue you have some principle to quit when you disagree.

Musa never conceived anything significant of an idea, made its planning, implement and see it thru. How to do political manourvering, doublespeak, press spinning, back stabbing and revenge, loose cannon, comment "macam pandai", and such, I'll give that to Musa and his protege for a place in history.

Having read his interview on IDR on ST, he acknowledge he only knows rural development. Judging from his career, he had too short career here and there in various positions. Musa missed he industrial revolution of TDM. That is why he easily succumbed to the pro-globalisation thoughts and ignorance of the neo colonial wave sweeping it.

Musa, retire and repent. Jangan menambahkan dosa dgn menyakitkan hati orang dgn kata2 mu lagi.

By the way, I am true blue Johorean and no fan of Tok Mat, (just to be clear).

mob1900 said...

These 3-ex Malaysians still loves Malaysia dearly, hence the outcome of TDI's book. It actually put the ruling leaders to shame by forgeting our past great leaders 'conveniently'. Guess they're too busy amassing their millions to build their own legacy.

nstman said...

Mr Smith, i agree with you one million percent. just look at mahathir. when he was PM, the NST was the NO 1 arselicker. when he was down, he became a non-person as far as the NST is concerned. when kadir jasin was the NST head honcho, everybody trembled. when kadir was dethroned, he was cursed and spat upon by the very people he groomed.

Clark Gable of Pulau Duyong said...

Dear Ms NAS,

If a mould of character need to be built for future leaders ,none would be more worthy than TDI.

Raised was he in the best of ways,educated and knowlegdeable to the ways of the world and sincere was his struggle when the nation came begging.

He didnt even ask for his name to be casted in stone, or heaped praises when it was really due nor demanded the country to look after his family at the brink of his death.

Can you find such devotion in present leaders ??.When ask to build a building(not to build a nation,far from it),the first question would be what is it for me? Me,myself and I? Three important beneficiaries of any service rendered.

What difference 50 years make to Malay leaders,the struggle all forgotten,the padded shoe were too stuck for him to feel the the roughen road much travelled by rakyat.Our pain is no longer theirs.

Their worries mainly how would their Beemer ,Mercedes ,Bungalows and Cloth would look in Batik pattern...

BigDogDotCom said...


Actually, this "Reluctant Politician" is not the first book written about the mighty Tun Dr. Ismail. I read a biography about Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman rather a long time ago (when I was still in sixth form).

It was written in Malay. Its called "Tun Dr. Ismail, Negarawan Berjasa", written by Mohd. Tajuddin Hj. Abdul Rahman and published by Pelanduk Publishing, Subang Jaya (1987). That's twenty years ago.

Actually, I am an admirer of the late Tun Dr. Ismail. His ultra Malay stance and uncompromising principles are the pillars of his strength.

Recently, I heard a story told by a Veteran UMNO politician who knew Tun. Dr. Ismail and Tun Razak very well. As early as 1969, Tun Razak detected his leukemia and he made Tun Dr. Ismail keep mum about this as a special clinic was set up in a Govt. bungalow next to Tun Dr. Ismail's official residence for Tun Razak seek treatments for his terminal disease. Only Dr McPherson (Tun Razak's loyal personal physician), is the ONLY other soul who knew of this deadly illness and the well kept secret treatment that Tun Razak had to go through, religiously for many months.

Tun Dr. Ismail himself was having throat cancer and heart ailments, at the same time.

May Allah s.w.t. bless their soul and may their very good deeds for this nation be rewarded in the after life.

Anonymous said...

dear kak nuraina,
mr jeff ooi said that four bloggers were given an exclusive breakfast interview with dr ooi kee beng. if there were four bloggers and an utusan journalist, do you consider your interview with dr ooi as an exclusive? or is jeff ooi shiok sendiri? thanks.
ingin tahu.

Hi&Lo said...

The best way we can honour Tun Dr Ismail is to make his vision of Malaysia a reality.

His no-nonsense approach putting nation above self should set the standard of our work ethics.

If Malaysia can build its strength on multiculturism, the possiblities are almost unlimited in facing globalisation.

Dek Mat said...

Fauziah Ismail

Please tell your friends to get their own copy! having ur copy floating around the circle of friends won't do justice to the book industry in msia nor to Tun Dr Ismail...

The book is priceless and RM55 shud be more than enough to compensate the hard work that Tawfik and Dr Ooi had to endure to compile such an important history!

Tunku Halim said...

As a boy I used to cycle past Tun Dr Ismail's house. It always filled me with awe knowing that I lived so close to someone so important.

We should never lose sight of the past. It sets a guide for our future.

syed syahrul zarizi said...

To be honest, TDI is way too old school for me. I respect all the leaders that have good attention and sincere to his/her rakyat.

May God bless their souls.

As for Tun Musa, as a true blue Johorian, both you and Shahrir is our last hope. But their comments on bloggers is highly suspected.

After all, they've just sold Johor and look like they're loving it.

If Shahrir is 'yang terbaik antara kita' then does that mean we are just so-so? hmm

Pure politician.

Anonymous said...


This is one book all good Malaysians should buy and read at least twice. Very good understanding on the formation of Malaysia and the various roles played. Good for our young citizens to study. Personally after reading it i feel more Malaysian than before. I truly salute ISIS director Mr Kesavapany, Mr Ooi and Mr Varughese for their latent responsibility to ensure the birth of this book. You are persons of good worth who have contributed to a greater Malaysia by this.


QueenB said...

I salute TDI for his scruples and selfless contributions to the nation.

Eliza said...

Good post, Nuraina. There's growing interest in the country's history particularly in the personalities that shaped the nation these days, and one hopes that Malaysian school kids can become similarly engaged and curious about our past.

Shah Reza said...

I've bought the book The Reluctant Politician & the malay version 'Bukan Kerana Pangkat' not very long time ago. Very well written. A piece of history to be kept for future generations to read. It is so sad that not many book on Tun Dr Ismail was published. I also manage to get myself the Tun Dr. Ismail 'Kejora Timur Yang Mengerdip'. I'd say The Reluctant politician have more to say about Tun Dr Ismail's achievement in life than the previous ones which simplified most of them.

N'way, this is a must read but for Malaysian who love local history and the formation of Malaysia!

For those who have not read it, BUY IT!