Sunday, April 17, 2011

Labels in Mahathir memoirs ticking ‘time-bombs’

By:Joe Fernandez
    March 14, 2011

Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has come in for a lot of heat over chunks of the contents in his 843-page memoirs, ‘A Doctor in the House’. Let’s leave aside the fact that ‘A Doctor in the House’ was a 1955 comedy directed by Ralph Thomas and starring Dirk Bogarde, Muriel Pavlov and Kenneth More.
There’s also a British TV series ‘Doctor in the House’ which ran from 1969 to 1970.
The easiest thing to do would be to dismiss the RM100 book as a work of fiction, an elaborate spin, a whitewash job for a man on the verge of degenerating into a pitiful clown, a settling of scores with his many foes, a comedy of errors and perhaps even a crafty attempt late in the day to still determine the agenda when others do any number of follow-ups. There are any number of labels in Mahathir’s memoirs.
Delving into his ethnic origins, Mahathir is forced to admit that “some Indian blood” – as an afterthought South Asian, he spins, in a botched attempt at obscuring his origin – runs in his veins “but he doesn’t know from which part of India his people came”.
This is something very difficult to swallow considering what he clearly told JV Morais in 1982 in ‘Mahathir: A Profile in Courage’. This book tells us that Mahathir hailed on his father’s side from Kerala, Southwest India. There’s little mention of his mother’s side. Morais, a Malayalee himself, would have got his facts right on this score since Kerala is not that big a place.
Incidentally, ‘Profiles in Courage’, is also the name of a book written by the late US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Mahathir was not off to a good start in ‘A Doctor in the House’ unless he was confessing that he suffers from an identity crisis and can’t really help his schizophrenic self or that he, for all his bravado, indeed suffers from a deep-seated inferiority complex.
Anyone who has seen Malayalam movies on Astro can tell right away that Mahathir has a typical Malayalee face. This has somehow ended up as a chapter in Mahathir’s memoirs entitled, “I am a Malay”. If he is Malay, as he routinely claims from time-to-time, why would he need to advertise the obvious fact unless he isn’t sure of himself?
If not for Article 153 in the Federal Constitution and the New Economic Policy, would Mahathir claim so proudly to be a Malay? If a man cannot admit who he is, can we believe him on all the other things he tells us in his memoirs? There’s a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde side to Mahathir’s personality.
It was Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew himself who brought to the attention of the late Sultan of Johore that Mahathir had written Indian Muslim in the space for race when applying to join the University of Malaya in Singapore as a medical student. Lee gave the Sultan a copy of Mahathir’s application form. Mahathir, we learn, was not really completely qualified to enter the university but they let him in anyway to make up the numbers. Another notable omission from Mahathir’s memoirs.
Masking the truth
This also explains why Mahathir never really practiced as a doctor for long although he named his practice in Alor Star as Maha Clinic to impress upon patients that they were visiting an Indian clinic run by an Indian doctor.
Initially, he had one other Indian doctor at the clinic to stand in for him as he busied himself with politics. This doctor was often not paid for four months at a stretch and eventually left. This little story, common knowledge among medical graduates from India, is not mentioned in Mahathir’s memoirs. Mahathir would have won credits if he had candidly acknowledged in his memoirs that he was so broke at one time that he couldn’t even afford to pay his clinic doctor.
Ever since then, Mahathir has been busy trying to reduce the number of Indians who become doctors in Malaysia. He has a fixation with Indians becoming doctors and lawyers.
Mahathir’s ethnic origins and early doctoring attempts aside, his memoirs are generally not so important for what it tells but more important for what it omits, either completely or under various labels. This would provide fodder for the rumour-mills to start churning for months, if not years, to come.
Consider such ticking “time-bombs” as Lee Kuan Yew wanted to be Prime Minister of Malaysia; former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, a Thai, was too corrupt and had to be laid off; former Deputy Prime Anwar Ibrahim was involved in numerous sexual escapes and was therefore found morally unfit to govern, and that former Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah was into money politics and must be held responsible for Umno being declared unlawful in the wake of the 1987 party elections.
Mahathir had it right on Lee, has forgotten that it was he and not Razaleigh who was into money politics and didn’t tell us anything new on Daim and Anwar. Instead, he didn’t get the perspective right on Daim and Anwar because that would have meant knocking his own carefully-cultivated public image.
Daim fell out with Mahathir because he initially failed and later gave a very much watered down accounting of the old Umno assets. Mahathir saw red and amidst rumours of Daim being under house arrest and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), the then Finance Minister was dispatched into political oblivion.
Anwar, Mahathir discovered to his utter shock, was even more of a novice in economics than when he became Prime Minister in 1981. He decided that there was “no way in hell that his deputy would succeed him”. Rather than admit his poor judgment, Mahathir dredged out Anwar’s “sexual escapes” and decided to hang him with it and dismissed him as “morally unfit to govern”. If not for the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, notwithstanding his sexual escapes, Anwar would have succeeded Mahathir as Prime Minister. The 1987 crisis proved that the would-be Emperor – Anwar – had no clothes.
Taking shelter behind even more labels, Mahathir has admitted that he has “made many mistakes but dismissing Anwar was not one of them”. If only Mahathir could tell the real reason why Anwar was dismissed from office! Mahathir, by masking the truth, has allowed many people to think that Anwar is Prime Minister material.
Man with no friends
When Razaleigh writes his memoirs, he will reveal that Mahathir at one time had no friends. So, he latched on to the Kelantan prince who was then chairman of Bank Bumiputera and Petronas.
He would park himself in front of Razaleigh at his office from morning, would accompany the man for luncheon and get chased out after that to permit some work to get done, only to return later in the evening for dinner.
Razaleigh has never forgiven Mahathir and joins a long list including Tunku Abdul Rahman, Hussein Onn, Mustapha Harun, Daim and Musa Hitam. The last two, like Razaleigh and Samy Vellu, were shocked by Mahathir’s economic incompetence.
When Mahathir drove the economy into recession in 1986 with his austerity drive and shocked Razaleigh and Musa, only Daim and Samy Vellu stood by him and helped him out of his ignorance to rescue the economy.
Mahathir was a quick learner in crisis. Both Daim and Samy don’t get any credits in Mahathir’s memoirs. The former has instead been tarred black.
The 1986 recession was the spark that culminated in Razaleigh, backed by Musa, challenging Mahathir for the Umno presidency in 1987.
Daim came with wads of cash withdrawn from HSBC and rescued Mahathir during the break for Friday prayers on voting day.

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