March 12, 2006
POINT OF VIEW
TUN HANIFF OMAR
SINGAPORE is set to have its general election and I am reminded of a documentary shown over Astro’s Discovery channel at the end of last year titled, Singapore – The Accidental Nation. It showed the development of Singapore right up to the separation from Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965.
I managed to catch enough of it to see a galaxy of familiar faces, such as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Haji Othman Wok, Fong Swee Suan, the late Lim Chin Siong, David Marshall, the late Sidney Woodhull, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and many more, including my MCKK classmate Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad of Kok Lanas.
It was a most nostalgic and informative documentary with Lee Kuan Yew describing his role and the PAP’s in the historical development, with Abdullah Ahmad giving the flip side of the causes of some of the historic events.
When I joined the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1956, Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP were busy taking on the Lim Yew Hock government. Very frequently, a number of us from the Dunearn Road Hostel would go to Fullerton Square to listen to Lee’s lunch-time public rallies.
The Students’ Union, in 1956/57 twice invited the quartet of opposing politicians – Lim, Hamid Jumaat, Lee and Marshall – to debate their party’s stand on various issues. On two occasions, Marshall was invited to start off the debate and, on both occasions, he started off by saying, “The speakers after me are bound to kick me. Before they do, let me kick them first.”
It was a great lesson for many of us in the art of oratory. But not all of us were over-awed by Lee or Marshall. Some students energetically argued against them. A stoic, I listened and watched, and kept my mouth shut, savouring the great privilege.
This wasn’t long after the Chinese High School, Chung Cheng High School and the Hock Lee Bus riots in the last week of October 1956 which had resulted in curfew being imposed for about 10 days.
The freshies in Dunearn Road were supposed to endure a month of ragging by their seniors but, because of the curfew, the seniors took the opportunity to prolong the ragging period to 40 days.
The riots were tackled by Singapore police riot units assisted by a troop of the Malayan police field force. As these units clanged up and down Bukit Timah Road past the Dunearn Road Hostel, they were greeted with jeers and piercing whistles from some boisterous senior students like former Malacca High School headmaster Rajan, and Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, and a score of freshies, who had been marshalled by the seniors to add to the din.
We were not anti-anybody but no one relished the curfew that had confined us to our hostel and campus!
One troop of the Singapore riot units stopped opposite our hostel gate where we were gathered, lustily booing it, and sent a volley of tear-gas at us. That sent us running helter-skelter for cover.
The commotion attracted the late (Tan Sri Dr) Hamzah Sendut, who was then a young geography lecturer at UM (University of Malaya). He and young economics lecturer (Datuk) Siew Nim Chee came to the gate asking, “Where’s the gas, where’s the gas?” until they got a whiff of it and beat a hasty retreat.
Eighteen years later, when I was the IGP (Inspector General of Police) and the late Tan Teck Kim the Commissioner of Singapore Police, I learnt from him that he was the troop commander who had let loose the gas on us and that the commander of the Malayan riot unit was (Datuk) Jarjis, father of the Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation Datuk Jamaluddin Jarjis.
A dozen or so people were killed in the riots and many more wounded. Many cars were burnt. On one occasion, students of the affected Chinese High Schools linked arms and marched down Bukit Timah past our dining halls, prompting a freshie to exclaim, “Damn these commies. We should just mow them down!”
On hearing this, an irate socialist senior grabbed a steel chair and threatened to bash his head.
Lee, in his narration of events leading to Merger and Malaysia, referred to an anti-communist arrest operation in Singapore in early 1963. That must have been “Op Coldstore 1”.
Only months after my transfer to Special Branch Bluff Road (Bukit Aman) in December 1961, I was moved from manning the CPM Central Committee desk to prepare a series of security position papers for the Government’s Adviser for Police Affairs to take to the pre-Malaysia security conference in London.
The adviser, Tan Sri Sir Claude Fenner, was the last British Commissioner of the Malayan Police and had assumed his new post in anticipation of becoming Malaysia’s first Inspector-General of Police. It took me many days and nights to put the papers together, indexing them and captioning Lord Selkirk’s dalliance with Lim Chin Siong and his pro-communist comrades in Singapore’s Barisan Socialist, as the Eden Hall Tea-party.
That rather amused my boss, the Deputy Director SB (Special Branch), (R.W) Dick Craig, who was tasked to discuss with Singapore SB’s Dick Corridon the cleaning up of Singapore’s communist united front before Singapore’s merger with Malaya.
One of the earliest inter-SB meetings to agree to this operation took place on June 25, 1962, at Robinson Road Singapore SB Headquarters. I was taken along by Craig, tasting my first plane flight on June 24, the day my first child, Haniza, was born.
A year later, I found myself in Singapore again, with a number of Malayan SB officers poring over Singapore SB files and tapping the memory of Singapore SB Supt Ahmad Khan, to enable us to put up the case-files on likely targets for the planned blitzkrieg on the communist united front. It was assessed that it would soon be powerful enough to topple Lee’s government and set up a communist or pro-communist government in Singapore, with dire consequences for Malaya.
One morning I received a call from Craig. “Hanif, do you know that your wife has just given birth? What the hell are you doing in Singapore? Get on the first plane and see her.”
I returned, saw my wife and baby, then called on Craig.
“Saw your wife? Is she all right? The baby?” I answered affirmatively to each question and he then said loudly, but with a smile, “Then what the hell are you lingering here for? Get back to Singapore!”
I went back to the hospital, picked up my wife and baby Juliana, took them home and caught the down-train to Singapore.
The Singapore work completed, we returned to Kuala Lumpur. On Dec 13, we were told to be ready to travel south on Dec 15 to mount the operation code-named “Coldstore” but, until late that night day, we received no instruction. We knew that Tunku, Tun Razak, Tun Ismail, Lee and Lord Selkirk were meeting at the Residency, Tunku’s residence, to decide on the operation.
Then Insp Seenivasagam announced, “Tuan, we can stand down. The raid’s off.”
On Feb 1, 42 Malayan SB officers, designated to make the arrests, travelled in their cars to the Kulai PPH Camp to bivouac a bit more with Singapore SB officers and 130 Singapore Police Gurkha guards.
Each arresting team was to comprise two Singapore and/or Malayan officers plus two Gurkha guards. I was there to assist Craig and my immediate boss John Todd at the Pearl’s Hill Control Centre where the Singapore Police Commissioner, Alan Blades, and Director SB, George Bogaars, had parked themselves.
From the Singapore side I recognised a UM (University of Malaya)[ Singapore] classmate, the late Amarindra, and Insp Chai, a Teluk Anson graduate from Nanyang University. We passed the night away chatting.
An hour or so before dawn we set out for the Causeway and Singapore in a long convoy of cars that roared in the cool, quiet, pre-dawn air. It was awesome. Two nights later, at almost dawn I was back in Kuala Lumpur with a van-load of arrestees for delivery to SB Selangor at Jalan Bandar. We had travelled the whole night, stopping only at Kluang to refuel.
I do feel that my friends and I from SB Malaya played a very small but
important role in Singapore’s modern history.