(High Commissioner General Sir Gerald Templer chats with a Chinese New Villager. He brought dynamic leadership to the Malayan war against Communist terrorists)
The greatest problem of all facing the Federation of Malaya on Merdeka Day (August 31, 1957) was not one of security or economics or even politics: it was in the realm of the mind and the spirit; it was the building of a Malayan nation.
According to a special publication in conjunction with Malaya's independence published in 1957, it was noted that in the plural society of Malaya, with the Malays and the Chinese almost equally balanced, and the Indians and others in the minority, there were stresses and strains that tend to pull the Federation apart, as well as those that bind it together.
The concept of a common Malayan citizenship was only just taking root; the concept of a common nationality as yet hardly existed.
The Malays were then only just beginning to look beyond the horizons of their own State to their nation as a whole. The very name "Malaya" had only came into use in the 19th century or so, although the ancient Minangkabau kingdom, with its capital at Jambi, was known to foreigners as "Melayu."
Up to World War II "Malaya" had only geographical meaning. The country was divided into three groups of States and Settlements with eleven separate governments. It was only since the war that "Malaya" has meant a political entity; and now an entity must become a unity.
There were external as well as internal forces that tend to pull the main racial elements of the country apart. The Malays look mainly to Indonesia; the Chinese look with a natural interest and pride to the rapid development of Communist China; the Indians look to India and Pandit Nehru's neutralism in world affairs.
Internal economic divisions in Malaya also tend to split the nation. The Malays were a race of peasant farmers and fishermen; the Chinese were traders of the country; and the Indians were mainly labourers on estates and elsewhere, though some of them were traders too. The Malays feared the economic power of the Chinese, but, it was not realised then that the roles of the Malay, the Chinese and the Indian should be complementary rather than competitive in the economy of the nation; and with wise government policies, they could be.
The problems faced by the then Malaya 50 years ago are not entirely gone. Some of them are still with us today and most probably will not be eradicated 50 years from now. The root of the problem is politics based on race; the question of just and fair treatment for Malaysians irrespective of race or religion; and equal and fair opportunities for all in all sectors of the economy.