Following racial riots that broke out on May 13, 1969 that was sparked by unbridled insults and provocations, the National Consultative Council (MAPEN) headed by Tun Abdul Razak worked on formulating the principles of Rukunegara.
On August 31, 1970, the Malaysian declaration of national philosophy was instituted by royal proclamation. In the following month, Tun Abdul Razak took over from Tunku Abdul Rahman and became the second Prime Minister. Sadly, Tun passed away in 1976 and Tunku in 1990.
In 1971, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched with the aim of creating unity among the various races in Malaysia through economic equality via the reduction of monetary gap between Bumiputeras with that of the Chinese and Indian communities.
The 20-year NEP expired in 1990. Although introduced 50 years ago, there has been little change in the monetary gap. Many with low income remained poor and had to compete with endless waves of foreign workers that came to our country and left, but many stayed behind.
But the well-connected grew rich from NEP through rent seeking such as government contracts, licences, commercial vehicle permits, import permits and directorship, or granted company stocks. They can afford multi-million-ringgit properties and still enjoy a legislated discount.
While the NEP was pursued with great zeal by self-serving politicians, our national philosophy has been largely ignored and expediently forgotten. Come August, the Rukunegara will reach its 50th year and plans are being made to commemorate its golden jubilee.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah disclosed that a proposal for the long-term Rukunegara education programme will be presented to the Cabinet for approval and it would be placed under the jurisdiction of the National Unity Ministry.
Like many other school subjects that include moral and religious studies, many students learn the Rukunegara by rote. While almost all students could recite the five principles, few could articulate them meaningfully and even teachers may not be able to express with conviction.
Contrary to popular belief, education alone is not enough. A child or student cannot be educated just by knowledge. The adults including parents, teachers and leaders must set good examples. Educating is not so simple and straightforward, such as telling them “Do as I say, not as I do”.
For a start, most politicians would fail in this category. While it is acceptable for political parties to be formed based on religion, it is incomprehensible for religious parties to be racist. Major religions have spread far and wide because missionaries of the past did not discriminate people of other races, religion, language, culture and traditions.
“Courtesy and Morality” is the fifth principle of our Rukunegara but is clearly lacking among politicians that spew hatred not just on individuals they target but also on entire communities they imagine to be wrong or underserving.
It may be the easiest route to be popular and grab power by fanning flames and playing with emotions. But such irresponsible actions have caused considerable damage to our country and brought regress to our society.
Our Rukunegara will continue to be given lip service as long as good values are nor embraced. As a baby boomer, I grew up without knowing or experiencing the ugliness that is prevalent today, as race and religion then were non-issues at schools and in homes.
Those were the halcyon years when Malaysians mixed freely and played with anyone we like, regardless of race or religion. I studied in an English-medium school and my schoolmates in the village that I grew up were mostly Indians.
Although I could speak some Chinese dialects and Mandarin, I was more comfortable conversing in English with my Indian friends. It was only after finishing secondary school and went to live in another town that I discovered something amusing.
There, a Malay boy asked me in English “Why are you speaking like an Indian?” Since then, I learned to speak in a neutral accent which was easily understood by everyone, including foreigners when I worked as a tourist guide five years later.
I now wonder what it would take to jolt Malaysians into practising the Rukunegara and go beyond reciting it. Tun Abdul Razak said the secret to perfecting the Rukunegara is through its practice. Otherwise, the Rukunegara is merely a piece of document bereft of meaning.
The views expressed here are strictly those of The True Net reader YS Chan of Petaling Jaya.