Patto’s burning passion

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The late P Patto, politician extraordinaire and fighter for the people, believed that one day Malaysia would have a place in the sun for all, recalls Choo Sing Chye.

The day was 13 July 1995; it was P Patto’s funeral. The afternoon was hazy. The sky was densely covered with dark grey clouds. The weather on the day was as if it was intended to rhyme with the mood of the funeral.

An occasional light drizzle further confounded the free flow of thousands of mourners who had come to pay their last respects. But, the drizzle did not deter mourners from coming to see Patto for the last time.

Many leaders, friends and supporters cried openly as the hearse began to inch forward to begin the final journey for Patto to his resting place. He was finally returning to the place where he once served as Member of Parliament and State Assembly Member (1986-1990).

This was the end of a man whose illustrious political life had spanned more than two decades, fighting for an utopian society resting on the fundamental political platform of the inalienable rights of every citizen to freely participate in every function of his/her own culture, language and religious belief. And furthermore, to freely participate in the running of the government and the economy without being subjected to unjust and restrictive laws.

He hated bigots

But what was most important to Patto was that this fair and equal participation should not elicit hatred among races. It should somehow elicit genuine brotherly and sisterly cooperation, respect and love among all the races in Malaysia. This, Patto believed, could only be done by open-door discussions and public forums as opposed to closed-door discussions where issues were swept under the carpet as they often did.

I wish to quote Mahatma Gandhi who spoke on the lack of brotherly and sisterly cooperation, respect and love among the Muslims and Hindus during his time in India.

In the book, “The Life of Mahatma Gandhi’, Gandhi said that “the Hindus did not love Moslems enough and the Moslems did not love Hindus enough. India would therefore be divided between them”.

This quote summed up a large part of Patto’s belief about brotherly and sisterly cooperation, respect and love among all the races in Malaysia. So for Patto, brotherly and sisterly cooperation, respect and love played an important part in creating a truly harmonious Malaysia.

Conspicuously, he hated religious and race bigots who came in many forms and shapes. It is frighteningly true that some of the bigots in Malaysia hold high positions in the government.

Take for instance, Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882), the white supremacist, known as the Father of Racism. His demented philosophy still lives in the minds of some of the elites in Malaysia. These elites are in fact politically strong. Like Gobineau before them who served in important positions in the French Government, they too were well-positioned in the government.  Gobineau expounded the idea that Adam and Eve were white and not of any low-down race.  His other idea that formed the basis of his arguments was that although there were beautiful non-white women, they were definitely not as beautiful as the whites. 

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There are people (such as Anwar Ibrahim, Hindraf and Raja Petra) who are willing to sacrifice everything to take on these Gobineaus in Malaysia. Unfortunately, it is becoming rare to find such people. And it had become rarer with the passing of Patto. 

Patto saw these bigots as a hindrance to a harmonious society in Malaysia. He had in him a burning passion to fight against them. He believed that one day Malaysia would have a place in the sun for all, a place where all Malaysians are judged not by the colour of their skin or religion but by their character.

To Patto, the place in the sun is a place where no one single group of people should lay claim on Malaysia as their own. Patto believed that Malaysia is for all Malaysians. His ideal could be neatly summed up as what the Iroquois Indians had in mind about a homeland in Canada: “the land does not belong to us but …we belong to the land.”

Freedom for all

Another wish of Patto was that Malaysia would one day become a land where people are not prosecuted for what they think or say. If there is any prosecution at all, it should be for criminals such as robbers, rapists, and murderers.

Freedom should not be reserved for the Barisan Nasional’s politicians only but for all. The Barisan Nasional’s politicians have always expounded the idea that freedom is anarchy. They want us to believe it because they want to instil fear in us. If there is freedom in Malaysia, they know that they would not hold on to power that easily. They would be closely scrutinised by the people; this they do not want.

Freedom should not be seen as a commodity of the anarchists; it should be seen as a tool of the people to demand an honest and open government.

Freedom, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt put it in simple term:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look  forward  to a world founded upon four essential freedoms.

•    The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.
•    The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
•    The third is freedom from want – everywhere in the world.
•    The fourth is freedom from fear – everywhere in the world.

Patto was a humble, kind, generous and compassionate man without wealth or any official title. And yet he had a wealth of kindness and compassion in him that won him admiration and love from all races. Those who knew him had only one common feeling about this man: that of respect and love.

“Fighter of the people”

In all the years he fought for the people, he never once received an official title or medal from the government. To Patto, this was not important. What was important was that the people recognised his deeds and his sacrifices. He even disliked being called Yang Behormat.

Apparently, anyone visiting his office would have seen a huge wooden signboard with these words written on it: “Fighter of the people”. The wooden board was presented to him by the people – a sincere form of recognition and gratitude more valuable than medals or titles.

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The news of his death at the age of 48, on 12 July 1995, left us in disbelief. Nobody could believe that he died at a time when the party and the nation needed him most.

Had he lived, he would have been the firebrand in the Ninth Malaysian Parliament. Without doubt, he excelled as one of the best and most effective parliamentarians.

On a few occasions, after his defeat in the 1990 General Elections, I came across many who said that it was a shame that Patto was not elected in 1990 for he would have given hell to the Barisan Nasional politicians then. As Fate would have it, he was to serve only 78 days as Member of Parliament for Bagan after the 1995 General Election.

The people now had to be contented with a parliament without his voice. A voice that had represented the downtrodden, the weak and the poor. A voice that we had known and loved for more than two decades. A voice that would be missed by all Malaysians who love democracy. For Malaysia had just lost a true son of democracy.

It was not difficult to understand or to get to know Patto. He was a man who I know could mix literally with all levels of society – from the rich to the very poor, from the intellectuals to the illiterate. Hence, it was not surprising to see him very much at ease, chatting with his constituents at the roadside ‘roti canai’ or mee stalls.

When he visited his constituency, there was no great fanfare displayed like those displayed for BN leaders; neither were there huge posters and flags to welcome them. Patto would just pop in and talk to the people.

There was no communication gap between him and his constituents. He was always around to listen and help whoever needed it – be she or he a Malay, a Chinese or an Indian, it did not matter to him.

He was not constricted to a narrow view like many politicians who thought in terms of “you Chinese”, “you Malay” and “you Indian”. All he saw was, Malaysians and nothing else.

Not many politicians could genuinely come down to earth to speak or to listen to the ordinary people like Patto.

Internationally known

Not only could he mix with people of all walks of life, he also was well known internationally.

When he was released from detention in 1989, there were restrictions imposed on him. He could not hold any position in the party; his movements were restricted and, worst of all, he could not speak publicly to the people. But when the restrictions on him were lifted, he was immediately sent overseas by the party to attend a Socialist International meeting in Rome. There, he was overwhelmed by the unexpected rousing welcome given by socialist comrades present.

The person who was most happy to meet Patto was the late Willy Brandt, former Chancellor of West Germany, and the then Chairman of Socialist International (SI). While Patto was incarcerated at the Kamunting Detention Centre in Perak, Willy Brandt and SI actively lobbied among international circles for his and the other detainees’ release. So when Patto walked into the conference hall, the crowd rose in standing ovation and Willy Brandt personally came down from the stage to meet him.

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From Rome, he flew to London. There he met Adam Raphael, a columnist from The Observer. Adam Raphael had earlier written a story on the purchase of Tornadoes by Malaysia at inflated prices. An excerpt from The Observer:

The basic price of the Tornadoes bought by the RAF and the German Luftwaffe is 17-20 million pounds each, depending on the scale of equipment. But the price of the Tornadoes being sold to Malaysia by British Aerospace is nearly 40 million pounds. This huge discrepancy in prices cannot be accounted for solely by differences in equipment, servicing training or spares.

This issue was brought back to Malaysia, and Kit Siang effectively brought it to Parliament. One of Kit Siang’s oral questions in Parliament:

The first question directed to the Minister of Defense asks,

“…..why Malaysian Government agreed to the price of 40 million pounds each for the 12 British Tornadoes under the RM4.5 billion ringgit British arms deals, when the basic price of the tornado bought by the British RAF and German Luftwaffe was 17-20 million pounds each, and whether it is true that the weapons agreed under the deal are unsuitable for Malaysia’s needs.”

After this scandal was known, the government dropped the purchase of the Tornado planes from Britain.

Eloquent speaker

Patto was a man of many talents and one of his talents lay in public speaking. He was an eloquent speaker who could speak perfect Malay, English, Tamil and some Cantonese.

In Parliament, his performance was par excellence. He had the rare gift of debating issues in parliament with his spontaneous replies and rebukes earning him the respect of the BN MPs.

On one occasion, a heated debate erupted between two BN Members of Parliament over the issue of taxi licenses. Patto stood up and quipped that perhaps the aggrieved BN Member of Parliament was sore because he could not get the taxi licences himself.  This remark sparked laughter in the House.

Not only was he quick with his replies, he was also knowledgeable in Parliamentary and State Assembly rules and regulations. Many MPs and State Assemblymen, used to come to consult him on these matters. Apart from this, he was also a good writer who regretfully did not get his one wish – that was to finish his book.

The above was the introduction that Choo wrote in a book on the late P Patto, “Nenjukku Neethi” (Justice from My Heart). We are reproducing it to remember Patto’s ideals and aspirations on the 13th anniversary of his passing, which fell on 12 July 2008.

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