Remembering Dr M K Rajakumar

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I still remember the late Dr M K Rajakumar’s message the day before I was smuggled out of the country: “Hamid, have faith in the struggle, keep safe..,” recalls Syed Hamid Ali.

During the 1960s, I went through a period of deep depression and almost lost all sense of hope in life.

After finishing secondary school, I intended to continue my studies in medicine and was accepted into a university in India. But my aspiration came to naught as my family’s financial situation did not allow for it even though the expenses required then were much lower than what they are now.

I then decided to go to Kuala Lumpur to join my brother who was doing his Masters at the University of Malaya. Gradually, many friends of my brother, Syed Husin, became my friends as well. One of them was Dr M K Rajakumar.

Rajakumar was then a young doctor at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital. He showed great concern over my problem of not being able to pursue my studies in the sciences.

One day, he engaged me in a conversation that was longer than usual and in the midst of it said to me, “Hamid, I am a doctor and I hope you can mull over this matter: the addition of one more doctor does not necessarily mean things are going to change for the better for the people.”

“But if you are a policy maker who is honest and truly understands the needs of the rakyat, the change will definitely be great. It does not matter whether you are a doctor or not,” he added.

That was Rajakumar’s advice to me some 45 years ago.

Initially, I did not understand the actual message behind his words. But when I finally recognised its wisdom, it gradually seeped in and became firmly lodged in my thick skull.

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Rajakumar passed away on 22 November 2008. The last time I saw him was when I visited him at a hospital in Petaling Jaya a few months earlier, together with Syed Husin, the PKR deputy president.

He was asleep when we arrived but woke up when he heard us talking quietly with his two daughters, Kiren and Sunita.

“Been here long…?” he asked while thanking the two of us.  “How are Sabariah and the children?”

“Thank you. They all send their regards,” Syed Husin answered while patting him on his leg.

Anyone witnessing the scene would have been moved by the deep and close camaraderie between these two old comrades.

Following that, he asked after me and enquired what I was doing then.

I fully understood his question. But when I was slow in responding, he quickly added, “Hamid, in politics people don’t wait to be invited…”

I nodded my head in agreement. It was clear to me that the way he viewed politics remained unchanged from that of his younger days.

Patriot and leading public intellectual

Perhaps there aren’t many among today’s younger generation who know about Rajakumar although his demise is a great loss for Malaysia.

He was born in Melaka on 25 May 1932. From the Malacca High School, he obtained a federal scholarship to study medicine at the University of Malaya in Singapore. There, he displayed his gift for leadership. Together with a few progressive students, he set up the Socialist Club and served as its President for the 1954/55 term. Besides that, he was elected as a member of the Students’ Council.

The Socialist Club was renowned because it uncompromisingly opposed British colonialism and demanded independence for Malaya. On 28 May 1954, The British arrested the eight editors of Fajar, the club’s monthly publication. The authorities claimed that the articles in that month’s issue, “Aggression in Asia”,  were seditious. Rajakumar was one of the accused; he was also one of the main writers of the editorial. It was through this trial of the “Fajar-8” that Lee Kuan Yew gained prominence – he served as junior counsel in the defence team.

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After completing his studies, Rajakumar continued his political involvement through the Labour Party of Malaya (LPM). His stature is similar to other Socialist Front luminaries such as Ahmad Boestamam, Pak Sako, Dr Tan Chee Khoon, V David, Karam Singh, Hasnul Hadi and Tajudin Kahar.

From 1965 to 1967, Rajakumar was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

When the LPM was forced to disband due to incessant repression and the detention of its members by the Alliance government, Rajakumar decided to shift his attention to scientific knowledge and health care. He was the President of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) from 1979 to 1980, the President of the Malaysian Scientific Association from 1981 to 1983 and the President of the World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA) from 1986 to 1989.

I feel very honoured to have known Dr M K Rajakumar – a patriot and leading public intellectual. Indeed, I feel indebted to him. Around 1974, when student leaders, lecturers and political leaders were hounded by the ISA, Rajakumar took me in as a high risk “guest” in his house. For a few weeks I was given the best treatment – lots of food and lots of reading material. For 24 hours a day, I filled my time with useful activities, never once fearing for my safety.

Nationalist with few equals

When necessary, he himself took me to places I needed to go even late at night. When my appointments were over, he would come to pick me up. He never handed over this responsibility to anybody else – it was incredible.

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In 1976, I was forced to leave this beloved homeland due to security reasons. (For 15 years, I had to seek refuge in foreign lands without any travel documents because my passport had been impounded at Subang before I could board a plane to Australia/New Zealand on a trip at the invitation of the student bodies there.)

I still remember the message from Rajakumar the day before I was smuggled out of the country: “Hamid, have faith in the struggle, keep safe…” With that, we parted until we met again in 1991.

Now, Dr M K Rajakumar has left us forever. I’ve lost a leader whom I respect and hold in awe. The country has lost a patriot and nationalist with few equals.

Nonetheless, we must count our blessings because this son of the nation had cleared the path and blazed the trail so that we can continue this long and winding journey of struggle.

Thank you Rajakumar, thank you once again. Your legacy will always remain with us.

(Translated from Bahasa Malaysia by Tan Pek Leng)

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