The Malayan People Against the Japanese Army, MPAJA, played the role of a resistance movement, during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Now, after 60 years, Mat Indera, a key member of the Johore MPAJA is the subject of a controversy. Should the MPAJA/Mat Indera be honored? Is Mat Indera a hero, a freedom fighter? Such debates if done without chauvinism and cynicism could be healthy . Unfortunately, that is not often the case. The cynicism and chauvinism that skew rational arguments are too visible.
If only Malaysians could discuss the subject openly and rationally, it would reflect well of a maturing, self-assured nation, with diminishing insecurities. Malaysian should be confident and magnanimous to recognize the roles of the many people from all sides of the divides who charted the history of the country.
Was the MPAJA effective in fighting against the Japanese, to merit honor? The Japanese surrendered because of Hiroshima. The MPAJA was no match for the might of the Japanese Imperial Army. But, neither was the last stand of the platoon led by Lt Adnan of the Royal Malay Regiment in defending Bukit Timah.
It is not about winning or the right match to merit honor. It is the courage, the spirit, the patriotism, the valor, that are to be admired and earn a place in the honour’s roll.
To the proponent of the MPAJA , the sales pitch has been to tell the people that the 3 star symbol signify the three main component races of the then Malaya. But it has been well understood that it is the same red stars of the Communist Party of China. The British knew very well that the organization had been infiltrated by the communists but they were pragmatic and smart enough to exploit the anti Japanese sentiments amongst the Chinese, exploiting the deep resentment of the Japanese after the massacre of Nanking.
It did not help the MPAJA cause that it was disproportionately represented by the Chinese with a sprinkling of Malay fighters one of which was the BATU PAHAT born Mat Indera. The communist inclined MPAJA did not appeal to the Malays. The frustration and the resistance and the retaliations by both sides proved to be MPAJA’s undoing in Batu Pahat, the hot bed of anti Japanese and anti MPAJA movement in Malaya.
To honor means, to give high respect, credit and distinction. However, before honoring people with hero status let us examine the quality of heroes we want. We want our heroes to be having distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and posses noble qualities.
If we apply the above test to the MPAJA, the group would have easily qualified for courage, ability, brave deeds but unfortunately they failed in the noble qualities test. Even their patriotism is suspect to some, because of the link with the anti communist led Japanese movement of CHINA.
All over the country there are still living custodians of history, with first hand experience of going through hell, being at the receiving end of the MPAJA. Before HIROSHIMA, there were just too many fellow Malayans, who suffered for refusing to support the likes of Mat Indera and Chin Peng. THE MPAJA failed miserably to win the hearts and mind of the people particularly the Malays. The chauvinism amongst many chinese in the MPAJA did not help either.
In Johor, particularly in Parit Sulong, Sri Medan, Bagan, Batu Pahat the atrocities of the MPAJA, the banning of religious related activities amongst the Malays and the notoriety of Mat Indera, not to mention the numerous Chinese, resulted in the uprising against the MPAJA led by Panglima Salleh. Dato Onn the district officer of Batu Pahat at that time, was the person responsible to arrest the uprising from flaring further before law and order was restored.
The people themselves revolted against MPAJA without the Police or Government intervention. The Malays established a self defence movement named the GERAKAN MUHAMADIAH. They did not fight for the Japanese nor was it on behalf of the British. They were fighting against the notoriety of the MPAJA. This revolt was more widely known as Perang Parang Panjang and it stretched over a few years and not just the period after the fall of the Japanese.
Mat Indera and the MPAJA were just too atrocious to the Malays. The communist streaks were laid bare, the Malays were given a baptism of fire by the MPAJA who by then were inspired by what was happening in China and further motivated by the fall of Japan. Because of their notoriety they became enemies of the people.
The Perang Parang Panjang has often been wrongly projected as a chinese-malay racial clash. No it was not, there were many innocent victims, no doubt. It was a faith-based fight to protect their own interest and their rights against the communist ideology. The big picture was the fight against the suppression, the chauvinism and notoriety of the communist inclined MPAJA. The account of the war is best and fairly narrated and recorded in the book Red Stars over Malaya.
To classify Mat Indera and MPAJA as a resistance movement should be acceptable ,a notorious, communist inclined resistance movement, but to make heroes out of them, in my opinion is rather misplaced.