Melaka was where the country’s father of independence Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj proclaimed the independence date on Feb 20, 1956.

Melaka was chosen because this was where the foreign invasion began before the whole Malay peninsula was colonised.

Melaka, considered an important port and situated strategically between the east-west sea trade route, was conquered by the Portuguese in 1511 and in 1641 it was taken over by the Dutch. In 1824, the state was taken over by the British following the Anglo-Dutch Treaty and this paved the way for Britain to colonised the whole peninsula.

Hence, the Umno extraordinary general meeting in Kuala Kangsar, Perak on Jan 13, 1956 decided it was only appropriate that Melaka be the place to proclaim the independence date if the negotiations were successful.

Feb 20, 1956 was a major turning point for the people of the Federation of Malay States then because for the first time they felt relief knowing that their country was set to achieve independence.

The independence date was proclaimed at the Padang Bandar Hilir here and now the field is known as Padang Pahlawan (Warriors’ Field).

EVENTS LEADING TO THE HISTORICAL ANNOUNCEMENT

On Jan 1, 1956, the Alliance delegation led by Tunku, (Tun) Abdul Razak Hussein, (Tun) Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, (Tun) H.S. Lee, T.H. Tan and (Tan Sri) Abdul Kadir Shamsudin began their voyage to London on the MV Asia from Tanjung Pagar Port, Singapore.

The negotiations went on for three weeks from Jan 18 to Feb 8, and on Feb 11 the independence agreement was signed.

The delegation departed by flight from London on Feb 16 and arrived in Singapore at midnight Feb 19.

The following day, the delegation left for Melaka where they were given a rousing welcome at the Batu Berendam airport and a bigger crowd awaited them at the Padang Bandar Hilir.

From the airport, the motorcade brought Tunku and the delegation to the field. Tunku was in a car with Datuk Panglima Bukit Gantang Abdul Wahab Abdul Aziz and Abdul Aziz Majid and along the way, thousands of people lined up on both sides of the road and the euphoria was evident with shouts of ‘merdeka’ (independence/freedom).

PADANG BANDAR HILIR JAMMED

According to an Umno veteran, Datuk Wira Borhan Md Yaman, 77, who was at the gathering, at least 100,000 people congregated at the field to welcome Tunku.

“Some came in old cars, slept in the mosques, surau, and wherever possible and at that time there were many big trees around the field, so they slept there…the people were very happy,” he fondly recalled.

He said people from as far as Singapore were also there including the Umno delegation from the island state led by Datuk Abdul Hamid Jumat.

Borhan said people congregated there as they were very excited and never thought that Tunku’s mission to secure independence would succeed.

While reminiscing the historical moment, Borhan paused for a while as he was overcome by emotion.

“They came, firstly, they were happy, secondly, they never expected Tunku’s mission would succeed. Many of the opposition parties were not confident and remained sceptical…God willing, everything fell into place,” said Borhan, an ‘Exemplary Teacher Award’ recipient.

TUNKU ANNOUNCES THE DATE

In the midst of the euphoria and right in front of about 100,000 people, Tunku announced that according to the agreement reached in London, the Federation of Malay States would achieve independence on Aug 31, 1957.

Tunku lifted his right hand holding a dagger, a 100-year-old ‘keris pukal’ given to him by the women’s movement, and shouted ‘merdeka’ a few times amidst the sea of humanity.

The shouts were reciprocated by the crowd and reverberated at every corner of the field.

Standing beside Tunku then was (Tun) Abdul Ghafar Baba who led the gathering on that day. The Singapore Umno head presented a map of Malaya to Tunku.

Tun Abdul Razak signed the independence date proclamation document witnessed by Umno secretary-general (Tan Sri) Senu Abdul Rahman. The other signatory was (Tun) Dr Ismail.

OTHERS ADDRESS THE CROWDS TOO

The Datuk Panglima Bukit Gantang who represented the Malay rulers in the delegation to London also addressed the crowd and so did (Tun) V.T. Sambanthan who represented the MIC and Leong Yew Koh, representing MCA.

Tunku’s speech at the significant event was broadcast live by Radio Malaya.

The Kedah prince also thanked all Malayan citizens for their wholehearted support that contributed to the success of the independence negotiations.

Fifty years later, in 2006, the Melaka state government decided to commemorate the historical event by re-enacting it on every Feb 20. 20.

And this year, it’s definitely more significant as the nation marks its 50th independence anniversary.

— BERNAMA