The Peoples Constitutional Proposals for Malaya drafted by Representative of the Pusat Tenaga Ra’ayat (PUTERA) and the All-Malaya Council of Joint Action (AMCJA) between the months of May and August 1947; and approved by two Conferences of Delegates from the PUTERA and the AMCJA on July 4-7, and on August 10, 1947 together with a full exposition, and analysis to the Government’s Constitutional Proposals. Seventy years after its first publication, it remains important to remember that there was another struggle for independence underway, a struggle not premised upon elite conciliation and compromise with the British colonial power but one based upon the principles of popular democratic action and multiethnic solidarity which sought to produce a fully free, independent and sovereign Malaya.
The British, as all colonial powers do, believed that the ideals of democratic self-governance and multi-ethnic nationalism were unrealistic and premature for an ‘underdeveloped’ plural society such as Malaya. And yet the Proposals continue to stand as an eloquent and thoughtful refutation of British pretensions of paternalism and benevolent rule, exposing behind this facade the attempt to prolong colonial rule far beyond its expiry date. The PUTERA-AMCJA was by no means without its problems. The PUTERA-AMCJA was home to a broad spectrum of political parties and ideologies, and as Mustapha Hussain’s account of the drafting of the Proposals shows, tensions between parties of the Malay Left and non-Malay parties existed. Yet in spite of this, through co-operation such parties produced not only a coherent set of proposals but also a series of hartals which brought Malaya to a standstill.
With the British rejection of the People’s Proposals and then the implementation of their own Federation of Malaya proposal in 1948, and later the declaration of emergency, the space for political action grew smaller and smaller. With a crackdown on the parties of the Malay Left and the banning of the API, the PUTERA-AMCJA was
dissolved and its members dispersed. Some withdrew from politics; others took the struggle for independence into UMNO, whilst others entered the jungle, taking up arms against the British colonizer. The MIC and those Chinese businessmen allied to Tan Cheng Lock would go on to form, with UMNO, the Alliance Party. Yet in spite of this the Proposals remain with us today as both a reminder that the independence attained by Tunku Abdul Rahman was not the only game in town and as source of ideas for how a multi-ethnic country might be organized to benefit not only a small elite of politicians and businessmen but all of those who live within its borders.