Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, the former chief minister of Kelantan who passed away yesterday, had cultivated a good relationship with the small Sikh community in the state on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
Fondly known as Tok Guru, Nik Aziz, 84, was the spiritual leader of PAS, an Islamist-based Malaysian political party.
“He was always humble, always down to earth,” said Prof Rabindarjeet Singh, who teaches at a local public university, whose family had lived some 16 years in the state.
“Twice he came to our Vasakhi open house. He loved jelabi, ladoo…,” said Gurmukh Singh, a senior Sikh volunteer in Kelantan, who is now the president of the Kota Baru gurdwara committee.
Kota Baru is the state capital of Kelantan, the state which Nik Aziz had led as Mentri Besar (akin to chief minister) from 1990 to 2013, before stepping down due to ailing health.
By and large, most Sikhs, as people of the other minority faiths, who live in Kelantan speak fondly of Nik Aziz and his leadership style.
A CUT ABOVE THE REST
Nik Aziz was certainly a cut above the rest of PAS leaders.
PAS bears its Islamic credentials on its sleeves and openly talks about setting up an Islamic state in Malaysia. Hence, many are naturally wary of the political party.
However, Nik Aziz had managed to capture many hearts, even amongst non-Muslims, with his austere and simply lifestyle. He was seen as an honest and upright politician.
He was also seen as the biggest hurdle for Barisan Nasional (BN) to recapture the state. BN rules at the Federal level, but PAS has ruled the state of Kelantan since 1990.
In politics, Nik Aziz was in the same league with the late Karpal Singh, the lawyer-politician from the Democratic Action Party (DAP), who died in an automotive accident last year.
VISITS TO GURDWARA
Nik Aziz visited the Kota Baru gurdwara during Vasakhi in the 1990s.
“Both times, he came with a small group. No outriders, no show,” Gurmukh told Asia Samachar. “He sat with us at the langgar hall and had some food. He didn’t go the Darbar Sahib.”
To their delight, the local Sikhs found out of his liking for jelabis. Nik Aziz must have picked it up during his studies at Darul Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, India. He then spent a short stint at Lahore, Pakistan.
After his first degree, he went to Al Azhar University, Egypt, to read the Master of Arts in Islamic Jurisprudence.
“On a few occassions, we had even met him at his home,” said Gurmukh.
Every year, without fail, Gurmukh said representatives of the non-Muslim faiths had always visited Nik Aziz’s home for the Hari Raya (Eid) open house.
Dr Suarn Singh, who was head of psychiatry at Kota Baru Hospital in the 1990s, described Nik Aziz as a fair person.
“He was a private person, no clamour for publicity,” he said. Dr Suarn, who later retired as head of psychiatry for the Ministry of Health, had spend more than a dozen years in Kelantan.
While many see Nik Aziz and his demenour as that of a person truly down to earth, some political analysts suggest that some of them are calculated behaviour.
‘Small gestures’, like visiting the local Buddhist temples, ‘go a long way’ with the minority communities, observed one former journalist, who had covered Nik Aziz, in a radio interview.
For all his willingness to meet the Sikhs, though, the Kota Baru folks were unable to resolve the gurdwara’s land matter.
Despite his intervention, they were unable to acquire the deed to the land where the gurdwara stands. It is understood that the matter is ’stuck’ at the land office. – ASIA SAMACHAR (13 Feb 2015)
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. Go to www.asiasamachar.com]