By Clara Chooi - Malaysian Insider
His eyes, now crinkled at the corners, tell of stories long past and experiences that, although sometimes bitter, have also become the potion of life that has kept him fuelled throughout the years.
To Abdul Kudus, it is not the number of years in one’s life that matters — it is how much life one injects into those years that really counts. And for the grandfather of 11, the very essence of that life was his unfaltering faith and belief in the struggles of one man — Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Ironically, Abdul Kudus’ friendship with the fiery opposition leader, dating as far back as 1974, had sparked off from a rather bizarre setting — in the interrogation room of the Bukit Aman police headquarters.
Then a corporal with the force’s Special Branch unit, Abdul Kudus who is today the division chairman for PKR Tanjung Karang, was tasked with interrogating the young student leader Anwar, who had been detained — for the first time — under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for rallying against rural poverty and hunger.
“It was a 60-day long interrogation. I was assigned to the duty with two others but I did most of the questioning for the others often found ways to get out of it,” Abdul Kudus told The Malaysian Insider in an exclusive interview here this week.
The septuagenarian gestured energetically as he recalled the details of his early friendship with Anwar and looked right at home in the tiny coffee shop nestled at the fringes of Desa Maju, Kampung Sungai Tengi. Despite his advanced years, the pint-sized activist commutes at least one hour daily to the village, known to be an Umno stronghold, to spearhead activities for his party’s campaign in the Hulu Selangor by-election on April 25.
“I had already known of Anwar before, as the leader of Abim (Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement), but we only met when he got arrested. It was too bad that he got arrested. At the time, the Home Ministry claimed that his actions had been under the influence and instigation of Parti Komunis Malaya — they were trying to implicate him with the communist party.
“Anwar was placed under solitary confinement for his involvement in the protests and my job was to speak with him every day for 60 days, to determine if he was indeed a threat to national security,” said Abdul Kudus.
In the 60 days, he said, his admiration for the young Anwar grew.
“He was co-operative, there was no exchange of harsh words or violence. We discussed things; education policies, politics, everything,” he said.
It was during that time, said Abdul Kudus, that he “fell in love” with Anwar’s courage and powerful convictions.
“There was something inside this guy, something in his style that told me: this man will be the prime minister of Malaysia one day,” he said.
Abdul Kudus said that although Anwar was sent to serve a 20-month sentence at the Kamunting detention camp, his friendship with him never wavered.
“We stayed in touch and when he was released, we would meet up, sometimes as often as once a week. We spoke extensively about the future of Islam, the wellbeing of the people and the future of the country,” he said.
Abdul Kudus added that he had initially been opposed to the idea of Anwar joining Umno. “I do not know what it was, I just felt something was not good. At the time, it was (former prime minister Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) who invited him in. He called Anwar’s father-in-law, Datuk Wan Ismail and said that he wanted Anwar to join his Cabinet,” he said.Despite his uneasiness at the proposition, Abdul Kudus said his support for Anwar continued throughout the years, until the leader reached the pinnacle of his career in the Federal Government — he had become the country’s second-in-line to the premiership as the deputy prime minister.
Anwar’s steady climb to the top came to an abrupt stop, however, when he was suddenly sacked in 1998 over allegations of sodomy and corruption, and subsequently sent to jail until 2004.
“In Sept 2, 1998, I was in Seremban visiting my children when I heard the news — Anwar had been removed. I knew immediately he had been framed. I knew it without a doubt.
“Since that day, I joined the reformasi (reformation) movement and never looked back,” he said.
Abdul Kudus admitted that although his faith in Anwar had already become an impenetrable fortress, it had not been an easy transition to move from his cushy life as a pro-establishment supporter to the opposition camp.
“I had joined Umno in 1996 already. I was in the party as a member for almost two years when Anwar was removed. But it mattered little for I knew, and I strongly believed, that this man had been framed,” he said.
In Sept 16, 1998, Abdul Kudus organised a mammoth rally for Anwar at his home in Tanjung Karang, giving the leader the platform to explain his predicament to the people.
“Thousands gathered to hear him. It was surreal,” he said.
On Sept 20, Anwar was arrested. A few days later, Abdul Kudus, and many of his family members were sacked from Umno.
“Anyone with the ‘bin Omar’ name was sacked. But it was funny — we laughed until our stomachs exploded,” he said.
Abdul Kudus went on to explain that even his contract for an excavator service business that he had just started at the time, was also taken away.
“They took everything from us, from me. Even my brother, who was not an Umno member, was apparently sacked from Umno. Do not ask me how, we received the letters and we just laughed,” he said.
The losses, however, never once dampened Abdul Kudus’ resolve to stand strong for the reformasi movement, and his blind faith in Anwar even withstood the test of whopping offers of gifts and monetary rewards.
“I am quite somebody in Selangor. And they (Umno) knew that. I am very valuable to them because the people of Selangor know me,” he said.
He claimed that he had been approached with contract offers and cash rewards in exchange for his return to Umno and his departure from the reformasi movement.
“They asked me — how many million ringgit worth of contract do you want? I was asked also to hand over my membership form to Umno to a prominent politician onstage during one function and when I descended from the stage, I was to receive RM5 million upfront,” he said, smiling coyly.
Abdul Kudus claimed he politely declined the offers.“After 34 years of clean service with the force... I never once accepted corrupt offers... and now, when I am old and decrepit, why should I sacrifice all those years?” he said.
Instead, Abdul Kudus said he chose to follow his heart.
“And I had already, from years before, fallen in love with Anwar’s fight. What Anwar is preaching is the very value I admire... I fall in love with people who preach the universal values of mankind — that mankind is equal, that we are all one people.
“I see that he is not only a leader to his family, to the people but also, he is a leader of the world. When Anwar speaks, everyone listens — the Muslims, the Christians, the Buddhists, everyone,” he said.
Abdul Kudus expressed disgust at leaders who ruled only for the sake of holding on to power and not to use that power to improve society.
“They do not care, they would do anything to stay up on that pedestal,” he said.
He noted that Anwar, however, had not only gone to the far corners of power but had also been dragged mercilessly from the throne and thrown into the dark recesses of incarceration.
Even then, he said, the now 62-year-old leader had still emerged upholding the very same principles he had admired in the young student leader whom he met in 1974.
It was this determination, concluded Abdul Kudus, that would make his prediction, made within the four walls of the dank interrogation room at Bukit Aman more than 30 years ago, come true.
“Anwar will become the prime minister of Malaysia one day.”