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Posted by : Ham uza Mar 14, 2015

took over role of chairman-general of the NU board for the
remainder of the Occupation.50
  Following the declaration of Indonesian independence in
August 1945, Sukarno appointed Wahab to the Supreme
Advisory Council (Dewan Pertimbangan Agung). This was a
prestigious position but one carrying little direct influence.51
Wahab's appointment did, however, indicate that he was on
good terms with, and trusted by, the President. With the onset of
the Indonesian Revolution Wahab became involved in the
guerilla movement against the returning Dutch forces. He raised
money for military equipment, addressed guerilla units and
helped coordinate the recruitment and training of santri in East

Rais Am

  Following the death of Hasjim Asj'ari on 25 July 1947,
Wahab Chasbullah, as the next most senior ulama within NU,
assumed supreme leadership of the organisation. It was from this
period until the early 1960s that, as rais am,53 he would
dominate the organisation and greatly influence the course of its
  Before discussing his role as rais am it is necessary to
examine first the internal dynamics and cleavages of NU from
the late 1940s till the mid-1960s. Within NU's leadership during
this period there existed what might best be termed two
polarities: one of them hardline and the other pragmatic. NU
leaders were orientated in various degrees towards one or other
of these two 'poles' on the basis of ideology as well as ties of
patronage or loyalty to a more senior kiai.
  The hardliners, in general, were those who favoured a firm
adherence to both the letter and spirit of Islamic law. Their
frame of reference was more scholastic and exclusively islamic
than that of the pragmatists. They were strong supporters of the
notion of an Islamic state and wanted formal recognition of the
Syariah in the Indonesian Constitution. To this end they
advocated the inclusion of the 1945 Jakarta Charter, which
called for obligatory implementation of the Syariah for all
Muslims, in the Constitution. They also placed a high value upon
Islamic unity and argued that good relations with their co-
religionists, whether modernist or traditionalist, should take
precedence over relations with non-Muslims. An abiding anti-
communism was especially evident. Other attitudes which
characterised the hardliners included a disdain of politicking and
its associated deal-making and compromise, a tendency towards
conservatism on matters of social change, and a less syncretic
approach to Islamic devotional practice. The dominant figure
amongst the hardliners was Bisri Syansuri though others, such as
KH Achmad Siddiq, KH Mohammad Dachlan and KH Machrus
All, were also significant at various times.
  The pragmatic stream, by contrast, displayed a less
doctrinaire approach to policy and action. Its interpretation of
Islamic law was more liberal and realist than that of the
hardliners, with preference frequently given to general
jurisprudential maxims and precepts over more specific legal
interdictions.54 Among the most commonly used precepts were
amar ma'ruf nahi munkar (enjoining good and preventing evil),
maslahah and mafsadah (respectively, the pursuit of benefit and
avoidance of harm), and akhaffud-dararain (in essence,
choosing the lesser of two risks). There is much debate amongst
Muslim scholars about the meaning and realisation of these
precepts but in the hands of NU's pragmatists, they became a
prescription for political flexibility and expedience. In policy
terms the pragmatists were more cautious on the Islamic state
issue because of concerns about alienating non-Muslim
Indonesians and doubts that it would necessarily result in a more
Islamic society. They were also far less concerned about
maintaining solidarity with modernist Muslims, and indeed, often
regarded the latter as rivals for the leadership of the umat. On
many issues, they were closer to the nationalists, particularly
those of more moderate persuasion, than to modernist Muslims,
and their attitudes towards left-wing groups tended to be more
  Wahab Chasbullah was the pre-eminent Pragmatist in NU's
leadership. This was especially evident in his political outlook.
He had little interest in elaborate or abstract political theories;
politics, for him, was ultimately about the pursuit and use of
power. He believed the best way for NU to protect and advance
the interests of Islam and the community of believers was to
secure a share of political power. In post-independence
Indonesia, this effectively meant having influence within the
government and legislature. The greater the number of NU
ministers, bureaucrats and members of parliament, the better the
organisation would be able to realise its aspirations. Wahab's
views were strongly supported by many of NU's more
politically-inclined leaders including Zainul Arifin, Masjkur,
Idham Chalid and Saifuddin Zuhri.
  Despite this bipolarity within NU's leadership, the
organisation's internal dynamics were remarkably fluid because
of a strong preference for decision-making by consensus rather
than voting. For either the hardliners or pragmatists to win on
any given issue, they needed to attract the support of those
board members who lacked a strong a priori commitment to a
particular view. Usually, once a clear majority had been
persuaded towards a certain position, the remainder of the
leadership would relent without forcing a ballot. During the
period in question it was Wahab and the pragmatists who were
most frequently ascendant.
  In examining Wahab's influence Upon NU's political
behaviour, particular attention will be paid to four critical
events: NU's secession from Masyumi in 1952; its decision to
enter the cabinets of Ali Sastroamidjojo in 1953 and Djuanda tie.
Kabinet Karya) in 1957; and lastly, the decision to participate in
the Gotong-Royong Parliament In 1960. In all of these issues
tensions between the hardline and pragmatic elements were


  Nahdlatul Ulama's separation from Masyumi was the greatest
upheaval in Islamic politics of the early 1950s. Since the latter
part of the 1930s there had been substantial cooperation
between modernist and traditionalist organisations, firstly
through MIAI, and later, from 1943, through Masyumi. The
subsequent re-emergence of animosity between the two streams
had long-term consequences for the dynamics of Indonesian
politics. Aspects of the secession will be examined in some detail
as they reveal much about Wahab's influence on events, his
leadership style, and his outlook.
  The origins of the NU-Masyumi split can be traced to the
1949 Masyumi congress in Yogyakarta. A new generation of
modernists under the leadership Mohammad Natsir won control
of the Masyumi board and the party's rules were changed to limit
the influence of the Majlis Syuro (Religious Advisory Council)
which was chaired by Wahab Chasbullah and dominated by NU
ulama. The political competence of traditionalist kiai was also
ridiculed by modernist speakers leading to a walkout by NU
delegates.55 Such was the anger at the perceived anti-
traditionalist trend within Masyumi that at the next NU
congress, held in Jakarta in April 1950, sections of the
organisation proposed that it withdraw from the party.
  Foremost among the pro-secessionists was Wahab, who
viewed Masyumi's actions as not only an attempt to marginalise
NU, but also a personal affront to his authority as chairman of
the Majlis Syuro. As in the 1920s he set about rallying
traditionalist Muslims to confront the modernist challenge. He
told NU delegates that if Masyumi was unwilling to agree to a
more equitable share of power between the party's main member
organisations and restore the powers of the Majlis Syuro, then
NU should disaffiliate and establish its own political party. He
was sanguine about NU's prospects outside Masyumi, and in a
typically blunt and hortatory address to the NU congress, his
first as rais am, he reproached colleagues who expressed
misgivings about secession.

      There are many NU leaders in the provinces and also in
    the centre who are not convinced of NU's strength; they are
    more convinced of the power of other groups. These people
    are influenced by the whispers of other people who spread
    propaganda... NU's strength is like a cannon... [Yet] that
    propaganda makes the hearts [of NU leaders] shake as if their
    weapon is not a cannon, but only...a gelugu or coconut
    branch acting as a fake cannon...! The foolish (tolol) NU
    leaders aren't aware that this is the tactic of opponents to
    bring down NU by means of making its leaders doubtful d
    their own power.56
Despite support for the secession proposal, no formal
decision was taken on the matter. The NU leadership was,
however, instructed to negotiate with Masyumi regarding
organisational reform of the party.57 Tensions continued to
simmer over the next two years as the Masyumi board
repeatedly rejected NU's demands.
  It was the refusal of the Masyumi board in February 1952 to
nominate an NU member to the new cabinet which brought NU
to the brink of disaffiliation.58 NU had expected to retain the
Religious Affairs portfolio, a position it had held in the last two
cabinets. Loss of this department, which had become NU's only
stronghold in the bureaucracy and an important source of
patronage, would have been a major blow.
  There was widespread anger and disillusionment within the
organisation over Masyumi's actions. Wahab was especially
incensed and resolved that if the Masyumi board could not be
forced to back down and endorse an NU nominee to the ministry
then NU would split from the party. From late February until
early May he conducted an audacious campaign to achieve this
end. His demands were served upon the Masyumi board in a series
of three personal letters sent between 8 and 20 March. In the
first of these he demanded, without the knowledge or approval
of the NU board, the Religious Affairs and Defence portfolios
for NU.59 He also released the letter to the press, thereby
gravely undermining Masyumi's position in the delicately
balanced negotiations over cabinet posts.60 His actions infuriated
the Masyumi board.
  In his second letter, on 15 March, Wahab called for President
Sukarno to be directly involved in the allocation of portfolios
and vented, in notably forthright terms, his own displeasure at
being excluded from day-to-day political decision-making within
Masyumi. He complained about 'various doors being jammed
shut', and gave notice that he would 'pound on them' to test if
they would open. His closing sentence stated: 'As a final
warning, if it is evident that my pounding continues unheeded,
then believe me, we will both soon see what happens'.61 In the
final letter he gave Masyumi a two-day deadline to reverse their
decision before NU would reconsider its membership of the
party. This letter was accompanied by a statement from the NU
board formally supporting, for the first time, Wahab's actions.62
Aside from his correspondence with Masyumi he also met and
canvassed NU's options with other political leaders, the most
notable of whom was President Sukarno who shared Wahab's
strong dislike for the Natsir group.63
  The breakdown in NU-Masyumi relations entered a terminal
phase in late March. At a meeting with the Masyumi board on
23 March Wahab declared that his demands were an 'absolute
condition' for any further negotiation and 'NU would struggle by
itself if they were not acceded to. The board, irked by Wahab's
ultimatums and politicking, rejected his conditions. He responded
by immediately disclosing his correspondence and failed
negotiations with Masyumi to the cabinet formateur, PNI's
Wilopo, in the vain hope of securing the last-minute inclusion of
an NU member. After learning of his actions an exasperated
Masyumi board formally nominated Muhammadiyah's Fakih
Usman as Minister of Religious Affairs on 26 March.64
  Having brought NU to the threshold of secession Wahab and
his supporters still faced the task of convincing the organisation
to take the next step and transform itself into an independent
political party. Despite widespread anti-1Masyumi sentiment
within NU, many members were apprehensive about being seen
to divide the umat. There was also concern about NU's potential
to be a viable party given its ramshackle organisational structure
and lack of cadre with sufficient educational and administrative
experience. Wahab displayed no such doubts. For example, when
a Masyumi leader asked sarcastically how many lawyers,
engineers and doctors there were within NU, he replied in typical
homespun fashion:

 If I buy a new car the salesman doesn't ask 'Sir, can you
drive?' Such a question is unnecessary because if I can't
drive a car I can post an advertisement: 'Driver Wanted'.
Without doubt there will soon be a queue of candidates in
front of my door.65

In other words, once NU had its own political vehicle, the
necessary expert personnel could be hired or coopted.
  The final decision regarding disaffiliation was taken at the NU
congress in Palembang which began on 26 April 1952. There was
heated debate on the issue with a vocal minority of delegates
resisting the board's attempts to achieve unanimous approval for
departing from Masyumi.66 According to an eye-witness account,
at one point in the debate several leaders appeared to be
wavering in their resolve so Wahab took the podium and

 If you really doubt the stand we are taking, you are
welcome to continue within Masyumi. Let me lead NU by
myself as a political party separate from Masyumi. I only
ask to be accompanied by just one young person---one is
enough--as my secretary. Later you will see [what

  Eventually the congress agreed to a formula which resulted in
NU's official withdrawal from Masyumi on 1 August 1952.68 At
the end of that month NU effectively became a political party
by joining with two smaller parties--Perti and Partai Sarekat
Islam Indonesia--to form the Liga Muslimin Indonesia, a loose
(and largely ineffectual) federation designed to counterbalance
  NU's estrangement and eventual departure from Masyumi
offers one of the best documented episodes in Wahab's career.
The picture which emerges is that of a man totally convinced of
the correctness of his views and prepared to adopt an 'end-
justifies-the-means' approach to achieve them. He wielded his
authority as rais am and NU co-founder to the full, often
behaving in an autocratic and pre-emptive manner but also
displaying considerable political savvy. It was these qualities and
his penchant for brinksmanship which led many modernists to
blame him for the rupture between NU and Masyumi. It would,
however, be more accurate to describe Wahab's role as catalytic
rather than causal. Had there not been a substantial groundswell
of resentment against Masyumi into which he could tap, Wahab
would never have been able to marshal majority support for

Party Consolidation and Personal Triumph

  The period between 1952 and 1955 was one of rapid
expansion and consolidation for the new party. Having
committed itself to political activity much now depended on
attaining a significant share of the vote at Indonesia's first
general election which was scheduled for September 1955. NU
had boasted that some seventy per cent of Masyumi members
were either NU members or sympathisers; it now had to attract
their support.69
  The three years following NU's secession were hectic for
Wahab. Having played a pivotal role in NU becoming a party his
own credibility was now tied to the success of NU's political
venture. His responsibilities were numerous. As rais am he had to
oversee the organisation's development and policy
formulation.70 He began travelling regularly around the
contryside mobilising support and building up the organisation's
branch structure and financial base.71 As a senior member of
NU's parliamentary fraction, he also figured prominently in
determining party tactics and responses to pending legislation as
well as negotiating with other party leaders.
  In addition to this, he became an increasingly important link
between the President and NU. The two had enjoyed warm
personal relations since at least the early 1940s. Apart from
their shared experience of Surabayan life in the 1910s and
1920s, Wahab and Sukarno had many interests in common,
including politics, international affairs, Javanese culture and a
fascination with attractive women. After Sukarno's elevation to
the presidency in 1945, Wahab became a regular visitor to the
palace. His quick, earthy humour and forthright counsel on
political and religious issues were, by all accounts, welcomed by
Sukarno.72 With NU's emergence as an independent party the
mutual benefits of close Presidential-NU relations would have
been evident to both men. Sukarno sought to promote NU as a
moderate Islamic alternative to Masyumi while Wahab hoped
the President's support would bolster his party's prospects in a
highly competitive political system. Wahab's great admiration
for Sukarno's leadership qualities must also have influenced his
behaviour. He believed that NU should support the President not
only because of his key role in achieving Indonesia's
independence but also because he remained a crucial figure in
maintaining and developing a sense of national unity and
  In the middle of 1953, NU faced a new crisis in its relations
with Masyumi, again over cabinet positions. The resignation of
the Wilopo government in early June led to almost two months
of protracted and intense discussions between various parties
over the composition of a new cabinet. NU's preferred option
was for a 'United Front' cabinet containing both PNI and
Masyumi. Opinion within NU was divided, though, on how to
proceed if these two parties refused to coalesce. The more
hardline NU leaders were committed to maintaining solidarity
with their fellow Muslims in Masyumi whilst the pragmatists,
who remained mistrustful of that party's modernist leadership,
were prepared to enter a non-Masyumi coalition with the PNI
and smaller nationalist and Christian parties. Neither side
commanded a majority in its own right and relied on attracting
support from the sizeable 'undecided' element within the party's
  Initially NU aligned itself with Masyumi in the maneuvering
for portfolios on the understanding that it would receive the
Religious Affairs Ministry. When, however, in late July
discussions between Masyumi and PNI again broke down NU
began dealing directly with the formateur over positions in a
non-Masyumi cabinet. President Sukarno was widely believed to
have intervened in the ensuing negotiations urging NU and other
smaller parties to join.74 On 30 July NU finally accepted an offer
of three portfolios--those of Second Deputy Prime Minister,
Religious Affairs and Agriculture--in a new cabinet to be led by
PNI's Ali Sastroamidjojo. Its decision was bitterly criticised by
Masyumi leaders who claimed to have received an undertaking
from NU not to break ranks with their party.75
  Although much of the internal politics regarding NU's
decision to enter the Ali cabinet remains obscure, Wahab seems
once again to have played a critical role. In the final meetings of
the NU leadership to consider the party's stance on the cabinet
Wahab reportedly argued emphatically for participation.76 The
case put by him and his fellow pragmatists was based mainly on
the jurisprudential precepts of amar ma'ruf nahi munkar and
maslahah. According to this line of argument participation was
justified in order, firstly, to prevent harm to the nation and its
political system by breaking the long impasse in forming a new
government and, secondly, to secure benefit for NU and its
Muslim constituency. Regarding the latter point it was asserted
that as the second largest party in government NU's ministers
would be able to implement many of the party's policies and also
enhance its prospects at the next election.77 This view was
eventually accepted though an undertaking had to be given to
hardliners that NU backing would be withdrawn if the cabinet's
performance proved unsatisfactory.


50  Anam, p. 123.

51  Parlaungan, p. 214.

52  Saifuddin Zuhri, Abdulwahab, p. 50; and interview with Hasjim     Latief, Sepanjang, 11September 1991.

53  Whereas Hasjim Asj'ari had been referred to as the rais akbar,     Wahab, out of deference to his predecessor and teacher took the     somewhat humbler title of rais am.

54  I am indebted to Kiai Muchith Muzadi, Ali Haidar and Martin van
    Bruinessen for their helpful comments on differing approaches to
    jurisprudence within NU.

55  See Idham Chalid's account in Amak Fadhali (ed.), Partai N. U.     dengan Aqidah dan Perkembangannja, Tohaputra, Semarang, 1969. p. 27.

56  Saifuddin Zuhri, Berangkat, p. 390.

57  Saifuddin Zuhri, Kaleidoskop di Indonesia, vol. 3, Gunung
    Agung, Jakarta, 1981, p. 213.

58  The Masyumi board's intention was to nominate a Muhammadiyah
    member as Minister of Religious Affairs. This followed considerable
    criticism of how previous NU Ministers had handled the portfolio.     The board believed that Muhammadiyah not only had superior     candidates to those proposed by NU but was also entitled to demand     that such an important ministry for Muslims be rotated amongst the     major Islamic organisations.

59  The Political Advisory Council of the NU board was forced to issue a
    press statement claiming that Wahab's actions were a personal     initiative and had not been discussed at a board level. Berita         Indonesia, 8 March 1952; and Abadi, 10 March 1952. Wahab had also,         without prior consultation, renominated Wahid Hasjim, the incumbent     Minister of Religious Affairs (and his nephew by marriage). despite
    Wahid's firm refusal to stand again. Interviews with Solechah Hasyim
    Wahid Hasjim's widow), Jakarta, 19 November 1991 and Hamid
    Baidowi, Jakarta, 26 April 1992.

60  Buku Putih, DPP Masyumi, Jakarta, 1952, pp. 11-12.

61  Reproduced in Buku Putih, pp. 20-1.

62  Buku Putih, pp. 26-8.

63  Berita Indonesia, 1 March 1952; and Buku Putih, p. 6.

64  Buku Putih, pp. 29-32. Wahab's meeting with Wilopo also unsettled
    his colleagues. Wahid Hasjim wrote a personal note to Natsir     regretfully informing him of his uncle's actions. His note is     reprinted in ibid. p. 31-2.

65  Saifuddin Zuhri, Berangkat, p. 399.

66  Wahab had earlier locked a reluctant NU board into accepting, in
    principle, secession from Masyumi and presenting this to congress     for ratification. This made it far more difficult for the anti-    secessionists as a failure to confirm the board's decision would be     taken as repudiation of the organisation's leadership. This tactic     of 'raising the stakes' for his opponents was employed on numerous     occasions by Wahab during his term as rais am. Pikiran Rakjat, 8     April 1952; Haluan, 9 April 1952; and interview with KH Muchith     Muzadi, Jember, 2 July 1992.

67  Saifuddin Zuhri, Berangkat, p. 398.

68  According to several delegates at the congress, Wahab's speech     failed to persuade a number of influential anti-secessionists. A     compromise formula involving the establishment of a committee to     negotiate with the Masyumi board over the terms of separation was     only able to be struck after the intervention of Wahid Hasjim.     Interviews with Nuddin Lubis, Jakarta, 17 July 1992 and KH Muslich,     Jakarta, 26 September 1991.

69  See the comments of Mohammad Dachlan in Pikiran Rakjat, 5 April

70  Until his death in April 1953, Wahid Hasjim, as deputy chairman of     the NU board, directly managed much of the administrative and policy     work for the party. His untimely demise in a car accident robbed NU     of one of its most gifted and competent leaders.

71  Amak Fadhali, PP 28-30; and interview with Idham Chalid, Jakarta, 15
    2999 1992. According to Idham, he and Wahab spent most weekends
    from mid-1952 to 1954 visiting NU branches and pesantren.

72  Interviews with Solechah Hasyim, Jakarta, 19 November 1991; Hasib
    Wahab, Jombang, 28 October 1991; Hamid Baidowi, Jakarta, 17 July
    1992; and Ruslan Abdulgani, Jakarta 20 July 1992.

73  Interviews with KH Muslich, Jakarta, 26 September 1991; KH
    Nasrulloh, Jombang, 29 October 1991; and KH Jusuf Hasjim, Jakarta,     14 July 1992.

74  This was not the first time NU had entered into direct cabinet
    negotiations following Masyumi's withdrawal. In the fourth week of
    negotiations it appeared on the verge of agreeing to a Ministry in a
    proposed non-Masyumi cabinet but withdrew when several other parties
    expressed reservations. Herbert Feith, The Decline of Constitutional
    Democracy in Indonesia, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1962, pp.

75  Deliar Noer, Partai Politik Islam di Pentas Nasional, Grafiti Pers,
    Jakarta, 1987, p. 235; and Abadi, 31 July and 3 August 1952. This     claim is problematic. Noer provides no details of who gave the     undertaking and there appear to be no surviving documents, official     or otherwise, Which refer to it. More importantly, NU had     demonstrated five weeks beforehand that it would consider     participating in a non-Masyumi cabinet, so it would seem surprising     if the Masyumi leadership withdrew from cabinet negotiations on the     basis of this 'undertaking', as Noer asserts.

76  Noer, Partai Islam, p. 235; and field notes of Dr Herbert Feith.

77  The statement of the NU board, reprinted in Merdeka, 12 September
    1953, declared that the principle of amar ma'ruf nahi munkar and
    Calculation of maslahah and mafsadah obliged NU to join the new
    cabinet, albeit without Masyumi. See also the comments of Zainul     Arifin and Nur A.G.N. in Abadi, 3 and 4 August 1953; and interviews     with Idham Chalid by Dien Madjid, Arsip Nasional, Jakarta Selatan,     tape no.18.

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