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Posted by : Ham uza Mar 15, 2015

  The formation of the Ali cabinet was of considerable
significance. Firstly, it demonstrated how NU under the
pragmatic leadership of Wahab Chasbullah could strengthen the
middle ground of Indonesian politics and, in certain
circumstances, combine with other parties to isolate Masyumi
Secondly, as the longest-serving government during the seven-
year period of parliamentary democracy, the Ali cabinet allowed
NU to consolidate itself as a political force. For almost two
years the party used its position in government to provide
resources, employment and a wide range of other preferments to
its members and supporters.78 The patronage networks
established during this period greatly assisted the party's
recruitment and electoral activities and would continue to serve
NU throughout the remainder of the Sukarno years.
  At the 1955 general election NU emerged as the third largest
party in Indonesia, attracting almost seven million votes or
18.4% of the national total and lifting its parliamentary
representation from 8 to 45.79 The result caused jubilation
within the party. Whilst many had hoped for a strong showing,
few seriously believed such an outcome was likely. The party's
own campaign committee had predicted on election eve that NU
would only capture between 20-25 seats.80
  The election result was not only a victory for the party but
also a personal triumph for Wahab. It was he who had led NU's
move into politics and persuaded his more sceptical colleagues of
the organisation's capacity to become an independent and
influential party. His sagacity and prescience now seemed
confirmed by NU's remarkable electoral success. The post-
election period marked the peak of his career and power within
the party. Amongst the grassroots of NU, where a strong culture
of venerating senior kiai existed, Wahab was increasingly
acclaimed as a wali, and many stories circulated extolling his
oracular and magical abilities.81
  Wahab used his authority during this time to promote
proteges of a pragmatic persuasion to high office in NU. At the
party congress in Medan in December 1956 several of his most
loyal lieutenants were appointed to strategic positions within the
organisation. Chief among them was Idham Chalid, who replaced
KH Mohammad Dachlan as the chairman-general of the
Tanfidziah (Executive Board).82 He had developed a close
relationship with Wahab in the early 1950s, often
accompanying him on his travels to NU branches. A shrewd but
cautious man with a keen political instinct, Idham prospered
under Wahab's tutelage, learning much about organisational,
debating and oratorical techniques whilst also building up his own
network of support within the party. Other Wahab supporters to
be elevated included Saifuddin Zuhri, who became secretary-
general, and the wealthy businessman and film producer,
Djamaluddin Malik, who became third chairman of the NU
board. These appointments strengthened the pro-Wahab
element within the NU leadership, with many continuing to be
influential figures in the party until the 1970s and 1980s.
  Not all of Wahab's activities in the mid- to late 1950s
showed good judgement. His apparent willingness to use his
position in NU and connections with government to advance his
family's pecuniary interests and career prospects was a particular
source of criticism, both within the party and without. Although
nepotism is not uncommon in the tightly-knit kinship groups of
Javanese ulama, many NU leaders and cadre looked askance at
Wahab's ardent promotion of, amongst others, his eldest son,
Wahib Wahab, and stepson, Achmad Sjaichu, both of whom had
been elected to parliament in 1955.83 Wahab's business dealings,
especially those involving Chinese entrepreneurs or government
licences, also gave rise to concern. Several of these dealings
came under public scrutiny in 1956 when sections of the Jakarta
press began publishing allegations that Wahab and Wahib had
sought preferential government treatment for a number of
commercial ventures.84  While it is difficult to determine the
validity of these accusations it would not have been surprising,
given the frequency with which political leaders of the time
extracted personal gain from public office, for Wahab to have
engaged in such practices. Despite maintaining a relatively
simple Personal lifestyle, the financial needs of his pesantren and
large family would have been considerable.85

The Accommodation of Guided Democracy

  The period from 1957 to 1960 was one of great upheaval in
Indonesian politics as President Sukarno, with support from the
army, progressively dismantled the existing system of
parliamentary democracy and replaced it with the more
authoritarian 'guided democracy'. The transition to guided
democracy created serious tensions within the NU leadership as
it raised fundamental questions regarding the future shape of
Indonesian politics and NU's place within it. There were three
elements of this transition process which proved especially
divisive for NU: firstly, the shift of power from a
democratically-elected parliament and parties to the executive
and particularly the President; secondly, the marginalisation of
Masyumi resulting from its iii-fated involvement in the regional
rebellions and staunch opposition to Sukarno's political reforms;
and thirdly, the expanding role and influence of the PKI and
other left-wing groups in government. The hardliners within NU
strongly objected to each of these aspects whereas the
pragmatists were prepared to accept them.
  According to the hardliners it would be sinful for the party to
Support or condone any actions which breached the principles of
democracy and arbitrarily reduced the influence of Islam whilst
bolstering that of communism. Hence, opposition to guided
democracy was a moral imperative. Some argued it was also a
Sound political strategy to thwart Sukarno's initiatives. They
reasoned that for Sukarno to form a credible coalition
government he would need the participation of at least one of
the two major Islamic parties. If NU joined with Masyumi in
rejecting guided democracy, Sukarno would be forced to temper
abandon hi, plans and the Islamic parties would have
demonstrated their combined power to set the political agenda.
  The pragmatists' accommodatory approach to guided
democracy reflected, above all else, a conviction that far greater
danger lay in resistance than in acquiescence. It was a stance
which, characteristically, emphasised risk minimisation and
retention of political influence as a means of protecting the
umat. Central to their argument was a belief that Sukarno and
the army now held sufficient power to dictate the terms of the
political restructuring and punish those who resisted. Opposition
was thus not only futile but also extremely dangerous for NU and
its constituency. Far better, they argued, for NU to remain
within government from whence it could exert a moderating
influence on Sukarno and counter the activities of the PKI.
Some of the more pro-Sukarno pragmatists were attracted to the
notion of guided democracy, particularly as it allowed a greater
role for the President to act as a unifying figure and surmount
Indonesia's political ills. As for the fate of Masyumi, many
pragmatists believed that its problems were largely self-inflicted.
Its rigid opposition to Sukarno's plans as well as its complicity in
the regional rebellions had discredited the party and ultimately
harmed the interests of both political Islam and
parliamentarianism. In any case, Masyumi's demise as a political
force made it doubly important for NU to provide Islamic
representation within the government.
  There were two important occasions during the transition to
guided democracy when the party was forced to choose between
the pragmatist and hardline positions. These concerned the issue
of participation in, and by extension, approval of, newly created
institutions in the transition process. The first, in early 1957,
was the extra-parliamentary Kabinet Karya (Working Cabinet),
and the second, in mid-1960, was the Sukarno-appointed
Gotong-Royong (Mutual Assistance) Parliament. In both cases
there was considerable ambivalence among NU leaders not yet
committed to either a hardline or pragmatic stance. Many
acknowledged the validity of the hardliners' arguments about
upholding democracy, showing loyalty to Masyumi and resisting
the leftwards movement of Indonesian politics, but were also
deeply apprehensive about the risks to NU of opposing guided
democracy. The pragmatists eventually won by persuading their
colleagues that risk avoidance was of higher priority.
  Wahab, as NU's pre-eminent ulama-politician, figured
prominently in gaining majority support for the pragmatist
position In the tense meetings which decided NU's stance he
dominated proceedings, repeatedly warning his colleagues that
there was grave danger in resisting Sukarno's demands and that
their paramount responsibility as Islamic leaders was to safeguard
their faith and party from such danger. He also shrewdly coaxed
waverers with the argument that NU should enter the cabinet
while it had the chance, and could later withdraw should the
government's performance prove unsatisfactory. Such a course
removed the risk of immediate political isolation but still left the
party with the option of opposing Sukarno's actions at a later
date. He encapsulated this principle in the catchphrase: 'enter
first; leaving is easy' (masuk dulu; keluar gampang).86 To
appease the hardliners he promised that NU would refuse to join
any cabinet which contained PKI members. Participation in the
Kabinet Karya was finally agreed to on the basis of maslahah,
with the NU leadership declaring it would endorse the four NU
ministers appointed by Sukarno 'in order to bring the greatest
possible benefit for us all...or at the very least minimise harm
  The issue of the Gotong-Royong Parliament proved more
intractable. Certain hardline ulama, notably Bisri Syansuri and
Achmad Siddiq, argued that participation would be tantamount to
condoning ghasab, a jurisprudential term referring to the
arrogation of another's property or rights. Sukarno, they
asserted, had violated the rights of electors and the dismissed
Parliamentarians by arbitrarily dissolving the popularly-elected
legislature and replacing it with a parliament of largely
government appointees. Despite the efforts of Wahab and his
fellow pragmatists, these hardliners remained implacable, forcing
the NU Syuriah to issue a split decision which stated that,
according to Islamic law, involvement in the new parliament was
'(1) allowed with intention of amar ma'ruf nahi munkar [ie
promoting good and preventing evil] or (2) disallowed because it
entails ghasab'.88 As a result, NU nominees to the Gotong-
Royong parliament were free either to accept or to reject
appointment based on whether they believed it to be a case of
amar ma'ruf nahi munkar or ghasab.89 At a series of
subsequent party meetings Wahab strongly urged NU's nominees
to take up their appointments in order to maintain a share of
political power which could be used to protect the umat in the
uncertain times ahead. All but three of NU's 55 nominees later
accepted positions in parliament.90
  Its acquiescence to the process of political restructuring
allowed NU to secure its position within the system of guided
democracy. The forced dissolution of Masyumi in September
1960 left NU as the sole major Islamic party and the chief
religious component in Sukarno's Nasakom (an acronym formed
from nasionalisme, agama and komunisme or nationalism,
religion and communism). In reality its influence, like that of
the PNI, was greatly reduced, with power now increasingly
concentrated in the hands of the President, the army, and the
PKI. NU was able, however, to use its position in government to
further build its organisational structure and patronage networks
as well as to counter the activities of the PKI.
  Wahab Chasbullah's dominance of the party during the late
1950s owed much to his ability to persuade his colleagues that
pragmatism was not only politically sensible but religiously
correct as well. As the party's most experienced politician and
also the one closest to Sukarno, his political views carried
immense weight. In religious debates he spoke with the assurance
of an ulama who had spent much of his life advocating genera:
principles of risk minimisation and expedience. Though lacking
the jurisprudential scholarship of Bisri Syansuri or Achmad
Siddiq, he drew on his debating skills and knowledge of Islamic
history, typically citing precedents from Sunni Islam's long
tradition of political quietism. He was also adept at appealing to
the non-confrontationist proclivities of NU's predominantly
Javanese leadership. In addition to his political and religious
authority Wahab's forceful personality and preparedness to take
advantage of NU's culture of deference to senior kiai made him a
formidable force within the party. He was not, however, the
dictator that his critics claimed him to be. On those occasions
when he swayed the party to a particular course, it was usually
because it found his reasoning persuasive. When he was
unconvincing, his proposals were rejected.91

Twilight Years

  Wahab's role and influence within the party declined
progressively throughout the 1960s. From the early part of the
decade his health began to deteriorate causing him to spend an
increasing amount of time at his pesantren and rely ever more
heavily Upon trusted lieutenants such as Idham Chalid and
Saifuddin Zuhri. His personal morale and prestige within NU were
also dented by the actions of Wahib Wahab who had been
appointed Minister of Religious Affairs in 1959. His inept
handling of this portfolio attracted considerable criticism from
the Muslim community and reached an ignominious conclusion
19 February 1962 when Wahib was forced to resign from cabinet
over his involvement in a foreign currency scandal.92 Having
vigorously promoted Wahib's career both within NU and the
government Wahab was now acutely embarrassed by his son's
misdeeds.93 The damage to the party's reputation caused many
NU members to lament the cost of Wahab's ill-judged nepotism.
  After 1963 his authority was further weakened by the
emergence within NU of a more militant anti-communist and
anti-Sukarno movement which enjoyed strong support in the
party's youth and veterans' organisations. Whilst the Wahab-
Idham group within the party's central leadership continued the
policy of accommodation, the militants mounted a campaign of
direct opposition to PKI activities and the leftwards drift of
Indonesian politics under guided democracy. This campaign
included mobilising NU members to physically resist the PKI's
unilateral land reform offensive in 1964 and joining with the
army and other anti-communist groups in eliminating, by mass
execution and detention, the PKI following the 1965 coup
attempt. Wahab played only an incidental role in these
activities. Although he was briefed about the militants' activities
and occasionally asked to approve them formally, he had little
direct input into their planning or decision-making. In the
immediate aftermath of the 1965 attempted coup, for example,
it was the younger leaders such as Subchan Z.E., Jusuf Hasjim,
Zamroni, Moenaser and Chalid Mawardi who took the initiative
in formulating NU's staunchly anti-PKI stance. Wahab went
along with the policy of denouncing the PKI but his appeals for
caution and attempts to defend Sukarno did little to dampen the
fervour of the militants.94
  The nadir of his long career came during the 24th NU
Congress held in Bandung in July 1967. Wahab's support base
within the party was crumbling with many delegates believing
that he was no longer capable or politically acceptable as rais
am. Now in his eighties Wahab was stricken with blindness and
several other ailments which severely hampered his movements.
Moreover, at a time when NU was keen to demonstrate its
repudiation of the old guided democracy regime and endorsement
of General Suharto's 'New Order', Wahab's leadership had
become anachronistic. No other NU leader had been more
closely associated with Sukarno or more identified with guided
democracy. Anti-Wahab sentiment was further inflamed by his
clumsy attempts prior to the congress to suspend Subchan in
order to improve the prospects of Sjaichu and Idham.95 In the
subsequent ballot to elect the rais am, Bisri Syansuri received a
clear majority of the votes. He refused, however, to accept the
position whilst his friend and brother-in-law remained alive. The
congress was forced, by default, to reappoint Wahab, though he
now bore the indignity of being the first incumbent president of
NU to lose an election ballot.96
  Most of Wahab's last years were spent quietly at
Tambakberas. Effective leadership of NU fell increasingly to
Bisri Syansuri and Idham Chalid. In December 1971 Wahab,
despite being gravely ill, attended his 25th and final NU congress
in Surabaya. Although too sick to deliver his presidential address
or take much part in proceedings he was re-elected rais am by
acclamation. He died at Jombang on 29 December, four days
after the congress closed.97


  Wahab Chasbullah's influence upon Indonesian Islam and
politics was considerable. For almost 50 years he served as a
pivotal figure in the defence, organisation and political
development of traditionalist Islam. This began in the late 1910s
with his involvement in the founding of Taswirul Afkar,
Nahdlatul Wathan, and Nahdlatul Tujar, and continued in the
early 1920s when he rose to national prominence as an advocate
of traditionalist values and interests at Al-Islam congresses and
public meetings. The high point of his early career was his
central role in the establishment of Nahdlatul Ulama in 1926,
which soon became the main representative body for
traditionalist Muslims. His involvement in the forming of MIAI
eleven years later is also noteworthy. But his period of greatest
power came during the 1950s when, as rais am, he led NU from
Masyumi and oversaw its transformation from a small and
hesitant opposition party into the largest, most politically
secure Islamic party in Indonesia. The success of the party was
in no small measure due to Wahab's ability to steer it towards a
pragmatic and accommodatory course from which it could enter
the political mainstream.

  Judgements about the moral and qualitative aspects of
Wahab's career will depend upon the normative criteria used. He
was, above all else, an arch-traditionalist with a deep
commitment to fostering and developing traditional Islam in
order to ensure its place in a rapidly changing society and state
His willingness to subordinate principles of Islamic solidarity and
liberal democracy to the interests of traditionalist advancement
has been much criticised as also has his dubious business practices,
his nepotism and autocratic and domineering manner. For his
detractors, they are evidence of an unscrupulous, intellectually
narrow and self-interested personality.
  Despite the validity of some of these criticisms, they should
not overshadow the magnitude of Wahab's achievements; no
other Person has been so influential in shaping traditionalist
responses to a variety of challenges over such a long period of
time. Wahab Chasbullah deserves to be regarded as the most
significant traditionalist Islamic leader in Indonesia this century.
detractors, they are evidence of an unscrupulous, intellectually
narrow and self-interested personality.
  Despite the validity of some of these criticisms, they should
not overshadow the magnitude of Wahab's achievements; no
other person has been so influential in shaping traditionalist
responses to a variety of challenges over such a long period of
time. Wahab Chasbullah deserves to be regarded as the most
significant traditionalist Islamic leader in Indonesia this century.


78  NU was by no means unique in using government to expand its
    patronage networks. Most parties from the time of this Ali cabinet
    engaged in the practice to some degree, with the PNI the most         notorious exponent.

79  Feith, pp.434-35. Masyumi gained 20.9% of the vote and 57 seats I"
    1956, NU's numbers in parliament rose to 47 when two Chinese
    minority representatives, Tan Eng Hong and Tan Kiem Liong (later
    Mohammad Hasan), joined the NU faction.

80  Interview with KH Idham Chalid, Jakarta, 15 June 1992.

81  These stories often focused on the special relationship which was     said to exist between Wahab and God. His knowledge was claimed to     have been received directly from God (laduni) rather than acquired     by learning. He was also said to have gained divine guidance through     istikharah, a Special prayer seeking God's help in deciding how best     to resolve intractable problems. Other stories told of his magical     powers, including the ability to be in several places simultaneously     as well as make himself and others invisible.

82  Dachlan's relations with Wahab had often been strained. His strict
    adherence to official procedures and party regulations frustrated     Wahab end others who usually relied upon informal networks within     the organisation. He was also one of the few NU executives prepared     to query openly Wahab's actions. Consequently, prior to the Medan
    congress Wahab sanctioned a campaign by Idham's supporters to
    remove Dachlan. Interviews with Nuddin Lubis, Jakarta, 6 December
    1991 and 22 July 1992, and Achmad Sjahri, Bekasi, 15 January 1992.

83  Wahib was the focus of much of this disquiet. Most observers     believed he lacked the judgement and diligence to hold the high     political office which his father sought to obtain for him. His     subsequent appointment as Minister of Civilian-Military Cooperation     in 1957 and then Minister of Religious Affairs two years later     dismayed many sections of the party. Sjaichu was a more able leader     than his step-brother, though his aloof manner and reported     collaboration with the Dutch in Surabaya during the Revolution     hindered his acceptance within the party. He became leader of NU's     parliamentary faction in 1957 and entered cabinet in 1963 as Deputy     Speaker of the parliament.

84  The main allegations concerned three companies in which Wahab and
    Wahib were involved: P.T. Sri Gula, a sugar marketing firm; C.V.     Kurnia, putatively a rubber exporter; and P.T. Rahmat, a small sugar     processing operation. Sri Gula endeavoured (apparently     unsuccessfully) to gain a partial monopoly on domestic sugar sales     and Kurnia obtained a special licence (lisensi istimewa) to export     rubber slabs. Both companies were backed by Chinese capital leading     to charges of them being 'Ali-Baha' enterprises (a reference to the     practice of pribumi Indonesians fronting Chinese businesses). See,     for example, Indonesia Raya, 11, 20 and 27July and 28 August 1956.     Also interviews with Hamid Baidowi Jakarta, 12 July 1992 and Nuddin     Lubis, Jakarta, 17 July 1992.

85  According t, Aboebakar (PP 125-6) by the mid-1950s Wahab
    had Sixteen children.

86  Abadi, 12 April 1957; Sin Po, 17 April 1957; and interview with KH
    Idham Chalid, Jakarta, 15 June 1992.

87  Siaran ke-V, PBNU, 14 April 1957, pp. 4-5, Koleksi Nahdlatul Ulama,
    Arsip Nasional, Jakarta Selatan (hereafter refered to as AN), folder     no.158.

88  See Keputusan P.B. Sjuriah, 25 April 1960, reprinted in Laporan
    Pengurus Besar Nahdlatul Ulama (Reports to the 1962 NU Congress
    in Solo), December 1962, lampiran 8, AN 3. For reports of the debate
    within the Syuriah see Mimbar Umum, 29 April 1960, and 21 and 24
    June 1960.

89  'Putusan Sidang Pleno PBNU Tentang DPR-GR', 24 June 1960,
    Laporan Pengurus Besar Nahdlatul Ulama, December 1962, lampiran
    9, AN 3.

90  Laporan Fraksi NU, 1960, AN 260; and Mimbar Umum and Duta
    Masjarakat, 18 June 1960. The three nominees who refused to join the
    parliament were Z. Arifin Tanamas, Jusuf Hasjim and Mohammad     Dachlan.

91  The best example of this was NU's refusal in 1959 to support the         return of the 1945 Constitution without the Jakarta Charter. Wahab     had argued for passing the Constitution.

92  Wahib's questionable business dealings and marriage to a non-Muslim
    Chinese woman in Singapore had been a constant source of controversy
    during his time as a minister. That Sukarno chose to demand his
    resignation in 1962 may well have been partly due to deteriorating
    relations between the two men. According to several sources, Wahib     had clashed repeatedly with Sukarno during 1961 over the issue of     PKI involvement in the cabinet. Interviews with Muhammad Madchan,
    Jombang, 8 December 1994; and Said Hilabi, Jakarta, 6 December 1994·
    See also, Duta Masjarakat, 19 March 1959, 6 January 1960 and 2, 3     and 9 November 1962.

93  Saifuddin Zuhri writes candidly of Wahab's distress at his son's
    behaviour in Berangkat, pp. 492-5. Wahib was probably saved from
    serving a lengthy prison term by the intervention of Sukarno.

94  Interviews with Chalid Mawardi, Jakarta, 14 August 1991; KH
    Moenasir, Mojosari, 14 September 1991; Said Budairy, Jakarta,
    30September 1991; KH Jusuf Hasjim, Jombang, 26 October 1991 and
    Jakarta, 14 July 1992.

95  Subchan's suspension was overturned by the NU board shortly before
    the congress started. Interviews
    Asnawi Latief, Jakarta, 22 July
    May and 29 June1967; and Allan Samson, 'Islam and Politics in
    Indonesia', Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, 1972, p.         183.

96  Aziz Masyhuri, p. 63; and interviews with Asnawi Latief, Jakarta, 25
    April and 22 July 1992; KH Jusuf Hasjim, Jakarta, 14 July 1992;      Nuddin Lubis, Jakarta, 29 April 1992 and 22 July 1992; and Chalid     Mawardi, Jakarta, 25 February 1992.

97  Saifuddin Zuhri, Abdulwahab, p. 117; and Tempo, 8 January 1972.

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