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Shifting centres of power: Tokyo, Jakarta, London, the hague

Japan’s plan to transfer sovereignty to Indonesian leaders was halted by its defeat in World War II. Japan surrendered on 15 August, and the Allied forces, on behalf of the South East Asia Command (SEAC), took control of the Pacific front immediately thereafter. Yet as the British were unable to land until late September, Java was left to its own fate as a contested space between the retreating Japanese, the Indonesian nationalists and the re-invading Dutch troops.[1] The enthusiasm that had swept across the archipelago at the Japanese landing was experienced by neither the SEAC nor the Dutch troops.

The news ofJapan’s surrender took weeks to seep through and out of Jakarta, fomenting unrest and chaos between diplomacy- oriented politicians and revolution-minded pemuda (youth). The first and perhaps most significant of such incidents was the kidnapping of Soekarno and Hatta by a group of radical nationalists who wanted independence declared before Japan transferred authority to the Allies.

Soekarno proclaimed independence on 17 August without the support of Soetan Sjahrir, who was head of the underground anti-Japanese movement, or that of the Islamic wing, which demanded a more prominent role for religion. Hatta chaired a final informal meeting of the preparatory committee on 18 August and concluded that Indonesia only had a chance as an independent nation if no mention of Islam was made in the constitution.

The Jakarta Charter was excluded from the final version of the Indonesian constitution, and to placate the Islamic nationalists, Soekarno specified that this constitution was ‘temporary’, ‘quick’ and only applicable to the revolution (sementara, kilat, revolutiegrond- wet). Soekarno also promised that ‘later in the future [...] if we live in a safe and orderly state, we will gather once again the elected representatives of the people, who will enable us to make a more complete and perfect constitution’.[2] Soekarno’s failure to follow up on the ‘temporary’ aspect of the constitution deeply informed Kartosuwiryo’s decision to proclaim the Negara Islam Indonesia in 1949.

In the weeks following their surrender, the Japanese were still in charge. The British commander requested, albeit unsuccessfully, that all internees remain in the camps, so as to avoid the spread of vengeful violence. Lawlessness was rampant in the towns and the countryside, with the Japanese, Europeans and Chinese becoming the favourite targets of local gangs. Jakarta was the centre of a struggle for power among the Dutch, Japanese and Indonesians, in the midst of which British troops quietly mediated to re-establish law and order. On the political front, Soekarno and Hatta acted as if the proclamation had been forced upon them. They did very little to establish government structures, instead focusing on diplomacy and leaving most of the action to the so-called laskar (militia), both in Jakarta as well as in the neighbouring areas. The apex of this conflict in strategy was reached in mid September, when Soekarno interrupted a mass rally in the capital with calls for peace and order instead of showing his support for the revolutionary intent of the demonstrators.

By the end of the month, the Japanese mayor had indirectly handed over control of the city to his Indonesian counterpart, Suwiryo, and Dutch attempts to regain it were stonewalled by the

Allies, who insisted that the Dutch not re-take political control. An official Dutch municipal administration was not constituted until February 1946. In the latter part of 1945 Jakarta functioned as the formal capital of both the Indonesian Republic and the Netherlands Indies, its de facto control being a crucial step on the road towards de jure authority over all of Java, if not over the entire former East Indies’ territory. But when British troops succeeded in bringing the city under total control in December, most laskar fled the town, and the Republican government gradually withdrew to Central Java, leaving Jakarta in the hands of the Europeans.[3]

Within weeks of the Japanese surrender, before the British assumed control of Jakarta, Soekarno had already formed the first Republican cabinet. Having transformed the KNIP into a legislative body, Soekarno called on Indonesians to form political parties and to begin preparations for parliamentary elections, scheduled for the following year in January. The nationalist front was far from united, and in October the socialist Soetan Sjahrir released his Perjuangan kita (Our struggle) pamphlet, indirectly accusing Soekarno of cooperation with the Japanese and of displaying sympathies for Tan Malaka. Tan Malaka was the leader of the communist group, who, it had emerged, had in October and November been preparing for a coup. To avoid the potentially destabilizing alliance of Sjahrir with Tan Malaka, in mid November Soekarno offered Sjahrir the opportunity to form the cabinet.

The post-World War II reorientation of the nationalist movement was evident to Van Mook as soon as he landed on Java in October 1945. The Lieutenant Governor-General realized that the Japanese occupation had strengthened the nationalists to the point that their struggle for independence had gained too much momentum to be restrained by military force. Restraining the movement was even less tenable because the Netherlands would have had to rely on British troops, which had neither an interest nor a stake in reinstating Dutch colonial rule. Further widening the existing rift between Jakarta and The Hague, Van Mook initiated talks with the nationalist leadership, as he saw a viable solution only in diplomacy. More importantly, he saw the solution in recognizing the different status ofJava vis-a-vis the rest of the archipelago, as the Netherlands had indeed succeeded in restoring pre-war order in the eastern islands.[4]

The Allies had been quite explicit in their unwillingness to negotiate with a former collaborator of the Japanese (meaning Soekarno), and so it was that the recognition of Sjahrir’s cabinet as representative of one portion of the Indonesian archipelago and his voluntary agreement to a federation with tight connections to the Netherlands made it possible, in late 1946, the signing of the Linggadjati Agreement.

In the window between the Japanese defeat and the Dutch return, the political scene changed dramatically. The largest party during this time was the new Partai Nasional Indonesia (PNI), which, its name notwithstanding, had nothing to do with Soekar- no’s party, as it represented professionals and civil servants. However, the party with the widest and deepest support in late 1945 - and until the end of the decade - was Masyumi, which had reorganized itself in November. The next party to form was the Partai Sosialis (Socialist Party), which was established in December and included both Amir Sjarifuddin’s and Soetan Sjahrir’s constituencies. Several other parties were founded in 1946, yet only these three played significant roles during the revolution and in the early years of the Republic.

In the months following the Indonesian proclamation of independence, Kartosuwiryo regained his position as secretary of Masyumi’s executive committee, and he was also chosen as party representative for the KNIP general assemblies in 1946 and 1947, and for its Working Committee (Badan Pekerja) in 1947.[5]

At the November 1945 congress, former Sarekat Islam and Partai Islam Indonesia (PII) members dominated the central board, whilst NU and Muhammadiyah leaders were only found in the Majelis Sjoero (consultative assembly). The boards of the two departments were a bit of a potpourri, with Agoes Salim and Mohammad Roem from the Awareness Committee sitting next to Kartosuwiryo, Muhammad Natsir, K.H.A. Sanoesi, and K.H. Abdoelwahab.[6] In the meantime Muhammad Natsir acted as vicepresident of the KNIP working committee.[7] This fragmentation of the membership of the core bodies of the party created the conditions for Masyumi’s political incoherence in the 1950s. As old fractures had not yet healed, it is not surprising that Masyumi failed to bring about a defined platform for Indonesia’s independence in Islamic terms. Within a year, the leadership would change dramatically.[8]

In the period following the SEAC occupation of Java, three dynamics - Soekarno’s neglect of Islam, the Republic’s weakness in asserting its sovereignty against Dutch claims, and Masyumi’s lack of a political strategy to gain a more dominant position in national politics (despite its large following) - led to the Islamization of the ideological struggle as well as the polarization of Republican and Islamic troops on the territory of West Java.

  • [1] For a detailed account of the British occupation, see Richard Mcmillan’s, The British occupation of Indonesia, 1945-1946 (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005) and ‘British military intelligencein Java and Sumatra, 1945-46’, Indonesia and the Malay World 37-107 (2009).
  • [2] Endang Saifuddin Anshari, Piagam Jakarta 22 Juni 1945: Sebuah konsensus nasional tentangdasar negara Republik Indonesia 1945-1959, 3rd ed. (Jakarta: Gema Insani Press, 1997), p. 48. Arecent discussion of the Jakarta Charter and its current impact on Indonesian politics can befound in Nadirsyah Hosen, Shari’a and constitutional reform, pp. 59-69.
  • [3] Robert Cribb, ‘Administrative competition in the Indonesian revolution: The dual government of Jakarta, 1945-1947’ in The Indonesian revolution, pp. 129-46.
  • [4] J.J.P. de Jong, ‘Winds of change: Van Mook, Dutch policy and the realities of November1945’, in The Indonesian revolution, pp. 163-82.
  • [5] D. Noer and Akbarsyah, K.N.I.P.: Komite Nasional Indonesia Pusat. Parlemen Indonesia 19451959 (Jakarta: Yayasan Risalah, 2005).
  • [6] Deliar Noer, Masjumi: its organization, ideology and political role in Indonesia (master’s thesis,Cornell University, Ithaca, 1960).
  • [7] ‘Overzichten van berichten betreffende het republikeinse leger in de Maleise pers vanWest-Java 1945 Oktober-1946 April’, p. 59, AMK Supplement (1664) 1826-1952 [hereafterSupp] no. 78, NA.
  • [8] Dewan Partij: Soekiman, from its PSII splinter Partai Islam Indonesia, was the chairman,with Abikoesno (PSII) and Wali al-Fatah (PII) as his vices; Harsono Tjokroaminoto (PSII) andPrawoto Mangkoesasmito (SIS) were the secretaries. Majelis Sjoero: KH Hasjim Asj’ari as chairman, Ki Bagoes Hadikoesoemo, K. Wahid Hasjim and Kasman Singodimedjo as vice-chairmen.Masjoemi, Partai Politik Islam Indonesia (Bukit Tinggi: Dewan Pemimpin Daerah Masjoemi Soe-matra Barat). This pamphlet was most probably printed on the occasion of the 22 April 1946congress.
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