Mohammad Hatta, the humble proclamator of independence and first vice president of Indonesia

Sutan Sjahrir (left), Sukarno (center), Mohammad Hatta (right). (Photo: Bung Karno Penjambung Lidah Rakjat Indonesia)

IO – The name Mohammad Hatta will remain forever in the history of Indonesia. Hatta was the proclamator of the Indonesia’s independence together with Sukarno, on August 17, 1945. He and a number of Indonesians, including the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno, fought for the independence of Indonesia from the Dutch. Hatta was later also elected as Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia. 

Born on August 12, 1902, in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra to Mohammad Jamil and Siti Saleha. His father died when Atthar, who later changed his name to Hatta, was eight month old and he was left with his six sisters and his mother. As in the matrineal society of Minangkabau tradition, he was then raised in his mother’s family. 

Hatta is the only son with six sisters. He started his basic education at ELS (Europeesche Lagere School), a Dutch language elementary school. Since sitting at MULO (Meer Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs) in the city of Padang, he became interested in political movement. 

Hatta became a student of the Handelshogeschool or Business College in Rotterdam on 19 September 1921. He grew up to be a nationalist youth and joined Indische Vereeniging which later changed its name to the Indonesian Association. 

Hatta also wrote critically in the Hindia Poetra magazine. He did not hesitate to criticize the Dutch government. His movement caused him to be detained by the Dutch colonial authorities. 

Together with St. Nazir. Pamontjak, Ali Sastroamidjojo, and Abdul Madjid Djojoadiningrat, Hatta was imprisoned for five and a half months. On March 22, 1928, the court in The Hague acquitted the four of them of all charges. 

During this historic session, Hatta delivered an impressive defense speech, which was later published as a brochure under the name “Indonesia Vrij”, and later translated into Indonesian as a book entitled Free Indonesia. 

In one of his defense sections, Hatta wrote, “We believe in the future of our nation and we believe in the strength that is in its soul. We know that the turn of events in Indonesia always revolves around our advantage.” 

After completing his studies in the Netherlands, Hatta returned to Indonesia in 1932. He remained active in politics, especially in educating cadres of the Indonesian National Education Party. 

In January 1935, together with several figures from the Indonesian National Education Party including Sutan Sjahrir, Hatta was exiled to Boven Digoel. Previously they were detained for a month in the Glodok and Cipinang Prisons, Jakarta. In Glodok, Hatta wrote the book “Economic Crisis and Capitalism”. 

The head of government there, Captain van Langen, offered two options: to work for the colonial government for a wage of 40 cents a day in the hope that he would be sent back to the area of origin or become an exile by receiving food in kind, with no hope of being returned to his area of origin. 

Hatta answered that if he wanted to work for the colonial government when he was in Jakarta, he would have become a big man with a big salary too. So he did not need to go to Tanah Merah to become a coolie with a salary of 40 cents a day. 

After a year in Boven Digoel, Hatta, and Sjahrier were moved to Bandaneira, in January 1936. In Bandaneira they met other figures of the movement, Dr. Tjipto Mangunkusumo, and Mr. Iwa Kusumasumasumantri. Hatta and Sjahrir socialized and even provided education to children in Bandaneira. 

On February 3, 1942, Hatta and Sjahrir were moved to Sukabumi, West Java. After the Dutch East Indies government surrendered to Japan on March 9, 1942, Hatta and Sjahrir were brought to Jakarta on March 22, 1942. 

During the Japanese occupation, Hatta did not make many statements. However, the speech that was delivered at Ikada Square (now Merdeka Square) on December 8, 1942, caused quite a stir. He said, as quoted from, “Indonesia is independent of the colonialism of Dutch imperialism. 

“And because of that, it does not want to become a colony again. Young and old alike feel this very strongly. For Indonesian youth, he would rather see Indonesia sinking into the ocean than to endure as a colony again.” 

On the evening of 16 August 1945, the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence prepared a proclamation of independence at a meeting at the house of Admiral Maeda (JI Imam Bonjol No.1), which ended at 03.00 the next morning. 

A small committee, consisting of 5 people, namely, Sukarno, Hatta, Soebardjo, Soekarni, and Sayuti Malik separated themselves into a room to compile the text of the proclamation of independence. 

Sukarno asked Hatta to compile a concise text of the proclamation. Hatta suggested that Sukarno write down the words he dictated. After the job was done, they took him to the living room, where the rest of the members awaited. 

Soekarni proposed that the text of the proclamation be signed by only two people, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta. Everyone present applauded boisterously. 

Sukarno was later elected President, and Hatta became Vice President. Hatta, who had promised not to marry until Indonesia’s independence, finally ended his bachelorhood by marrying Rahmi Rachim, 18 November 1945 at Mega Mendung, Bogor, West Java. This couple is blessed with three daughters, namely Meutia Farida, Gemala Rabi’ah, and Halida Nuriah. 

Hatta was known to be very humble. There is a story that is always remembered, how the Vice President could not afford a pair of Bally shoes. Hatta only kept a clipping of the ad for the luxury pair of shoes without ever owning them. 

Simplicity was also taught to his family. One day in 1950, Rahmi asked him about the policy of cutting the currency of ORI, the name of Indonesia’s currency at that time, from 100 to 1. The cut meant Rahmi would no longer have enough savings to buy a sewing machine. 

“I can believe in you, but this secret should not be divulged to anyone. Let us lose a little, for the sake of the whole country. We’ll try to save again, OK?” Hatta replied to his wife as quoted from Detik. 

After resigning from his position as Vice President in 1956, Hatta’s family’s finances became increasingly critical. The pension he got was very small. In the book “Pribadi Manusia Hatta, Series 1,” Mrs. Rahmi recounts that Hatta was once angry when his daughter suggested that the family put a bowl as a place for visiting guest donations. 

Hatta was once surprised to receive such a high electricity bill. “How can I pay it with my pension?” Hatta said. He sent a letter to Jakarta Governor Ali Sadikin asking him to cut his pension money to pay for electricity bills. However, the Jakarta Provincial Government later decided to bear all the costs of electricity and water for the Hatta family. 

Hatta died on March 14, 1980. The true statesman was never able to buy the pair of Bally shoes, but he left a legacy of modesty that should serve as a role model for both Indonesian officials and society. 

Indonesia always misses Hatta, like the lyrics of a song written by singer Iwan Fals for Hatta: Imagine your devotion, imagine your body / You can imagine your simple spirit/ being proud and full of prayers from us who miss someone like you. (RP)