Mohammad Hatta (help·info) (12 August 1902 – 14 March 1980) was born in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He was Indonesia’s first vice president, later also serving as the country’s Prime Minister. Known as “The Proclamator”, he and a number of Indonesians, including the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno, fought for the independence of Indonesia from the Dutch. Despite his efforts to gain Indonesian independence, he studied in the Netherlands from 1921 until 1932. Moreover, after his early education, he studied in Dutch schools in Indonesia.
Mohammad Hatta is often remembered as Bung Hatta (‘Bung’ is an affectionate title used to address colleagues, popular in the early 1900s and is still used by Indonesians).
Hatta was born in Bukittinggi on 12 August 1902 into a prominent and strongly Islamic family. His grandfather was a respected ulema in Batuhampar, near Payakumbuh. His father, Haji Mohammad Djamil, died when he was eight months old and he was left with his six sisters and his mother. As in the matrilineal society of Minangkabau tradition, he was then raised in his mother’s family. His mother’s family was wealthy, and Hatta was able to study Dutch as well as finishing Qur’an after school.
He went to the Dutch language elementary school (ELS or Europeesche Lagere School) in Padang from 1913 to 1916 after he had finished Sekolah Melayu (‘Malay School’) in Bukittinggi. When he was thirteen, he passed an exam that entitled him to enroll in the Dutch secondary school (HBS or Hogere burgerschool) in Batavia (now Jakarta). However his mother asked him to stay in Padang because he was still too young to go to the capital alone. Hatta then entered junior secondary school or MULO (Meer Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs).
During his spare time, he worked part time in a post office. Normally, MULO students were not allowed to work, but he was able to work there because of the HBS exam qualification. Hatta was interested in football; he joined his school’s football team and was made its chairman. He broadened his sphere of contacts by using his position.
Hatta used to visit the office of the Sarikat Usaha (United Endeavor), led by Taher Marah Soetan. In the office, he read Dutch newspapers, particularly about political debates in the Volksraad (parliament) of the Dutch East Indies. It was at the age of sixteen that Hatta began to be interested in politics and national movements. He was chosen the treasurer of the branch of the Jong Sumatranen Bond (or youth association of Sumatra), which was first established in Padang in 1918
Time in the Netherlands
In 1919, Hatta finally went to the HBS in Batavia. He completed his study with distinction in 1921, and was allowed to continue to study at the Rotterdam School of Commerce in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. He took economics as his major and earned a doctorandus degree in 1932. The degree entitled him to follow a doctorate program. He then continued to pursue the doctorate degree, and completed all requirements to be awarded it, but he never finished his thesis. Politics had taken over Hatta’s life.
In the Netherlands, Hatta joined the Indische Vereniging (or the Netherlands Indies Union). In 1922, the organization changed its name to Indonesische Vereniging and later to the Perhimpunan Indonesia (the same meaning but in Indonesian). Hatta was the treasurer (1922—1925), and then the chairman (1926—1930). On his inauguration, Hatta delivered a speech with the title of “The Structure of the Global Economy and the Conflict of Power”, in which he supported the idea of Indonesian non-cooperation with the Dutch colonial government in order to gain its independence. Perhimpunan Indonesia then changed from being a from student organization into a political organization and had an unequivocal demand for Indonesia’s independence. It expressed its voice through the a magazine called Indonesia Merdeka (or Free Indonesia) of which Hatta was the editor.
To gain more support from other nations, Hatta attended congresses all over Europe, always as the chairman of the Indonesian delegation. In 1926, Hatta and Perhimpunan Indonesia joined the International Democratic Congress for Peace in Bierville, France. In February 1927, Hatta went to Brussels to attend a congress held by the League Against Imperialism and Colonial Oppression. He met many other prominent nationalists there, including Jawaharlal Nehru from India, Hafiz Ramadan Bey from Egypt and Lamine Senghor from Africa. Later in the year, Hatta attended another congress held by the International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom in Switzerland. On that occasion, Hatta delivered a speech with the title of “Indonesia and the Matter of Independence”.
By the middle of 1927, Perhimpunan Indonesia’s activities had alarmed the Dutch authorities. In June 1927, Dutch authorities raided the residence of the organization’s leaders, searching through their rooms and putting Hatta and other four other Indonesian activists behind bars. After spending nearly six months in prison, they were taken to trial in the Hague. They were permitted to explain themselves during the hearing, and Hatta took to the opportunity to explain Indonesia’s nationalist cause. He made a speech to the court explaining that Indonesia’s interests were in conflict with those of the Dutch, and that was why they could not cooperate. Hatta advocated cooperation between Indonesia and the Netherlands, but only if Indonesia was independent and treated as an equal partner, not unequally because of its status as a colony. The speech became famous and it is known as the Indonesia Vrij or Free Indonesia speech.
In 1929, Hatta and other Perhimpunan Indonesia activists were released. They then joined forces with the Indonesian-based nationalist, Sukarno and his Indonesian National Party (PNI).[clarification needed] Together, Hatta and Sukarno set up a cadre school to train people with nationalistic interests.[clarification needed]In the school, potential cadres were trained in economics, the history of the nationalist movement and in the government administration. In July 1932, Hatta made his way home to Indonesia.
Hatta returned home to an Indonesia whose nationalist momentum had been slowed down by the arrest and imprisonment of Sukarno. By the time Hatta had returned, most of the members of Sukarno’s PNI had joined the Indonesian Party (Partindo) and more radical PNI members, together with the Dutch-educated Sutan Syahrir had banded together to form the New PNI. Although the initials were the same, the PNI in this case stood for the Indonesian National Education, indicating that it would focus on cadre training. In August 1932, after returning from the Netherlands, Hatta became the Chairman of the New PNI.
In December 1932, Sukarno was finally released from prison and the attention now turned to which party Sukarno would choose. Sukarno, who had wanted one united front to gain Indonesia’s independence was uncertain, thinking that in choosing one over the other, he would encourage division. In this, he was criticized by Hatta, who was more pragmatic about differences, in this case the conflict between Partindo’s radical and mass party approach versus the New PNI’s moderate and cadre party approach. Sukarno insisted on negotiations to unify Partindo and New PNI but after failing, chose to join Partindo.
Between 1932 and 1933, Hatta wrote articles on politics and economics for the New PNI’s newspaper Daulat Rakyat (The People’s Authority). These articles were aimed at training new cadres for Indonesia’s leadership.
Hatta seemed to be extremely critical of Sukarno at this point in time. In August 1933, with Sukarno once again arrested and facing trial, he wrote an article called “Sukarno Is Arrested”. This was followed by articles entitled “The Tragedy of Sukarno” (November 1933) and “The Stance of a Leader” (December 1933).
The Dutch Colonial Government gave Sukarno a harsh punishment, exiling him to Ende on the island of Flores in December 1933. With Sukarno in exile, the Dutch Colonial Government now turned their eyes to the New PNI and its leadership. In February 1934, they made their move and arrested its leaders from its Jakarta branch (which included Hatta) and its Bandung branch. For a year they were jailed at prisons in Cipinang and Glodok, with Hatta spending his time in Glodok. During his time in prison, Hatta wrote a book entitled “The Economical Crisis and Capitalism”.
In January 1935, it was decided that Hatta and his fellow New PNI leaders (including Syahrir) would be exiled to Boven Digoel in Papua. When Hatta arrived there, he was told by the local authorities that he had two options. The first option was to work for the Dutch Colonial Government as a civil servant for 40 cents a day with the hope of returning from exile, and the second option was being an exile, receiving food but having no hope of returning from exile. Hatta commented if he had decided to take a job as a civil servant in Jakarta, he would have earned a lot of money and knowing that, there was no need to go to Boven Digoel to be paid cheaply. In saying this, Hatta chose the second option.
During his exile, Hatta continued to write articles, this time for the Newspaper Pemandangan (The View). He earned enough money from that to make ends meet at Boven Digoel and to support his colleagues who had financial troubles. Hatta also used his books (which filled 16 chests when they were packed to leave Jakarta) to give his colleagues lessons on economics, history, and philosophy. Later on these lessons would be made into books entitled “An Introduction on the Way to Knowledge” and “The Nature of Greek Thought” (four volumes).
In January 1936, Hatta and Syahrir were transferred to Bandaneira in Maluku. There they joined more nationalists such as Iwa Kusumasumantri and Dr. Cipto Mangunkusumo. Hatta and Syahrir were given more freedom and were able to interact with the locals. Hatta and Syahrir also gave lessons to the local children, teaching them about politics and history. Hatta adopted a local boy, Des Alwi, as his son while living in Bandaneira. Alwi would become a prominent Indonesian historian and diplomat.
In February 1942, Hatta and Syahrir were transferred to Sukabumi in West Java.
By 1942, World War II was well under way and the Empire of Japan was fulfilling its imperial ambitions in East Asia and South East Asia. In March 1942, they began landing in Indonesia. Like their counterpart in Europe, the Dutch Colonial Government crumbled in the face of the invaders and by 9 March 1942, surrendered. On 22 March 1942, Hatta and Syahrir were again transferred to Jakarta.
In Jakarta, Hatta met with Major General Harada, the Interim Head of Government. Harada asked Hatta to become an advisor for the occupational Government. Hatta accepted the job and then asked Harada if Japan was here to colonize Indonesia. Harada assured Hatta that Japan would not do. In Hatta’s eyes, an acknowledgement of an Indonesian Independence by Japan was extremely important. If Japan, with its ultra-nationalistic ideology was able to recognize Indonesia’s independence, it would put more pressure on the Allies (especially America and the United Kingdom) as representatives of democracy to do the same thing.
In July 1942, Hatta was reunited with Sukarno who after Flores had been transferred to Sumatra before the Japanese arrived, and had also been asked for his services. Although they had left off on a bad note, Sukarno wanted to speak with Hatta before speaking with anyone else. In a secret meeting at Hatta’s Jakarta home Sukarno, Hatta and Sjahrir agreed that Sjahrir would go underground to organise the revolutionary resistance while the other 2 would commence their cooperation with the Japanese occupier. Hatta and Sukarno now had the common goal of working with the Japanese and then trying to achieve independence from them. Together with Ki Hadjar Dewantoro and Muhammadiyah Chairman, Kiai Haji Mas Mansur, Hatta and Sukarno formed a quattuorvirate of leaders tasked by the Japanese occupational Government as their intermediary with the Indonesian people.
Hatta together with the other members of the quattuorvirate worked with much fervor under the Japanese Government. They echoed Japanese propaganda and presented the Japanese Empire as the protector, leader, and the light of Asia. At the same time however, Hatta continued to promote Indonesia’s desire for independence. In a speech in December 1942, Hatta said that Indonesia had been freed from the Dutch Colonial Government, but if they were freed only to be colonized by another power, he would rather see Indonesia drown to the bottom of the ocean.
On 9 March 1943, the Japanese Occupational Government approved the formation of the Centre of People’s Power (Putera) with Hatta and the other quattuorvirate as the co-Chairmen of the association. Sukarno thought that this would be a way from which they could gain support for independence, instead the Japanese used this to their own cause and to start their romusha (forced labour) regime in Indonesia.
As the tide of the war began to turn against the Japanese, the Japanese Occupational Government in Indonesia became desperate to maintain control. Putera was disbanded and replaced with Djawa Hokokai in March 1944. Although still Chaired by Sukarno, the Indonesians had less freedom of movement than they had had in Putera. When defeat began looming on the horizon, Prime Minister Koiso announced in September 1944 that Japan would grant Indonesia its independence in the near future.
From then on, momentum began to gather for the independence of Indonesia, fuelled by the nationalist sentiments of Indonesians and supported by sympathizers from Japan such as Rear Admiral Maeda. In Maeda’s case, he even set up a discussion forum called the Free Indonesia Centre and invited Hatta and Sukarno along to deliver lectures on nationalism. This was followed in April 1945, by the formation of the Investigative Body for the Preparation of Indonesian Independence (BPUPKI). BPUPKI would meet over the next three months and would decide on things such as the constitution and which territories would be part of Indonesia.
Proclamation of Independence
By August 1945, Japan was on the eve of defeat. This month, the Japanese Government finally approved Indonesian Independence and formed the Committee to Prepare for Indonesian Independence (PPKI) to supervise it. On 8 August 1945, Hatta and Sukarno were summoned to Saigon, to meet with Marshal Terauchi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese forces in South East Asia. Terauchi told Hatta and Sukarno that the PPKI would be formed on 18 August and that Indonesia would be independent with Japanese supervision.
Hatta and Sukarno returned to Indonesia on 14 August. In Hatta’s case, Syahrir was waiting for him with news of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Syahrir told Hatta that they would have to encourage Sukarno to proclaim Indonesia’s independence immediately, because in a couple of days the Japanese might not be there to provide supervision. Syahrir told Hatta not to worry about the Japanese authorities because the people would be on their side.
Syahrir and Hatta then went to see Sukarno, with Syahrir repeating his argument in front of Sukarno. Hatta then spoke out, saying that he was worried the Allies would see them as Japanese collaborators. Sukarno shared this sentiment and Syahrir left the meeting out of frustration.
The next day, on 15 August 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies. In Indonesia, the news was only a rumor and had not been confirmed. Hatta and Sukarno went to the office of the Japanese Occupational Government in Jakarta, only to find it empty. Hatta and Sukarno then went to Maeda who confirmed that Japan had surrendered to the Allies. Hatta and Sukarno seemed shocked that Japan had surrendered. During the afternoon, Hatta and Sukarno were confronted by Indonesian youths who wanted independence to be proclaimed as soon as possible. A heated exchange followed, with Sukarno telling the youths to have more patience. Hatta, who was aware of his and Sukarno’s superiority in the exchange, sarcastically commented on the youths’ inability to proclaim independence without Sukarno.
On the morning of 16 August 1945, the Indonesian youths kidnapped both Hatta and Sukarno and took them to the town of Rengasdengklok where they continued trying to force Hatta and Sukarno to declare independence, but without success. In Jakarta, there was panic as PPKI was due to start meeting that day and had planned to elect Sukarno as Chairman and Hatta as Vice-Chairman. When knowledge of Hatta and Sukarno’s whereabouts became available and the Japanese surrender was confirmed, Achmad Subardjo, a PPKI representative, went to Rengasdengklok to break the news to Hatta and Sukarno. That night, Hatta and Sukarno returned to Jakarta where, at Maeda’s house, they worked on the Proclamation of Independence.
Finally, on 17 August 1945, at Sukarno’s residence, Indonesia’s Independence was finally proclaimed in a short statement on paper signed by both Sukarno and Hatta.
On 18 August 1945, Hatta was selected as Indonesia’s first Vice President by the PPKI to accompany Sukarno, who had been elected as the nation’s first president.
As Vice President, Hatta quickly established himself as the day-to-day administrator of the government, with Sukarno setting government policy and then trying to win support for it. Although they had different styles of governing, many agree that the style difference complimented both men’s talents perfectly. They were nicknamed the Duumvirate (Dwitunggal) and until today are hailed by many as the best President and Vice President partnership in Indonesia’s history.
Hatta would make three important decisions in the republic’s early days. In October, Hatta gave the Central National Committee of Indonesia (KNIP) legislative powers in addition to its advisory role to the president. In the same month, Hatta also authorized the formation of political parties in Indonesia. The next month, in November, Hatta also made the decision which took away the president’s role as Head of Government and transferred it to a prime minister. Hatta was able to make these crucial decisions because Sukarno was unable to attend the meetings in question, leaving Hatta in charge. For his part, Sukarno did not seem to have to problem with Hatta’s decisions, at least not during the War of Independence
When the Dutch began sending their troops back to Indonesia, Hatta, together with Syahrir and Sukarno, all agreed that a diplomatic solution should be worked for. This caused tensions with more radical elements within the government such as youth leaders Chaerul Saleh and Adam Malik.
In January 1946, Hatta and Sukarno moved to Yogyakarta, leaving Syahrir (who was by then prime minister) to head negotiations in Jakarta.
By the end of 1946, the diplomatic solution which Hatta and Sukarno had been looking for seemed to have been found. The Linggadjati Agreement, signed in November 1946 called for Dutch recognition of the Republic of Indonesia. However, territorial recognition would only be over Java, Sumatra, and Madura. In addition, this republic would be part of a United States of Indonesia with the Queen of the Netherlands acting as the Head of State. However, before the agreement was finally ratified by the Dutch House of Representatives, some compromises were made without the consent of the republic. In turn, Indonesia refused to implement its part of the deal, resulting in the first “Police Action” in July 1947.
During this time, Hatta was sent out of the country to look for support for Indonesia. One country that he went to was India, the homeland of his old friend, Nehru. Disguised as an airplane co-pilot, Hatta sneaked out of the country to ask for assistance. There he asked Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi for help. Nehru assured him that India would support Indonesia and would make the support known at international forums such as the United Nations (UN).
In December 1947, negotiations were held aboard USS Renville and an agreement was signed in January 1948. This agreement was more favorable towards the Dutch and called for the republic to recognize the territories which the Dutch had taken during the first “Police Action”. The agreement caused outrage and caused Amir Syarifuddin to resign from his position as prime minister.
To replace Syarifuddin, Sukarno appointed Hatta as Prime Minister and declared that the cabinet would be an emergency one and would be answerable to the President instead of the KNIP. Hatta also took on the position of minister of defense.
As Prime Minister, Hatta had to make an unpopular decision. In August 1948, with the Republic struggling to pay its troops, Hatta was forced to demobilize some soldiers.
In December 1948, the Dutch launched their second “Police Action” and focused their attack on Yogyakarta. Hatta and Sukarno, instead of running away to fight guerilla warfare chose to remain in the city and were arrested. Sukarno transferred authority to the Emergency Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PDRI), before going into exile with all the other Republican leaders. Hatta was sent to Bangka.
In August 1949, Hatta headed a delegation to the Hague for a Round Table conference. In November 1949, the formation of the United States of Indonesia was finally agreed. It was to be a federation consisting of the Republic and 15 States which the Dutch had created during the National Revolution. The Queen of the Netherlands would continue to become the symbolic Head of State while Sukarno and Hatta would continue as President and Vice President. On 27 December 1949, the Dutch authorities finally recognized Indonesian sovereignty.
Indonesian Vice-president Hatta and Dutch Queen Juliana signing the recognition of sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia
Hatta continued on as the Prime Minister of the United States of Indonesia and presided over the transition of the federal state to the unitary state, which was made official on 17 August 1950.
Transition from Old Order to New Order
During the tumultuous time which saw the Presidency changed hands from Sukarno to General Suharto, Hatta remained in the background. However, he would break his silence in June 1970, just a week before Sukarno died. In a letter to Suharto, Hatta said that he was disappointed that Sukarno was put under house arrest instead of being put on trial. Hatta’s reason for this was not malicious: he just wanted matters relating to 30 September Movement coup attempt of 1965 to be cleared up and for Sukarno to be given a chance to defend his actions, as many believed that he was not guilty.
Hatta’s involvement with Suharto’s government came at the beginning of 1970 when there were protests were made about corruption within it. In January 1970, Suharto appointed Hatta, along with three others as members of a commission to investigate corruption within the government. The results of the commission’s investigation was never revealed to public until they leaked in July 1970. It then became apparent that the suspicions of the protesters were correct: there was widespread corruption within the government. Controversially, however, in August 1970, Suharto disbanded the commission and allowed for only two cases of corruption to be looked at by the Government.
In July 1978, together with Abdul Haris Nasution, Hatta set up the Institute for Constitutional Awareness Foundation (YLKB), set up to act as a forum for critics of Suharto’s regime. Suharto’s government moved quickly and did not allow YLKB to conduct its first meeting in January 1979. The YLKB did not give up. In August 1979, it managed to hold a meeting which DPR members attended. Perhaps significantly, members of the Indonesian Military members also attended. During the meeting, Nasution criticized the New Order for not fully implementing the Pancasila state ideology and the 1945 Constitution.
Hatta died in 14 March 1980 in Jakarta and was buried at the city’s Tanah Kusir public cemetery. He was declared a “Proclamation Hero” by the Suharto government in 1986.