Mohammad Hatta

Mohammad Hatta (1902-1980), one of the foremost intellectuals in the Afro-Asian anticolonial movement, was a leader of the Indonesian nationalist movement leading to its independence in 1945. He was a champion of non-alignment and of socialism grounded in Islam.

Mohammad Hatta was born in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, Indonesia, on August 12, 1902. Although his father died while he was an infant, he was raised in a secure, well-to-do family environment which encouraged scholarly achievement and faithfulness to Islam. These characteristics became his signature during his career as one of the foremost intellectuals in the Afro-Asian anti-colonial movement.

Education and Political Activism

As a child Hatta received the best education available in the Netherlands Indies, including Dutch-language secondary schooling in Jakarta. By the time he left for the Netherlands to continue his studies at the Rotterdam School of Commerce he had already developed a keen interest in political affairs, having served while still in his teens as an officer of youth organizations in West Sumatra and Jakarta. Shortly after arriving in Rotterdam he became treasurer of the Indonesian Union (Perhimpoenan Indonesia) at a time when it was adopting explicitly political programs.

Hatta did not return to Indonesia, as he and his nationalist compatriots called the colony, until 1932. During these ten years he emerged as the overseas leader of the Indonesian nationalist movement and became acquainted with counterparts representing other independence movements, including the Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1927 Hatta was accused by Dutch authorities of writing treasonous articles. After being imprisoned for a year and a half, Hatta successfully defended himself and his associates in a rousing, uncompromising courtroom speech which, upon publication in Indonesia, set a militant tone for the independence movement.

After his return to Indonesia Hatta and his compatriot Sutan Sjahrir sought to join forces with other nationalist leaders, including Sukarno. The organizational efforts of these men were thwarted by the repressive policies of the colonial state. First Sukarno was arrested and exiled to Flores; in 1934 Hatta and Sjahrir were arrested and eventually imprisoned in the much harsher prison camp at Digul, Western New Guinea. They later were relocated to the island of Banda, where they continued to formulate their ideas and express them in articles which were circulated in many Indonesian cities. When the Dutch in the Far East surrendered to Japan in early 1942, Hatta, back in Jakarta, assumed a new leadership role.


Occupation and Independence

Together with Sukarno and Sjahrir, Hatta participated in the Japanese occupation government. He remained in communication with underground elements of the nationalist movement, and he used his position as vice-chairman of Putera—a mass organization created in 1943—to continue political preparations for independence. With the collapse of Japan's imperial ambitions, Indonesia became independent on August 17, 1945. The days leading up to this event were tumultuous and included a brief "kidnapping" of Sukarno and Hatta by youths who were pressing for dramatic action on the part of their leaders. Sukarno and Hatta signed the proclamation of independence and quickly were designated president and vice-president, respectively, by the provisional parliament.

The next four years were a period of armed struggle against the Dutch, who were intent upon regaining control of the East Indies. For Hatta it was a time of intense political activity which included another detention by the Dutch and a deepening rift with Sukarno. As negotiations leading to the December 1949 Dutch cession of sovereignty proceeded, Hatta's international stature and his ease and competency in dealing with Europeans were instrumental in determining the outcome. Among other things he successfully opposed imposition of a federal system designed by the Dutch.


Political Ideas and Influence

Although Hatta subsequently was overshadowed by the more flamboyant and aggressive Sukarno, many of his positions became important not only in Indonesia but internationally. He was an articulate champion of non-alignment and of socialism based mainly on cooperatives and decentralization. He also believed that Indonesian socialism should be firmly grounded in Islam.

Because he was from Sumatra and was so different in personal style from Sukarno, a Javanese, the two came to be regarded as thoroughly complementary. But these same differences caused their partnership to break down, and when Sukarno abandoned parliamentary processes in favor of "guided democracy" in the later 1950s the gulf between them became unbridgeable. The collapse of Sukarno's regime in confusion and disrepute in 1966 did not lead to Hatta's return to a formal political position, however; the successor government under Suharto was dominated by the army, an organization which Hatta regarded as corrupt, inefficient, and unsuited for governance under any circumstances.

Mohammad Hatta remained in the background of Indonesian politics throughout the 1970s except for a brief period in 1978 when he agreed to serve as general chairman of the Foundation for the Institute of Constitutional Awareness. The foundation provided a forum for bold expressions of criticism from a wide range of opponents to the Suharto government. It was unable to weaken significantly the army's control of public institutions, however, and it lost much of the momentum which it may have been gaining when Hatta died on March 14, 1980.


Further Reading on Mohammad Hatta

In view of the long and complex relationship between the two men, it should be no surprise that biographies of Sukarno are a good source of information on Hatta. See, for example, J. D. Legge, Sukarno: A Political Biography (1972). George Kahin's study of Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia (1952) is a thorough account of the movement in which Hatta was absorbed. The best source for the post-independence period (not covered by Kahin) is Herbert Feith, The Decline of Constitutional Democracy in Indonesia (1962). A brief but insightful tribute to Hatta by Kahin appears under the title, "In Memorium: Mohammad Hatta (1902-1980), " in Indonesia (1980). A selection of Hatta's writings may be found in Herbert Feith and Lance Castles, editors, Indonesian Political Thinking, 1945-1965 (1970).


Additional Biography Sources

Hatta, Mohammad, Mohammad Hatta: memoirs, Jakarta: Tintamas Indonesia, 1979.

Hatta, Mohammad, Mohammad Hatta, Indonesian patriot: memoirs, Singapore: Gunung Agung, 1981.

Rose, Mavis, Indonesia free: a political biography of Mohammad Hatta, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 1987.