MANY years ago, Datuk Rais Yatim was remembered for burning his bridge with Umno and its leaders. Umno was then led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose strong hold of the party didn't go down well with some people in the party which he led for 23 years.
Rais went on to support Semangat 46, led by Tengku Raaleigh Hamzah, the Kelantan prince. Semangat 46, a splinter born from Umno's cradle, didn't last. Tengku Razaleigh returned to Umno on Dr Mahathir's invitation, as did Rais and many others.
Rais has apparently rebuilt his bridge, and is today seen as one of Dr Mahathir's strongest supporters. When many of Dr Mahathir's Cabinet and supreme council colleagues shunned him, especially in public, Rais was the opposite.
Rais never failed to attend Tun Mahathir's Hari Raya open house at The Mines, prompting tongues to wag. His Cabinet colleagues watched from the sidelines, thinking that Rais' days in Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's Cabinet were numbered.
Those who shunned Dr Mahathir did so for what they believe to be their political survival, especially when Dr Mahathir began taking potshots at Abdullah, which escalated to be what it is today - an open war.
Simply put, being seen with Dr Mahathir wasn't the best of moves, and was viewed as politically incorrect. We hear stories of how Cabinet Ministers who used to call on Dr Mahathir gradually stayed away from him, treating him like a leper and is to be avoided at all cost.
They, however, did openly visited him when he went for his heart by-pass at the IJN last year. It was the right thing to do then, who knows what would happen when the old man was fighting for dear life in the ICU.
Today, Rais once again sat tongues wagging. Another round of speculation as to his position in the Cabinet made its way through the rumour mill. Would he still be in the Cabinet after such a show of defiance to his boss?
Rais' statement which was in defence of Dr Mahathir after Abdullah's angry retort shown on national television and widely quoted in the media make interesting reading.
Today, many Umno leaders cushioned their remarks when asked to comment on Dr Mahathir's repeated criticisms on Abdulah. Before the general election in March, many had blasted Dr Mahathir without too much of a second thought. But with the groundswell as it is, their comments on Dr Mahathir seemed more subdued, cautious even.
While they don't want to appear disloyal to Abdullah, they also feel less obliged to come to his aid. So, when Abdullah asked a rhetorical question as to who is Dr Mahathir to try and influence Umno members when he's not even an Umno member, having left the party some three months ago, Rais had this to say:
"There are many who are blasting Dr Mahathir for making statements about Umno. This should not be an issue. He has the local standi to make any statement on Umno. He led the party for 23 years.
"If they want to say something to him, look him straight in the eye and tell him."
Woh! I thought that's very brave of Rais (his detractors may say that's foolish and could be politically suicidal). Whatever, his statement is a reflection of the times we are in - say your piece and be damned with it!