Monday, November 3, 2008

Bernama-Will The Govt Be Able To Lift Gloom Off Malaysian Indians?

By S. Retna

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 (Bernama) -- Last Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak visited Brickfields, an area inhabited mostly by Malaysians of Indian descent, to launch the Deepavali carnival organised by the Ministry of Federal Territories.The opening event attracted some 2,000 people and it seemed like a normal affair but Najib, who has been picked to succeed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in March next year, seized the opportunity to assure the 1.9 million Malaysian Indians in the country that their woes would receive due attention from the government.
Najib also announced the setting up of a committee to look into the issue of the "paperless" segment of the community, who neither have a birth certificate nor a Malaysian identity card or MyKad.He also promised that the Barisan Nasional (BN) government would look into issues affecting the Indian community.
While his speech was greeted by loud applause from the crowd, an event of a different nature was unfolding in front of the Prime Minister's Office complex in Putrajaya, the federal administrative capital.Ten people, who had called themselves "Concerned Indians", were arrested when they wanted to hand over a memorandum to the Prime Minister's Office seeking the release of five leaders from the so-called Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), a loose coalition of people which has been declared an unlawful organisation. The 10 were arrested under Section 48 of the Societies Act for acting on behalf of an unlawful society.News of the arrest only reached most of the Indian community the next day through newspapers and the efforts of Najib to seek their backing of the BN the previous day seemed to have gone to waste although the mainstream media gave prominence to what he had promised in their front pages.
Over the last 18 months, the Indian community has been rather vociferous in asking for more action by the government in terms of improving its delivery system, more Indians to be recruited into the government service, more business opportunities, an increase in their equity participation so that Malaysian Indians can be on par with the other races in the country.
The community, including the Malaysian Indian Congress or MIC, which is the Indian communitys representative party in the BN, has also asked the government to release the five Hindraf leaders held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) after the quintet had organised a massive rally in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 26 last year to demand the rights of minority Indians although some of their demands seemed outrageous.Although Hindraf had, since its inception, done little to assist Malaysian Indians in the real sense, one cannot deny the fact that its voicing out of the concerns of the Indian community proved to be the trigger for it to receive such huge support from like-minded Malaysian Indians.
This support played a pivotal role in diverting the majority of Indian votes, which had traditionally gone to the ruling coalition, to the Opposition in the March 8 general election.In the elections, the BN lost its two-third majority in Parliament besides losing four other states -- Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor -- to add to Kelantan which was already in the hands of the Opposition.The government finally banned Hindraf on Oct 15, just 12 days before Malaysian Hindus celebrated Deepavali.Home Minister
Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, in declaring the organisation illegal, said his ministry was satisfied with facts and evidence that showed that Hindraf had been and was being used for unlawful purposes and posed a threat to public order.Some see the move as the government's retaliation against some Hindraf hardliners, numbering about 200, who had gone to the Muslim Cabinet ministers Hari Raya open house at the Putra World Trade Centre on Oct 1 and created a ruckus there.But some also see the decision to ban the movement as counter-productive as banning such a movement would force the sympathisers to go underground and operate under the guise of other organisations.
Security experts have said that banning such movements would only increase the security threat, especially when the movement comprises many factions and one group might just take things a step further by linking with terrorist groups abroad.Against this backdrop, how is the government, especially Najib, going to entice the Indian community to support the BN? Many are watching with great interest.
Although MIC leaders had openly wanted the government to implement policies and set up funds to boost Malaysian Indians economically, there is a school of thought that any action will never take root unless the core issues of Hindrafs more practical demands are resolved.An MIC leader, who declined to be named, feels that any government action taken against Hindraf may be construed as "an action against the community".
"Whenever they (the government) take drastic action against this group, the more the community moves away from us (MIC). The government should adopt a more consultative approach instead of the confrontational stance. No matter what, we need Indians and they should not be sidelined," he said.So, where can the government start to prove to Indians that it has their interests and welfare at heart?
For starters, a top MIC leader said, it would be a good gesture on the part of the government to free the Hindraf Five -- P. Uthayakumar, M. Manoharan, R. Kenghadharan, V. Ganabatirau and T. Vasantha Kumar -- now languishing in the Kamunting Detention Camp in Perak.
There was speculation that they would be released before Deepavali, but that has not happened.However, it is still not too late for the government to make the aftermath of this years Festival of Lights even brighter for Malaysian Indians in this auspicious Hindu month of Kartika.-- BERNAMA