By Wong Choon Mei (Harakah)
“To the Indians, Najib is just another actor in a long line of actors and actresses from the Umno-BN,” N Gobalakrishnan, a prominent Indian activist and the Padang Serai MP, told Harakahdaily.
“What’s the point of going to Chennai and Batu Caves when all you need to do to convince the Malaysian Indians is to act on the grouses that they have brought up time and again?”
Indeed Najib does appear to be the edge of desperation to win over the community. Snubbed by the Chinese for orchestrating an unpopular power grab in Perak, he is now chasing the Indian vote to bolster his party's traditional 50 percent share of the Malay votes to win at the next general election, due latest in March 2013.
In fact, many political watchers expect him to call for elections by the middle of next year and are unsurprised at his unabashed overtures to the community. Indians form about 8 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million-odd population. Malays predominate at 60 percent, Chinese 26 percent, whilst indigenous and other races form about 6 percent.
In front of God Murugan
At Batu Caves on Friday night, the eve of Thaipusam, the PM resorted to using the full force of his federal machinery to grab center stage. His police force unceremoniously pushed the more popular Pakatan Rakyat politicians, who were also there, to a far-off and inconvenient spot so that they would not steal his thunder.
Nevertheless, it did not stop the Pakatan team led by Selangor Mentri Besar Khalid Ibrahim from winning the greater applause and empathy from the million-odd devotees who thronged the grounds of the sacred temple of the God Murugan.
“The lights you see among the crowd, the railings were all contributions by the government,” Najib had boasted to the crowd. “Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi told me he believes Indians are fairly treated in Malaysia.”
He was referring to his recent trip to Chennai, made in the midst of a spate of attacks against places of worship in the country. Amid criticism that he was not at hand when his own nation was in need of leadership, his controlled media has been painting Karunanidhi as an ultimate icon revered almost like a saint by Tamils throughout the world.
And their purpose: to justify his absence at a time of crisis and to impress upon the Indian community here of how important and beneficial his trip was to them.
“He must think the Tamils in Malaysia are all uneducated fools. Karunanidhi is a well-respected politician but there are so many well-respected politicians in India. It is a vast country with a huge history and culture,” a prominent analyst at a government think-thank told Harakahdaily on the condition of anonymity.
“Why go to Chennai and then a week later, appear at Batu Caves in front of God Murugan with whole Umno-BN gang? Do they not think that the Indians here are capable of putting together such a simplistic jigsaw puzzle? It is insulting.
“The Indians know full well he is only after their votes because the Chinese will no longer bother with him. But the Indian community is not dumb. They won’t vote for Umno-BN until they can feel tangible improvement or until they can see their grouses being genuinely addressed.
“After all Mahathir was in power for 22 years and Badawi for 4 years but the Indians sank even further into poverty. Now Najib comes along with all this fancy public relations and expects us believe that change has finally arrived. Sad to say, I think he probably has a bigger budget for his public relations team than for the community’s development.
What do Indians want
Most of the Indians who emigrated and grew roots in Malaysia came from Southern India during the colonial days to work in the rubber estates. Initially, they settled mostly in Selangor but have since fanned out into other states such as Penang, Perak and Negri Sembilan.
According to statistics compiled by the community, Malaysian Indians lag by far behind the other ethnic groups. Apart from not having received their due share of the economic pie, they believe they have been marginalized in terms of education and job opportunities.
“There are many things that the Indians here have asked from the federal government that directly relates to their living conditions and lifestyle. But there are other issues on social justice and good governance that are also important to us," said Gobalakrishnan.
“We are not kampung folk who cannot see further than our own village interest. There are also a lot of savvy Malaysian Indians who want to live in a modern and civil society, where there is fair play not just among the races but also among the political groups.
“We also care about democracy. What’s the point of getting a bit of subsidy here and there but Malaysia is turned into a police state where all citizens including the Indians cannot live in dignity and peace. What is the point when Indian youths cannot get jobs because of discrimination and end up getting beaten to death in police jails because of corruption in all the government institutions?
Among the core issues that Malaysian Indians have been fighting for is an increase to 3 percent from 1 percent of the country’s economic equity, raising the usage of the Tamil language, greater education and job opportunities.
“A good example is the grants given for building schools. A typical national-type school would cost the Umno-BN government between RM15 to 20 million. But they are only willing to allocate RM2 to 3 million for a Tamil-type vernacular school,” said Gobalakrishnan.
“This is how we end up with dirty, lousy facilities. Parents are not keen to send their children to such poor quality places, even teachers are not keen to work there. This is how they are indirectly phasing out our vernacular schools.
“So don’t come to Thaipusam and talk hot gas. Walk the talk and show the way. Then no one can say you are just another big ‘tin kosong’ (empty vessel).”