Sunday, March 14, 2010

Split in Indian vote likely with HRP (The Star)

The parting of ways between Hindraf and Pakatan Rakyat means that the opposition pact will not have an easy ride in the next general election

THE Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), which was Pakatan Rakyat’s best friend in the 2008 general election, has turned into its worst enemy, staging a demonstration against the coalition outside the PKR office of Pakatan leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

They chose the PKR office in Merchant Square because Pakatan, as a pact, does not yet have an office for its former supporters to vent their anger.

Human rights lawyer and Hindraf founder P. Uthayakumar led the protesters, numbering about 300 and carrying banners and placards, alleging that Indian woes were not being addressed in Pakatan-ruled states despite the promises made in the run-up to the March 8, 2008 general election.

“We wanted to submit a memorandum to Anwar personally but he did not turn up to meet us,” an infuriated Uthayakumar said.

“We don’t trust them (Pakatan) any more. We are charting our own course and will contest under our own banner in the next general election.”

Uthayakumar’s main grouse is that Pakatan has yet to alleviate Indian poverty with affirmative action programmes and failed to alienate land for Tamil schools and Hindu temples, two subjects close to the Indian community, as it had promised in the election campaign.

“If they issue land titles to Tamil schools in Pakatan-ruled states, then the schools become eligible to be classified as fully-aided and qualify for financial support from the federal government,” he said.

“They can do it with one stroke of the pen but they have not. We are very disappointed.” Uthayakumar has gathered all his former Hindraf supporters under the yet-to-be-registered Human Rights Party (HRP).

Their disappointment with Pakatan has grown in intensity ever since the coalition failed to successfully resolve the Kampung Buah Pala issue in Penang.

The Sunday demonstration was the final act in the parting of ways between Pakatan and Hindraf, which has splintered into numerous factions.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Uthayakumar still has influence over what is left of the Hindraf movement, perhaps not directly, but at least emotionally.

“Our weakness is not lack of grassroots support but we are weak financially,” Hindraf’s diehard supporters said. Pakatan rode the Hindraf movement to victory and used the Tamil phase Makkal Sakthi or People Power as its rallying cry.

Ironically, two of Uthayakumar’s colleagues, P. Vasantha Kumar and V.S. Ganapathi Rao, who were in Kamunting under the Internal Security Act with the founder, have joined forces with Pakatan and strongly condemned the demonstration.

“He is out of his mind,” said Vasantha Kumar who is with PKR. “His actions will split the Indian vote and benefit Barisan Nasional.”

“If he continues like this, he will hurt Pakatan,” said Ganapathi Rao, who is with the DAP.

Both were critical of Uthayakumar’s plan to field Hindraf/HRP candidates in about 30 parliamentary and state constituencies where Indians voters comprise about 30% – constituencies critical to Pakatan’s success in the 2008 general election.

Uthayakumar is also beefing up Indian voters in these targeted constituencies by organising voter registration exercises and persuading Indian voters from elsewhere to move to the selected constituencies.

For a start, he is focusing on parliament and state seats in “frontline” states like Selangor, Perak and Penang.

Uthayakumar has also chosen seats considered “critical” to Pakatan and held by senior Pakatan leaders, like the Prai state and Batu Kawan parliamentary seats, both now held by Penang Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy.

Another critical seat HRP is targeting, Uthayakumar said, is Ipoh Barat in Perak, held by DAP assistant secretary-general M. Kulasegaran.

Likewise in Selangor, the party is eyeing the Sri Andalas state seat held by PKR heavyweight Dr Xavier Jeyakumar and Kota Raja parliamentary seat held by PAS’ Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud.

While few political experts believe HRP/Hindraf, on their own, can win any of the seats they contest simply because of their Indian-only orientation, they fear HRP/Hindraf can split the Indian vote in a three-cornered contest that is more likely to take votes away from Pakatan than Barisan.

“Barisan stands to do better in a tight race in a three-cornered fight,” a DAP leader said. “Indian grievances are for real and remain unresolved despite the Pakatan rhetoric.”

Uthayakumar, however, is indifferent to the outcome, even if Barisan shines. “We are confident we can win where we contest and use the victories as leverage to get as much benefit as possible for the Indian community,” said Uthayakumar.

“We are ready to talk terms with either of the coalitions for the benefit of the Indian community,” he added.

“We have our Indian political empowerment strategy and we will march towards it, come what may.”

“We need to fight our own battles,” he said. “We cannot rely on Pakatan or Barisan.”

The big question is how much clout Hindraf still enjoys in the Indian community, where political leadership is deeply splintered between the traditional MIC on one side and on the other, the PKR, DAP and numerous other new actors.

Will Hindraf’s influence, which has waned since the famous Nov 25, 2007 protest, rise to tip the balance in the upcoming contest?

Whatever the outcome, one thing is sure, Pakatan will not have an easy ride as in 2008.