Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hindraf emerges a hydra three years later

 IMG_3942ANALYSIS The thrust of Hindraf’s 18-point demands, contained in a memorandum handed to the prime minister on Thursday, is that Article 153 of the federal constitution and the so-called Malay special privileges must end and now.

The federal constitution like any other constitution, written or unwritten, is a social contract but it has undoubtedly been observed more often than not in the breach.

The ad-hoc apolitical human rights movement feels that it is the unilateral extension of a distorted and deviant form of Article 153 to every facet of life in Malaysia that has brought the Indian underclass in particular to its collective and current degrading status at the bottom of the dung heap.

NONESome blatant examples include the marking system for public examinations being a state secret, the denial of medical seats to Indians, the non-recognition or withdrawal of recognition for foreign medical degrees and the institution of a race-based Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) for law graduates.

Article 153 finds its ultimate expression in the distorted implementation of the New Economic Policy (1970-1990) which still continues past its shelf life. The NEP, as it was originally envisaged, had two noble intentions: elimination of the identification of race with economic function and place of residence; and the eradication of poverty irrespective of race, colour, class or creed. Umno decided that only Malays, no matter how rich, were poor and ignored the non-Malay poor.

The third prong of the NEP – that the Malays own, control and manage 30 percent of the corporate economy within 20 years – remains as unacceptable now as it was in the beginning. What has made this particular prong totally nauseous and therefore even more unacceptable over the years is that Umno has unilaterally extended it from corporate economy to the entire economy.

The myth of ‘ketuanan Melayu’

Article 153, Hindraf never tires of pointing out, merely recognised “a necessary evil” i.e. that the Malays and natives would have a special position – not special privileges – limited to four specific areas for 15 years – intake into the civil service; intake into institutions of higher learning owned by the government; scholarships and training privileges; and opportunities from the government to do business.

In all four areas, Article 153 calls for a reasonable proportion, not necessarily reflecting their numbers in the population, to be reserved for the Malays and natives. In short, Article 153 is not a “sapu bersih” (clean sweep) clause. Anything more than what the population numbers reflect can of course be termed unreasonable.

In any case, when one begs for government hand-outs, the population figures shouldn’t come into play but what can be termed a reasonable proportion.

The second prong of Article 153 calls for recognition of the legitimate aspirations of the non-Malay communities. Had the second prong of Article 153 been honoured by the Umno government since independence in 1957, Hindraf supporters would not have taken to the streets on Nov 25, 2007 in a spontaneous uprising which was unprecedented in Malaysia’s history. It was enough to send shivers down the collective spine of the ruling elite and their fat cats in tow.

To top it all, Umno never tires of flogging the myth of ‘ketuanan Melayu’ – Malay political dominance and supremacy – to justify its transgressions against the non-Malays and Malays alike. ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ is an extrapolation from Tunku Abdul Rahman’s unwritten social contract which held that since the Chinese dominated and monopolised the economy, the Malays would lead the politics of the country.

This unwritten social contract in fact fell apart when Umno decided that ‘ketuanan Melayu’ must mean that the Malays must dominate and lead in every aspect of life in Malaysia. It was this openly racist thinking which has seen the Malays forming 90 percent or more of the civil service, armed forces, the teaching service, the judiciary, the GLCs and anywhere that Umno’s writ runs large. Enter the Biro Tatanegara (BTN) which focused on brainwashing large numbers of Malays involved in government in racism a la ‘ketuanan Melayuism’.

Who can Hindraf do business with?

Enough is enough – Hindraf wants the charade to end and not carry on for even a minute longer.
The question is what the movement can do if Umno – seen by it as the source of all evil in the country – refuses to blink? How does one do business with the devil himself? Can it do business with PKR, the Umno alter ego in Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition alliance?

NONEHindraf leaders are convinced that PKR under its de facto chief Anwar Ibrahim is an even worse option than Umno. This is seen in the fact that Anwar has openly criticised Hindraf as racist instead of recognising it rightly as representing the victims of racism.

Hindraf wants to be seen as not taking away the rights of any Malaysian but merely asking for a place in the sun for its constituents who were instrumental in laying the bedrock of Malaysia’s prosperity in the rubber industry. If Hindraf succeeds in its quest, there’s hope for other marginalised communities in Malaysia.

It’s very unlikely that Umno will heed Hindraf’s demands after having gone on a propaganda binge for the last half century and more in violation of the federal constitution. Umno’s simplistic thinking is that the Indians, like the 70 percent illiterate Ibans in Sarawak, can easily be bribed into voting for the ruling BN when election time comes.

The movement will have to continue doing what it has since been doing at home and abroad to bring about change and reform in the country.

Abroad, it can pursue its class action suit against the UK government and continue to raise its grievances in international forums and work with the relevant law enforcement agencies to freeze assets acquired, at home and abroad, by those who continue raiding the public treasury.

Quiet satisfaction in punishing Pakatan

At home, Hindraf can continue to make common cause with other marginalised communities in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak in the emerging third force and elsewhere.

The thinking here is that the participation of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia has merely served to empower the ruling elite at the expense of the two states, the natives in particular, and the non-Malays in Peninsular Malaysia.

The idea of Hindraf standing in 15 parliament seats and 38 state seats in Peninsular Malaysia is not expected to make any impact in the short run for the movement. Pakatan, or the BN for that matter, is unlikely to make way for Hindraf in these seats. This would most probably result in the BN winning them by default.

Hindraf can take quiet satisfaction from the fact that the denial of the 15 parliament seats in particular will make it that much harder for Pakatan to seize the reins of power in Putrajaya.

Much more telling will be Hindraf’s plan to get Indian voters to abstain from voting – not a boycott – in the seats other than the 15 and 38. This is to make the winners and losers realise why they won or why they lost. That would help set up a much more exciting 14th general election.