Thursday, November 25, 2010

Three years after Hindraf march, Indian anger against BN dissipates

November 25, 2007 file photo of riot police firing chemical-laced water on Hindraf protesters in Kuala Lumpur. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 — Three years to the day after 30,000 Indians marched into the city to protest against the “unfair” policies of the Barisan National (BN) government, political leaders say the Najib administration’s conciliatory policies appear to be winning back their support.

BN has regained Indian votes in several of the 13 by-elections since Election 2008 where the country’s estimated three million Indians form a sizeable minority.

The outlawed Hindraf movement that organised the November 25, 2007 march has also split up, with some leaders favouring the BN government while others either continue with Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties or have grown disenchanted with both coalitions.

One of the five Hindraf leaders detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for organising the march, R.S. Thanenthiran, said the prime minister’s policies had helped to solve problems faced by the Indians, ranging from birth certificates to welfare aid.

“When Datuk Seri Najib Razak became prime minister, there was a total change in the way the government was run. Significant changes are happening for the Indians,” said Thanenthiran, who set up the pro-BN Malaysian Makkal Sakthi Party.

He was referring to the Special Implementation Task Force (SITF) for Malaysian Indians, set up this year by the Najib administration to resolve their grouses.

The government agencies involved with the taskforce are the National Registration Department, the Social Welfare Department, the Skill Development Department, Tekun Nasional and the Social Security Organisation.

He also said the move by Najib in the 2011 budget to allow Malaysians to purchase low-cost houses without any downpayment was a big help to the Indians.

November 25, 2007 file photo of a protester throwing back a tear gas canister at riot police during the Hindraf demonstration in Kuala Lumpur. — Reuters pic
His praise for Najib is not unusual as the PM backed his party although a quarrel has now split the party inspired by the rallying cry of Makkal Sakhti or People Power when Hindraf launched its march.

The Indian community has long been seen as a “fixed deposit” vote bank for BN but the march to the Petronas Twin Towers blew the lid on simmering frustration of being left out of development. A majority of Tamils came as labourers who worked on the rubber and oil palm estates but a change from an agrarian to an industrialised economy sidelined them to menial jobs and gangsterism.

The ISA detention of Hindraf leaders after the march was seen as a major factor that swung Indian voters to the opposition in Election 2008, denying the BN government its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament and handing four more states to the PR parties.

However, BN’s main Indian party, the MIC, believes the situation has changed since the unprecedented Hindraf march.

“Nearly 60 to 65 per cent of the Indians have returned to the MIC and BN,” MIC Youth chief T. Mohan told The Malaysian Insider.

Mohan also agreed with Thanenthiran that initiatives taken by the MIC and the Najib administration to meet the needs of the Indian community had won back a large number of Indians who had favoured the opposition parties.

His confidence was not shared by Hindu Sangam deputy president Dr M. Bala Tharumalingam, who believes the Indian community is still in favour of PR.

“The general Indian public may not have full confidence with Pakatan now but they still favour them,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Bala attributed the drop in confidence to the slow result of PR government policies, saying the state governments in Penang and Selangor should be given time to improve as they are still new in administrating a state.

Ipoh Barat MP M. Kulasegaran told The Malaysian Insider that Najib is well aware of the importance of the Indian vote and had been attending gatherings organised by the Sikhs, Malayalees and Telegus.

“Indians are already a minority in this country. And Malayalees, Telegus and the such only make up 30 per cent of the Indian population. He (Najib) knows these minorities of the minorities are a pivotal factor, which is why he attended those gatherings. What more the Indians in total,” Kulasegaran said.

But the DAP vice-chairman believes the Indians would still vote for PR in the coming general election but not as strongly as they did in 2008, citing the lower support is due to internal squabbles in the PR parties.

But Kulasegaran urged the Indians “to give us another term to make the changes. We have only been around for two years but BN had been around for 50 years.”