Saturday, February 26, 2011

In Hindraf march, fears of Middle East contagion

Hindraf’s 2007 protest was widely believed to have contributed to BN’s Election 2008 reversal. — Reuters pic
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 25 — As protests in the Middle East topple regimes and spark violence, the government is taking no chances and has warned it will come down hard on the planned gathering by Indian rights group Hindraf here this Sunday.

Although the group’s influence appears to have waned after being plagued by internal bickering and claims of infiltration by the Special Branch, police have refused to grant Hindraf a permit to hold the demonstration to voice Indian outrage over the use of the “Interlok” novel in schools.

The wave of protests that ousted the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, has also spread to India where tens of thousands gathered to protest against rising food prices earlier this week.

With Libya now facing a bloody showdown between its ruler Muammar Gaddafi and opposition figures, Barisan Nasional (BN) has both political and security reasons to clamp down on any public gathering, which may escalate if left unchecked.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar will meet with leaders of Indian NGOs and MIC this evening to discuss security issues ahead of Sunday’s rally.

Sources said that MIC, who will have to justify any police action to its political constituents, will ask the police chief not to “come down hard as it will only make matters worse.”

Uthayakumar (left) said authorities feared this Sunday’s protest. — Reuters pic
“They fear that we could be the light that sparks the prairie fire,” Hindraf founder and legal advisor P. Uthayakumar told The Malaysian Insider.
Both Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin have stressed repeatedly that the political upheavals in the Arab world have no bearing on Malaysia.

“Those that lead these illegal actions must be dealt with sternly and I will leave it to the police to act,” Muhyiddin had told the press yesterday, when asked about Hindraf’s “anti-racism” march this weekend.
But just as it did in 2007 — prior to the March 2008 general election — Hindraf will defy police orders and gather at KLCC on Sunday. National polls are also expected to be called later this year.
Uthayakumar does not expect this weekend’s gathering to match the claimed crowd of 30,000 in 2007.

But he said that as Hindraf has “stepped up a notch from just fighting against being marginalised to attacking Umno’s racism,” the dominant Malay party will feel just as threatened as four years ago.
Political analyst Agus Yusoff said the timing of the rally, in what will likely be an election year, was akin to “political blackmail.”

“They did the same in 2007, so the strategy is that if the authorities clamp down hard, it will fuel more anger but if they don’t then it will encourage further protests,” he said.
The Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia professor said even though the issue of “Interlok” being used as part of the Malay literature syllabus concerns one race, in the context of large-scale demonstrations elsewhere, there was a risk of escalating tensions.

“What if Malay groups like Perkasa retaliate, and so on and so forth?” he asked The Malaysian Insider.
PKR’s Selangor executive councillor Xavier Jeyakumar said that with Najib having just promoted Malaysia as a model Muslim country, he cannot afford for a popular uprising to occur now.
“There is a lot of unhappiness across all communities that is just not being expressed openly. But Hindraf may trigger it and cause a chain reaction so Najib will be keen to nip it in the bud,” he added.