Indians, vote with your heads
QUESTION TIME A problem with Indians is that they look for a figurehead who they can look up to, who they then venerate above everyone else, and follow him come hell or highwater for way too long after they stray before they decide to ditch him.
Now Indian votes are being enticed by a variety of incentives, including a memorandum of understanding with their new rallying organisation, Hindraf, and Barisan Nasional.
The time has come for Indians to ask if Hindraf leaders, who many of them have begun venerating for their past actions of self-sacrifice – are indeed looking out for their best interests. Or are they pursuing the path of personal interest and glory as have MIC leaders, exemplified by S Samy Vellu’s long ruinous over 30-year reign at MIC before he finally relinquished his position just last year?
Such was the case with their blind following of the MIC which did virtually nothing for them over the past more than three decades after VT Sambanthan stepped down as party president in 1973.
Following Sambanthan was V Manickavasagam and upon his death in 1979 began the long Samy Vellu stint from 1979. Even after the loss of his seat in Sungai Siput in the March 2008 elections, Samy Vellu’s hold on the party was such that he held to his president’s post, stepping down in 2010 in favour of his chosen successor G Palanivel.
But meantime, ahead of the 2008 elections, the dynamics of Indian voters had changed dramatically through the rise of the Hindu Rights Action Force or Hindraf. Hindraf came to the fore with street protests in Kuala Lumpur in 2007 which were put down violently by the police.
The protest was to support a largely symbolic US$4 trillion (RM14 trillion) lawsuit by Hindraf against Malaysia’s former colonial power for bringing Indians to Malaysia as indentured labourers and exploiting them for 150 years.
Furthermore, the suit sought a declaration that the Reid Commission Report 1957 failed to incorporate the rights of the Indian community when independence was granted, resulting in discrimination and marginalisation to this day, according to a Malaysiakini report then.
Hindraf became the very vocal voice of increasingly disgruntled and agitated Indians who became very unhappy with their lot in the country with reduced economic opportunities and increasing discrimination and high-handed treatment from the authorities and Malay groups.
In the 2008 elections, Hindraf openly supported the opposition. It was acknowledged that in some areas where Indians formed a significant vote, the huge Indian exodus to the opposition, never before seen in the country, contributed to unseating of BN stalwarts, including Samy Vellu in Sungai Siput. As much as 85 percent of Indian votes went to the opposition, according to various estimates.
But Hindraf came under increasing pressure from the government with its leaders arrested under the Internal Security Act, and one of them fled the country. The government declared Hindraf illegal in October 2008, some seven months after the 2008 elections.
“The decision to declare Hindraf an illegal organisation is not based on one or two of its activities that are in contravention of the law but covers all the actions it has taken since being formed,” then-home minister Syed Hamid Albar said.
A wave of the magic wand
But now Hindraf has made a deal with BN and has urged Indians to vote for BN. And of course by a wave of the magic wand, Hindraf is no longer illegal and has been recognised by the government.
No matter what Hindraf’s and its leaders’ record in the past, it is now time for the Indian community to reexamine the organisation to see if it is actually acting in the interests of Indians and the motives of its leaders in supporting BN.
The BN had already sought earlier to break up and divide Hindraf by the formation of the Makkal Sakthi party. And then, one of its leaders in exile comes back from the UK, begins negotiations with BN and decides Hindraf should support BN. His co-leader and brother then says Hindraf should not support BN.
And the seeds of confusion have been sown and the divisions among the Indians have been made. This minority community forming less than seven percent of Malaysia’s population, now has probably more parties and organisations claiming to represent it than any other community.
In a case like this, it’s best that individual Indians take matters into their own hands instead of voting en bloc based on what their leaders say, like so many sheep. There are a number of relevant questions they should ask before voting.
What have the Indians achieved in the 55 years of independence? Has their lot improved or has it worsened? What has the government done for them throughout this period? Has the Indians’ standing in Malaysia improved at all or has systematic discrimination against them, encouraged by government officials, increased? What happened to the case of those accused of killing Indians in the Kampong Medan riots? Why did the government drop the case?
Is anyone doing anything about the increasing marginalisation of the Indian community in this country? What about the deaths of Indians in police custody, why couldn’t Hindraf put at least this on the list of complaints in its memorandum with BN?
By cooperating with BN, does Hindraf actually think it can do more than what MIC has done over the past 55 years? Is this a genuine move by BN or is it a desperate move to get votes? If it is genuine why did it take them so long? Will BN keep its promises? Aren’t there more Indian MPs in opposition than in government?
The signs of a maturing community is one which rejects its leaders once they become wayward from their original aims. It took over 30 years before Indians rejected the MIC. One hopes that it won’t take them another 30 years to reject Hindraf.
It is high time Indians voted with their heads.
P GUNASEGARAM is founding editor of KiniBiz.
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