An Indian in the Cabinet! Just one!
Sivakumar Varatharaju Naidu is the Minister of Human Resources and the only Indian in Anwar Ibrahim’s cabinet. Gone are the glory days of the Pakatan Harapan government that followed GE 14 when there were 4 Indian ministers in a cabinet of 25 ministerial portfolios. Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy was Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for National Unity and Social Well-being, Xavier Jayakumar Arulanandam was Minister of Water, Land, and Natural Resources, Kulasegaran Murugeson was Minister of Human Resources and Gobind Singh Deo was Minister of Communication and Multimedia. Today, in Anwar’s Unity Government there is only 1 Indian minister from a cabinet of 28 portfolios. Indeed, the ratio has gone down dramatically, and there is a lot of discussion in the media, about the implications for the place of Malaysian Indians in the political paradigm of Malaysia.
Malaysia is a nation founded in the wake of colonial immigration and postcolonial communalism. Race and religion are determinants of status and rights in our constitution and the majority of the political parties in our constitutional democracy are defined in terms of ethnic and religious interests. As East Malaysian parties figure more prominently in the political leadership of our nation (as they should in the cause of strengthening the Federation) the space for Indians in the leadership of the nation will naturally diminish in time.
In any event, while some Indians have risen to power based on communalist politics, Samy Vellu being the exemplar, this order has not really served the Indian community very well in the post Independent period. So, while I acknowledge the communal nature of the Indian Malaysian stake in the nation, I believe the time has come to pursue our community interests less directly, by perpetuating general principles of justice and citizenship for all. As the power dynamic shifts in Malaysian politics, Indians need to assert their needs and rights as citizens, rather than as a members of a community. They need to entrench themselves within the multiethnic political parties and contribute to the deepening of trans-communal ethos that may be emerging, in the Malaysian political landscape, albeit, with difficulty.
Our community is clearly on the way to losing its 3rd place in the triumvirate of Malaysian races – Malay/Chinese/XXX, we need to be at the forefront of the effort to transcend communalism in Malaysian life. This might be a losing battle in the face of the rising wave of Malay ethnoreligious sentiments, but I believe it is still the only way forward, and the best chance for Indians to have a say in a future Malaysia. We should stop worrying about the number of Indians in the Cabinet, and focus on deepening our role and influence at the back end of governance. Indian Malaysians have everything to gain from thinking and acting as Malaysians per se, and much to lose by being entrenched in the Indianness of our national identity. I believe that Indians can best serve our community by striving to raise the living conditions and opportunities for all Malaysians who have been left behind in the post-independence period.