Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad continues to reiterate his promise to make way for Anwar Ibrahim to take the reins of Power in Malaysia. Malaysiakini reports that he said, “I have made a promise and we keep our promises. … but if a candidate is rejected by the Dewan Rakyat, he … cannot become prime minister” When asked whether he would consider serving out a full term if support from the Dewan Rakyat increases, Mahathir is supposed to have smiled and said, “I don’t know”.
As the May 8th polling date approaches in Malaysia, there has been an interesting turn of events with regard to the use of images. According to the Straits Times of Singapore, the Election Commission just issued new guidelines stipulating that, other than the photograph of the candidate standing for election in a given constituency, the only other photographs can be used on campaign materials are photos of the candidate’s party president and deputy president. This effectively removes images of Dr Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim from the iconography of the campaign. Reflecting on the power of images in the contemporary media, and the interdiction against images in Islam in this context might be quite enlightening ……. as might pondering on the Superstar Cutouts that populate the box-office and polling landscapes of Asia!
Image composite from : https://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/2011-ta-online/najibs-larger-than-life-thaipusam-appearance/ and https://malaysianaccess.com/batu-caves-12-metre-cutout-anwar-ibrahim-standing-tall-p5831/
While the failure of Barisan Nasional to uplift the Indian community is acknowledged by Barisan itself, by way of MIC’s accusation of Dr Mahathir’s neglect of the Indians during his 22 year tenure, this failure is ironically underscored by Mahathir himself who blames, in turn, his the former ally and MIC leader Samy Vellu for this situation. In terms of my ongoing concern the plight of stateless Indians, it is indeed, clear that in the post-independence years, there has been no proactive attempt to embrace and incorporate these most underprivileged constituents of the Malayan legacy into the Malaysian polity. This is undeniably an abysmal failure, in humanitarian terms, of Barisan governance.
Still it must be acknowledged, while the stake of Indians within Barisan is severely weakened since the heady days of Samy Vellu, it is still defined and perceivable. I do not, however, see the equivalent Indian leverage within Harapan. This lack has been viscerally, if casually, revealed in the dismissive remarks of the coalition’s chairman and Prime Ministerial candidate in what I shall call the ‘Keling Gate’ debacle. But, returning once again to the issue at hand, how does Harapan stand on the all-important question of Indian statelessness? On the face of it, they seem to be doing well. They have diligently called the government out their ineffective and/or disingenuous efforts to solve the problem with programmes like MyDaftar. Members of the Harapan opposition have claimed that there are around 300,000 stateless Indians in Malaysia. A shockingly large number indeed.
It must however, be noted that the Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas (DHRRA), Malaysia, a voluntary non-profit and non-political organization, has stated categorically that their research has revealed only 12,392 stateless Indians as of June 2017. Their president Saravanan M Sinapan has further noted that 2,225 of these have already been granted citizenship, leaving just over 10,000 stateless Indians in Malaysia today. If DHRRA is correct Pakatan Harapan’s promises to the Indian community in the GE-14 Manifesto ring hollow and untrue. These promises to Malaysian Indians include, as first on the list, the following, “1. Menyelesaikan masalah komuniti India yang tidak mempunyai status kewarganegaraan (stateless Indians) dalam tempoh 100 hari pentadbiran kami“. Indeed, given their apparent ethno-electoral hyperbole of 300,000 stateless Indians, even if Harapan scoops every stateless Indian up in the 100 days, they will, by the logic of numbers, surely fall short of their own alleged target of 300,000.
So if DHRRA is correct, Pakatan Harapan has failed on a key election promise to the Indian community even before polling day! Even if we forgive them their numbers, and even if they institute some ameliorative policy quickly, this is not a 100 day problem. People who have been living for generations in the shadow of the nation are not going to be easily found and rehabilitated. Given this, and the recent evidence of Harapan’s attitude in ‘Keling Gate’, the coalition had better pull its finger out in terms of winning over the Indian community – if they want the best from the upcoming elections. Or … am I just not getting it …. could the masterful ‘old man’ of Malaysian politics be knowingly spinning his perfectly pitched racial attitude in the direction of the much needed Malay heartland, fully cognizant of the fact that Indians just do not figure in the Harapan calculation for GE-14!
Image: https://twitter.com/encikail/status/709235617498996736 (edited)
As a Malaysian living abroad, I am troubled by the electoral scenario unfolding at home. We have to choose between, on the one hand, a leader of government whose family and associates have been implicated in criminal proceedings on the global stage on a scale that threatens to beggar our nation. On the other, as challengers, we have two former political combatants, who between them are responsible for sowing the nearly all the seeds of our contemporary dysfunction. Indeed these two have accused each other heinous offences – one of corruption on a scale that, if adjusted for inflation would approach that of the current debacle, and the other of homosexual acts that are abhorrent to both the law and the official religion of the land. Nevertheless, choose we must and I too have a favorite in the race. All this is, however, just context for the kernel of my post – as as much as I am a Malaysian abroad, I am also an Indian!
What I really want to raise here is my disappointment at not hearing the issue of Indian statelessness being raised sufficiently loudly at this possibly, however marginally, opportune moment for Indians in Malaysian politics. As far as I can measure this is the gravest Indian problem that needs to be addressed by our polity. What else is there that we need as a community while our brethren remain stateless – equality as citizens, favourable quotas, strengthened Tamil language education, projects and contracts, all these possible Indian asks seem hollow to me, while there are those of us who have for generations been left stateless on mere technicalities. As lawyer Eric Paulson has put it “While these people of Indian origin are not denounced as non-citizens by the authorities, they are nonetheless stateless as they are not considered citizens under the operation of law.” If indeed, we Indians are still a force of consequence in the national equation, then this is what we should want, what we should demand. Before we worry about anything else Indian Malaysians should fight for the status for our kin. I venture to suggest that even financial corruption on the scale alleged and believed by many to have come to pass in our nation today, pales in comparison to the moral bankruptcy of a set of communal concerns that does not foreground and prioritize this matter.