By P Ramasamy
Prime Minister Najib Razak, in his recent address at MIC’s 70th anniversary, said he had done more for the Indian community in his seven years than what Dr Mahathir Mohammed did in his 22 years as leader of the country.
For this statement, whether true or not, the MIC President Dr S Subramaniam thanked Najib profusely, even to the point of encouraging the crowd to give the PM a standing ovation several times during the function. Such servility does not augur well for the leadership of MIC.
I am unsure what Mahathir did to change the plight of poverty-stricken Indians when he was the longest-serving PM since he was more bent on promoting Malay hegemony.
If at all there was some progress among sections of the Indian community, it was due to their own efforts, diligence and hard work. It had nothing to do with the MIC or Mahathir.
In fact, the MIC leadership under S Samy Vellu became so dependent on Mahathir that it lost sight of its objectives to promote the wellbeing and welfare of the Indian community.
In fact, it could be said that Mahathir’s era was the worst time for Indians in the country. It was during this period that Indians lost out to other communities.
Mahathir, driven by a pathological desire to deny his Indian ancestry, ensured that the problems faced by the Indian community were not given any importance.
Mahathir, rather conveniently, blamed the non-progress of Indians on the leadership of the MIC.
Samy Vellu played the role of “disciplining” members of the community who asked “too” much. Those who breached the “discipline” imposed were sacked or suspended and this led to a rise of new Indian parties, ironically pledging their loyalty to Barisan Nasional.
There is nothing for Indians to be proud of when it comes to Mahathir. His policies in promoting Bumiputeras bordered on racism and exclusivity that denied other communities their legitimate expectations. While there was opposition, it was too weak to challenge the racist policies of Mahathir.
Today, it is the same Mahathir who is talking and mobilising forces to remove Najib on the grounds of corruption. The fact that he has little or no regard for other ethnic communities is a sad reminder that he still focuses exclusively on race and this explains loudly why he prefers to lead an ethnic Malay party to oppose Najib rather than be a leader of a coalition of broad forces with the intention to reform the nature of political governance.
Relatively speaking, Najib would surely have done more for Indians than Mahathir ever did. Unlike Mahathir, who denies his ancestry, Najib is proud of his Bugis origins. He once even said he had all the qualities of a Bugis “warrior”.
However, despite Najib’s financial contributions in the form of financial grants to NGOs, nothing meaningful resulted to benefit the Indian community during his seven years.
Given Najib’s declining popularity among the Chinese and Malays, Najib could have provided the financial grants to get whatever support from the Indian community that he could muster.
What are some of the serious problems that the government is yet to address among Indians?
FIRST: Indian employment in the public and private sectors is nothing to be proud of. In the public sector, given the overwhelming focus on the intake of Malays, the Indians and Chinese have been completely marginalised. Employment in the private sector is no better.
SECOND: In the commercial and business realms, the imposition of the Bumiputera quota has made it difficult for Indians to obtain licences and contracts. There are many qualified Indian businessmen and contractors, but it is impossible to obtain contracts without fulfilling the Bumiputera quota.
In some establishments like Tenaga Nasional, it is impossible for non-Malays to obtain lucrative contracts, even though there are one or two Indian representatives from MIC on its board of directors. Has Najib seriously looked into this problem?
THIRD: The intake of qualified students in professional disciplines in public universities leaves much to be desired. The sole concern with promotion of Bumiputeras has meant that many qualified Indian students are left out.
FOURTH: Intake into the pre-university matriculation programme provides little opportunity for Indians. Every year, thousands of Indian students apply but only a few hundred are given the opportunity. Yet, MIC boasts of its achievement in this area.
FIFTH: There are little or no opportunities for Indians to own and operate their own commercial, social and educational establishments. Under the guise of the New Economic Policy (NEP) and the imposition of the Bumiputera policy, it would be impossible for Indian-owned establishments to take shape in the country. Does Najib know about this?
SIXTH: One or two new Tamil schools have been established in the country. Government funding has made it possible for the construction of these and for the improvement of existing schools.
However, hundreds of schools are in bad shape throughout the country. Land promised for Tamil schools are hard to come by. The Penang Government asked for a new Tamil secondary school, but both the MIC and the Federal Government have refused to give consent.
SEVENTH: The majority of Indian students leaving schools are not given the right kind of skills training. Since foreign workers take up the bulk of low skills employment, it is very difficult for Indians to compete with foreigners. While Bumiputeras are exposed to skills training in the various institutions that have been set up, Indians are left in the lurch.
EIGHT: The Indian community is a poor one. Given the right kind of incentives and push, the community can make progress. But, unfortunately, the MIC, the apparent “mother” party for Indians, does not have leaders who have the intellectual and moral calibre to push the community in the right direction. They are leaders who are too much dependent on the government for handouts and “crumbs”.
Indians, after being cheated and misled for years by the MIC, have little or no faith that the party is in a position to alter their political, social and economic standing in the country. A deep sense of disillusionment and frustration has set in among Indians.
These are some of the present concerns of the Indian community that the government should address. There is no point in scoring brownie points by simply saying that Najib has done a lot more than Mahathir.
In fact, there is no difference in the approaches of the two leaders, except that Mahathir was much more vicious and vindictive in his approach.
P Ramasamy is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.
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