Monday 3 December 2007

UMNO's Legacy: " Malaysia's Biggest Liability Is Racial Discord"

From Read here article by Andy Mukherjee.

Update from Hindustan Times

India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee assured the Indian Parliament on Friday that India would take up with Malaysia the issue of alleged mistreatment of people of Indian origin (PIO) in Kuala Lumpur and critical remarks by a Malaysian minister (Nazri Aziz) against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi.

Asked by some members in the Lok Sabha about Malaysian Minister Nazri Aziz's remark against Karunanidhi, Mukherjee said "He (Karunanidhi) is a great respected national leader. I have already said that we are looking into related matters."

Mukherjee made the statement in both Houses of Parliament responding to the concern expressed by the MPs regarding the alleged harassment of participants of a rally, which was organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force in Kuala Lumpur on November 25.

He said the (Indian) government remained "deeply solicitous" for the welfare of PIO living abroad. "We have friendly relations with Malaysia and we are in touch with the Malaysian authorities in the related matter."

Outside Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the government is concerned whenever Indian citizens and PIO are in trouble anywhere in the world. "This is a matter which concerns us. Whenever people of India run into difficulties, it is a source of concern," Singh told reporters when asked to comment on the developments in Malaysia.

In Chennai, acting Malaysian High Commissioner to India Norlin Ochman said both countries had not yet interacted on the issue. "Everything has been highlighted only in the media," she said.

Karunanidhi had on Thursday joined issue with Nazri Aziz, who criticised him for expressing concern over the condition of Tamils in that nation.

Karunanidhi said he had not criticised the Malaysian Government, but only urged the PM to take steps for protecting the Tamils in Malaysia.

Update from NDTV.Com
Anwar Ibrahim, has told NDTV that India is right in taking up the issue of ethnic Tamils in the country.

Ibrahim, who is in Mumbai, said that ''the present government has taken a wrong stand on the ethnic conflict in Malaysia.''

He said that ethnic Indians cannot be marginalized and they are part of Malaysia.

Supporting India's stand, he observed that the Indian government has taken a right stand by taking the issue forward. Read here for more
Update from Times of India

Malaysia's foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, bluntly cautioned India to stop meddling in its internal affairs.

"I hope there is no misunderstanding about what's happening here. If they are talking about Indian citizens, we would understand the concern, but what happened involves Malaysian citizens," Albar was quoted as saying on Saturday. Read here for more


Andy Murkherjee
(Andy Mukherjee is a Bloomberg News columnist)

For a country that abhors public protests and suppresses them with strict rules against illegal assembly, Malaysia has had two big demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur just this month.

With elections expected to be held next year, a certain rise in political temperature isn't surprising.

However, two large street rallies within a month may also be a sign that the 50-year-old code defining the rules of engagement between the state and the three main ethnic groups -- the ``social contract'' of Malaysia -- is fraying.

The biggest source of discontent is race, a four-letter word in a country where three-fifths of the 27 million people are Malays, about a quarter of the population is Chinese and 10 percent is Indian.

Many in the minority Chinese and Indian communities are disenchanted with economic policies that favor the Malays.

And while privileges granted to the Malay Bumiputeras -- or ``sons of the soil'' -- can't be taken away abruptly, the case for separating entitlements from racial identity is building.

There are, of course, limits to how far Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi may be prepared to go and how soon.

To the extent affirmative-action policies make Malaysia unattractive to foreign investors, Abdullah has already shown a willingness to respond. The government has said that companies setting up tourism or logistics businesses in the Iskandar Development Region of Johor won't need to comply with a rule requiring foreign companies to have at least 30 percent ethnic Malay ownership.

Investments, Trade

This is a welcome step because Malaysia received just $6 billion of foreign direct investment last year. Thailand got $10 billion and India received $17 billion.

Ending preferential treatment for Malays in lucrative government contracts is going to be more problematic.

Free-trade talks with the U.S. and Australia have been delayed and the ones with New Zealand have had to be suspended primarily because Malaysia's policy of discouraging non-Malays -- including foreigners -- from bidding on government tenders is unacceptable to these countries.

The same issue might also jeopardize a free-trade deal between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- of which Malaysia is a member -- and the European Union.

1969 Riots

The Federation of Malaya's 1957 constitution, which was drafted as the British were leaving, recognized that the indigenous Malay community needed special help, including quotas in government jobs, business permits and university places, to improve their abject economic standing.

The acceptance of this arrangement by the minority Chinese and Indian communities -- ``foreigners'' in the land of the ethnic Malay Muslims -- was seen as the basis of their citizenship and participation in a grand political coalition that has ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since independence.

Following bloody race riots in 1969, the New Economic Policy of 1970 made it an avowed goal of state policy to lift the share of corporate ownership for the Bumiputeras to 30 percent, from just 2 percent.

There was an uproar last year when a Malaysian economist argued in a study that the goal may already have been more than met and it was time to dismantle economic policies based on race.

"Sacred" Arrangement?

The political rhetoric is still staunchly against any such dilution of affirmative action. At his party's annual congress this month, Abdullah described Malay interests and the social contract between communities as ``sacred.''

However, the economic reality is different.

Malaysia's annual per-capita income has jumped an impressive 26-fold in the past 50 years to 20,900 ringgit ($6,200). But the decades of sustained, rapid growth in prosperity are now history.

The rise of China and India is forcing Malaysia to discover new sources of competitiveness; in such an environment, the policy of race-based discrimination is increasingly untenable.

The area where Malaysia has paid the heaviest price is education. In the 1980s, government policy reduced national schools to ``Malay enclaves,'' in the words of University of Sydney political scientist Lily Zubaidah Rahim; as a result, the Chinese opted out in large numbers.

Thus, the ideal place to integrate the races became the starting point of segregation.

While ethnic quotas in higher education were removed in 2002, university entrance norms for non-Malays are still significantly tougher. Talent that Malaysia badly needs to build a knowledge-driven economy is forced to migrate.

Renegotiating the Contract

The Nov. 10 protests called for an improvement in the electoral process so that the next polls are free and fair; the second rally, however, had an overt racial tone.

The Hindu Rights Action Force, which organized the demonstration, is suing the British government for not protecting the rights of the minority Indian community at the time of independence. The colonial rulers had brought in Indians as indentured labor to work on rubber plantations.

The real purpose of the protesters is, of course, to draw attention to the unfairness of the 1957 constitutional arrangement and to show that the Malays aren't the only underclass in Malaysia.

The Tamil-speaking Malaysians, not counting the very wealthy businessmen such as pay-TV and telecommunications czar T. Ananda Krishnan, remain rather poor as a community.

A renegotiation of the Malaysian social contract so that entitlements are realigned with real economic needs will be a slow, challenging process, though nothing short of it can really heal the wounds festering for half a century.


"India needs to pay attention to the ethnic crisis in Malaysia"

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray

Read here in The Telegraph (Calcutta)

Malaysia’s simmering ethnic crisis is something for the ministry of overseas Indian affairs to ponder on. Presumably, the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman was bestowed on S. Samy Vellu, president since 1979 of the Malaysian Indian Congress and public works minister in the ruling coalition, because India approves of his work as representative of more than two million ethnic Indians.

Since the man and his constituency are inseparable, convulsions in the latter that question his leadership oblige India to reassess its attitude towards the diaspora.

Initially, screaming headlines about Hindus on the march suggested hordes of ash-smeared trident-brandishing sadhus with matted locks rampaging to overwhelm Muslim Malaysia. In reality, thousands of impoverished Tamils carrying crudely drawn pictures of Gandhi sought only to hand over a petition to the British high commission in Kuala Lumpur about their plight since their ancestors were imported as indentured labour 150 years ago. It so happened that the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), a new umbrella group of 30 organizations, mobilized Sunday’s protest when Tamils battled the riot police for six hours.

The confrontation was even farther removed in space than in time from Lee Kuan Yew’s claim in 1959, when Singapore was waiting to join Malaya, that India was to Malayan culture “what Greece and Rome are to Western culture”. Peninsular Malay was part first of the Srivijaya empire and then of Rajendra Chola’s overseas dominions. Even modern Islamic Malaysia borrows heavily from India. Terms like Bangsa Melayu (for the Malay nation) and bumiputera (Malay Muslims), the cherished determinant of political and economic privilege, expose Malaysia’s own unacknowledged linguistic bankruptcy.

Describing the Thirties excavations in Kedah, which confirmed that Bujang was a Srivijaya empire port — dating back to the 4th century — within easy sailing distance of India, Time magazine reported in 2000, “But an Indian Malaysian visiting the Bujang Valley might come away feeling demeaned rather than proud — and that would be no accident.” Anthony Spaeth, the writer, went on to say that “the official literature does its best to downplay, even denigrate, the Indian impact on the region”.

Ironically, the Indian minority’s further marginalization coincided with the long tenure (1981-2003) of the former prime minister, the ethnic Indian medical doctor, Mahathir Mohamad. He also took Malaysia further along the road to Islamization. A kind of competitive Islam was at play under him with the fundamentalist Parti Islam SeMalaysia demanding Sharia law and Mahathir’s subsequently disgraced lieutenant, Anwar Ibrahim, peddling what he called Islamic values without “Arabisation”.

Lee says Chinese Malaysians (25 per cent) who have maintained an uneasy peace since the vicious Malay-Chinese riots of 1969, are being marginalized. But they at least have someone to speak up for them. They are also able to salt away their savings in Singapore where they often send their children for education and employment. Lacking any of these fall-back advantages, the much poorer Indians suffered in silence until Sunday’s upsurge. They did not protest even when six Indians were murdered and 42 others injured in March 2001 without the authorities bothering to investigate the attacks.

Nearly 85 per cent of Indian Malaysians are Tamil, and about 60 per cent of them are descended from plantation workers. Official statistics say Indians own 1.2 per cent of traded equity (40 per cent is held by the Chinese) though they constitute eight per cent of the population. About 5 per cent of civil servants are said to be Indian while 77 per cent are Malay. An Indian who wants to start a business must not only engage a bumiputera partner but also fork out the latter’s 30 per cent share of equity. The licence-permit raj has run amok with government sanction needed even to collect garbage. Lowest in the education and income rankings, Indians lead the list of suicides, drug offenders and jailed criminals. All the telltale signs of an underclass. While the state gives preferential treatment to bumiputeras, the MIC has done little to help Indians rise above their initially low socio-economic base.

Religious devotion often being the last refuge of those with little else to call their own, Indians set great store by their temples, which are now the targets of government demolition squads. Many are technically illegal structures because the authorities will not clear registration applications. The last straw was the eve-of-Diwali destruction of a 36-year-old temple in Shah Alam town which is projected as an “Islamic City”. Insult was piled on injury when, having announced that he would not keep the customary post-Eid open house as a mute mark of protest, Vellu hastily backtracked as soon as the prime minister frowned at him.

Emotions have been simmering since 2005 when the mullahs seized the body of a 36-year-old Tamil Hindu soldier and mountaineer, M. Moorthy, and buried it over the protests of his Hindu wife, claiming Moorthy had converted to Islam. A Sharia court upheld the mullahs, and when the widow appealed, a civil judge ruled that Article 121(1A) of Malaysia’s constitution made the Sharia court’s verdict final. Civil courts had no jurisdiction. Such restrictions and, even more, the manner in which rules are implemented, make a mockery of the constitution’s Article 3(1) that “other religions may be practised in peace and harmony”.

Last Sunday’s petition was signed by 1,00,000 Indians. The fact that it was provoked by a supposed conversion and a temple destruction and was sponsored by Hindraf prompted P. Ramasamy, a local academic, to say, “The character of struggle has changed. It has taken on a Hindu form — Hinduism versus Islam.” But that is a simplification. The protesters who were beaten up, arrested and charged with sedition were Indians. They were labelled Hindu because Tamil or Malayali Muslims (like Mahathir) go to extraordinary lengths to deny their Indian ancestry and wangle their way into the petted and pampered bumiputera preserve. In Singapore, too, Indian Muslims who speak Tamil at home or sport Gujarati names drape the headscarf called tudung on their wives and insist they are Malay. Malaysia’s Sikhs also distance themselves from the Indian definition which has become a metaphor for backwardness.

Branding Sunday’s demonstration Hindu automatically singles out the minority as the adversary in a country whose leaders stress their Islamic identity. The implication of a religious motivation also distracts attention from the more serious economic discrimination that lies at the heart of minority discontent. Acknowledging that “unhappiness with their status in society was a real issue” for the protesters, even The New Straits Times, voice of the Malay establishment, commented editorially, “The marginalisation of the Indian community, the neglect of their concerns and the alienation of their youth must be urgently addressed.”

Some have suggested that the illusory prospect of fat damages from Hindraf’s $4 trillion lawsuit against the British government may have tempted demonstrators. But the lawyers who lead Hindraf must know that their plaint is only a symbolic gesture like my Australian aboriginal friend Paul Coe landing in England and taking possession of it as terra nullius (nobody’s land) because that is what the British did in Australia. The more serious message is, as The New Straits Times wrote, that secular grievances must be addressed. Though plantation workers have demonstrated earlier against employers, never before have they so powerfully proclaimed their dissatisfaction with the government. In doing so, under Hindraf colours, they have also signified a loss of confidence in Vellu and the MIC. The worm has turned. There is a danger now of the government hitting back hard.

All this concerns India, not because of M. Karunanidhi’s fulminations but because interest in overseas Indians must be even-handed. The diaspora does not begin and end with Silicon Valley millionaires. Nor should Vayalar Ravi’s only concern be V.S. Naipaul and Lakshmi Mittal whose pictures adorn his ministry’s website. Indians of another class are in much greater need of his attention.

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