Indian Malaysian Community and the New Politics
(Opinion: Dated: 10th March 2008)
The 12th general election is finally over. The people of Malaysia have delivered their wishes to the contending parties and their nominees. The people have given Barisan National yet another opportunity to continue to form the national government. However, they have decided to deny 2/3 majority to BN in the parliament. They have finally given the opposition the opportunity to play a more significant role in national politics. They have also, in trust, delivered 5 state governments to the opposition. Now the people of Malaysia will have to see if their country in fact becomes what they aspire it to be. It is an aspiration that includes fairness, freedom and social security for all.
These are plain facts. But the meanings of events of the socio-political drama that unfolded and burst into the public arena the last 6 months and in particular the last couple of weeks and on the 8th of March are far too rich. They would capture the imagination of many commentators, analysts, researchers and concerned citizens.
On the ground, the election results are (i) the product of history of what the BN government has actually done (or not done) for the people and this nation since independence, (ii) the political and campaign strategy of individuals, individual parties and/or their coalitions, (iii) the orientation of the voting system and constituencies and lastly, (iv) the easy access to new information and communication technologies by all political contenders (individuals and parties).
Recognising The Role of the Indian Malaysian Community
Among the factors, it is in the history of this nation that we need to look closely and to identify definite trends that have given us what we are experiencing today. A few centuries ago, an European social commentator and revolutionary once said that History moves forward qualitatively only on the side of and through the agency of the oppressed and marginalised. It is they who provide the social ground that offers History a new Future.
In a sense, History has thrust upon the Indian Malaysian community that special responsibility. This is not to suggest that others did not play an equally critical role but only to record the spirit, the contribution and the role played by Indian Malaysians as a community in the election, as many during the many election ceramahs acknowledged.
Certainly, the 12th general election was the temporal space where History conspired to give us all the opportunity for that ‘an-other’ Malaysia that we many of us increasingly aspire for.
Along with so many others, the Indian Malaysian community has pushed the agenda of a new politics for Malaysia. On hindsight, the spirit behind Hindraf, and later Makkal Sakthi, is undeniably a critical turning point in recent Malaysian politics. Beyond organisational politics, they really represent the spirit of an economically marginalised, politically powerless, and culturally-battered community aspiring for fairness.
This development in the Indian Malaysian community and the new found orientation among the other Malaysian communities have now given us all an opportunity to break the hold of ethnocracy in Malaysia and dismantle the ethnic model of politics. We have an opportunity to look beyond that model, the limit of which was reached by the end of the last century.
One of the many icons of ethnic politics in Malaysia, the MIC and its head, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu, supposedly represented the Indians in BN, which is populated and controlled by strong ethnic parties. But the increasing problems of the Indian Malaysian community and the inability of the MIC leadership to deal with them adequately only led to the accumulation of disenchantment in the community.
The frustration, humiliation and disappointment Indians (in particular the Tamils) felt intensely was bound to become self-conscious and take a social form and it did. Makkal Sakthi (People’s Power) is that collective oppositional self-consciousness. A long view of this is that while it is Indian in form, it certainly is Malaysian in content. In fact, it did catch the imagination of many candidates and the term was used during their election ceramahs.
The mainstream media, BN national leaders and Samy Vellu dismissed all these critical developments. One of the main mainstream papers even trivialised the anger of the Indian/Tamil people expressed through Hindraf in their editorial. And Samy Vellu did not see what was coming his way. He even thought the 2008 Thaipusam in Batu Caves was a success when the community knew it was not. Probably he did not go to places like Kuala Selangor to see what was happening there. He thought the Indians/Tamils would vote the MIC leaders to power anyway, without carefully listening to the murmurings on the ground, even among once-staunch MIC supporters. But it is all too clear and loud now.
The angry Indian/Tamil Malaysians have removed Samy Vellu from power but have also, directly with the concerted help of other Malaysians, left the MIC in a disarray. (We can say that for MCA too.) The community does not want MIC to represent it. MIC cannot claim to represent Indian Malaysians in the BN and the government. There is simply no legitimacy to that claim. Whatever BN may do to include Indian Malaysians, the BN now cannot claim to run the often promoted and publicised but questionable ‘successful’ racial/ethnic consociational model of politics. The Indian Malaysian community has said it loud and clear that it does not want to be included as Indians but as Malaysians.
The Need for a New Political Language
A new political language needs to be framed. And the new young parliamentarians (and the ADUNS) who will now speak for all of us, including the Indian Malaysians, must frame it, by practice.
Along with many concerned citizens from all communities, the Indian Malaysian community has delivered to all Malaysians the opportunity for nurturing a new politics. And in this challenging interim period, they have done that at great risk and further marginalisation as a community, if those who have been elected to power i.e. the opposition, do not subscribe to a politics beyond the ethnic model and beyond ethnocracy or theocracy. The Indian Malaysian Community needs the active intervention of parties like the DAP, Keadilan and PAS (if it believes that the spirit of Islam and its protection is for all) to take up their cause as Malaysians.
There is an urgent need to subscribe to a politics that sees the problems and needs of Malaysians as common problems and needs of a people governed by a common destiny.
While needs and problems can be specific to definite Malaysian communities like the Malays, Kadazans, Penans, Mandailings, Chinese or Indians, they need to be framed as national problems or needs and addressed with national concern and sensitivity. Such an orientation will build us as a people and allow for equitable distribution of national resources. There is no room for ethnicisation of the problems of citizens, particularly when they involve access to basic goods and services, like water and housing. Addressing the needs of citizens must become colour-blind.
The ‘opposition to the Opposition’ will hold on to the old order and political language with great tenacity, pulling (or pooling) all its resources to actively discredit and delegitimise the gains of the forces of change, of the New Order. To counteract it, we need a new political language of dialogue, inclusiveness and all-round sustainability, knowing very well that it is going to take some time and challenges to institutionalise it. But a language names the world, shapes our dream, influences our imagination and helps build the society we want.
It is the responsibility of the Opposition and the new set of young parliamentarians (and ADUNS) to give us this as soon as possible. They have to balance their social commitment, the demands of their parties and arrive at a workable minimum programme for inter-party relationship and co-operation. They must be seen as representative of all the communities, of all the people.
We are at a threshold of a new future for the future generations and us. Can we nurture, shape and sustain it together … with single-mindedness and vision?
Dr M. Nadarajah is a sociologist by training. He is Secretary of the Asian Communication Network (ACN), an inter-faith and inter-disciplinary social communication initiative, based in St John’s University, Bangkok. He belongs to the Asian Public Intellectuals (API) Community, a community of filmmakers, theatre people, song writers, poets, activists and academics working in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Japan for a better Asia. His work focuses on cultural and sustainability issues.