At the 2008 electoral outing, BN, then under the leadership of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, lost its long held two-thirds majority in Parliament. It also lost four state governments Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor. Kelantan has traditionally been in the hands of PAS, a member of the opposition pact, Pakatan Rakyat - made up of PAS, DAP and PKR.
The MIC assembly comes at a crucial moment, taking into account the looming general election. Pundits have pointed out that Najib’s speech may include an apology to the community for sidelining Malaysian Indians from the wave of development. They also expect, the prime minister to splash large amounts of money for the community.
It has to be noted that Najib todate had allocated nearly RM900 million for Indians in the last two years. Yet, he faces difficulty in getting back the Indian votes, which was solidly behind BN until 2008.
What does the community really want? Why is it so difficult to get the Indians back to the BN? The answer to these two questions needs some history lessons.
One look at Umno’s version of Indian history in Malaysia reveals a lot. According to Umno, Indians are a group of uncivilised people brought to Malaya from India by the British government.
They are traditionally divided into castes where most Malaysian Indians are from lower caste. Words like ‘pariah’ and ‘keling’ were often used to describe them.
This is how Umno had painted out the Indians, turning them into a disgruntled underclass. The community complained of being neglected and marginalised by the Umno-led government.
However, Malaysian Indian roots run deep dating back to the first century, when an ancient Indian kingdom ruled the northern part of Malaysia.
Evidence of such a kingdom was found in Lembah Bujang in Kedah. Since the site was rediscovered by explorers in the 1930s, more than 50 temple ruins have been excavated in the valley, making it Malaysia’s richest archaeological treasure trove.
However, till today the government, for whatever reason, has yet to recognise or acknowleged that the ruins were part of the ancient Indian kingdom. A sign board at Bujang Valley museum describes the ruins as an “old Malay kingdom”.
It is things like this which has simmered for sometime among the Malaysian Indian community. During the post colonial era, Indian were professionals in terms of employment. While, many had worked in estates in the early days, quite a number of them understood the importance of education and pushed the second generation towards this.
The community produced numerous doctors and lawyers in the 1960s.However, this has changed. While the community still places emphasis on education, not many are given seats at government run higher education centres to pursue professional courses. Seats are now awarded based on the race based quota system.
Umno had also systematically sidelined the once hardworking and economically vibrant Indian community into a “forgotten community” through its ethnic and religious policies.
People like Bastianpillai Paul Nicholas (first Asian banker in British Malaya), Janaki Davar (one of the women involved in the fight for the Malayan independence), Sybil Karthigesu (only Malayan woman to be ever awarded with the George Medal for bravery), SA Ganapathi (first president of the 300,000-strong Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions (PMFTU) which fought for the country’s independence) and Dr TJ Danaraj (University Malaya’s medical faculty founder and former Dean), have been omitted from the history books.
Today, Indians lag behind other ethnic groups in almost all areas. While they form just 7% of the total population, they account for 63% arrested under the Emergency Ordinance for violent crimes. They also constitute 41% of beggars and 20% of child abusers.
Indians rank lowest in national elementary-school examinations, about one in every 12 Indian children do not even attend primary school. Umno’s racist policies had pushed the Indian community to the wayside of nation-building since independence.
Thus, the MIC annual general assembly to be held at the Putra World Trade Centre tomorrow would be the right venue for Najib to rewrite history.
Najib says his government is helping the Indians. Giving out loans to small-business and financial aid for students would not impress the community. The community wants to be recognised.
This does not cost a single sen. The government should acknowlege the contribution of Indians to this country. And the recognition must come in seven key areas – politics, government affairs, education, jobs, culture, history and socio-economy.