Indians are enjoying their era of glory as both sides of the political divide – Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat – jump on the bandwagon to woo them as it is believed by politicians that Indian voters may be the kingmakers as their votes cast may be decisive in determining which side gets to govern at Putrajaya.
While the Chinese community appear to have all but deserted the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Gerakan to opt for DAP, and the Malays are skewered three-ways between PAS, PKR and UMNO, the Indians are being wooed deeply by Barisan Nasional and Pakatan appear to have also begun to reach out to the Indian community.
However, the state of the Indian community is under much stress and things are not looking up for them right now. The future of the Indian community is in limbo and this is due to a number of factors.
But the community should learn to sit up and pay heed to where they are heading in the quagmire of the currently changing Malaysian political landscape. This is important if they harbor any hopes of making an impact as a race in this country.
The Indian population dilemma
Long considered the third largest ethnic group in Malaysia, the Indian community now has a dwindling population that needs to be addressed or see themselves being eclipsed by persons of Indonesian origin as the third largest race in the country.
In the distant past if the Indian community had any difficulty, it was the exceedingly high birth rates in families that made up the Indian population in Malaysia. The birth of large numbers of infants in an Indian family caused much hardship and deprivation to them.
This was especially true among the Indian families working and residing in the rubber plantations in the rural areas of the country. While in the past this population explosion among the Indian community was viewed with concern, now, what is being viewed with equal concern is the declining birth rate among the Indians.
Falling birth rates among Indians have reached alarming proportions. Currently, Indians constitute only 9 per cent of the population of the nation as opposed to much higher percentages in the last few decades.
Whither the Indian community in Malaysia? This certainly means that Indians as a race have in all probability been displaced as the third major component or racial group in this country by the influx of legal and illegal Indonesian immigrants.
There are a number of factors that have led to the Malaysian Indian population dwindling. The most important fact is that the strength of their economic status has been downgraded causing them to either not marry or have few children as possible in the event they are married couples.
Another important factor is the emigration of much valued Indians, usually highly qualified and educated individuals, who have left Malaysia for greener pastures. Their departure along with their families in tow has left the Indian population in the country to dwindle further.
What is now becoming a bigger worry is the number of Indian youth that are opting to stay single or tying the knot at much older ages, usually well past their youthful years and causing the number of childless marriages among Indians to go on the rise.
While the Chinese community has addressed this problem among themselves by forming Cupid Clubs to play matchmaker and get single Chinese men and women to court and marry, the same measure may have to be adopted by Indian groups representing the community.
The formation of Cupid Clubs have caused a greater number of marriages to take place within the Chinese community and Indian groups can also play a similar matchmaker role among the single Indian men and women in the country.
Economic deprivation and education hardship
Aside from the fact that the Indian community needs to repopulate itself, there is also a dire need for them to reinvent themselves in the sphere of economic activity so as to gain a larger share of the economic pie.
While on this front, several groups representing the interests of the Indian community have taken upon themselves the role to empower Indians by creating business and educational opportunities, the momentum needs to be sustained and to grow much further.
The admission of Indian students to public and private institutions of higher learning in this country has also witnessed a drastic drop in numbers. The reluctance of a growing number of Indian youths to secure a sound education and a brighter future is now glaringly evident.
Instead, what is happening is that Indian youth are more likely to be associated or linked with criminal and underworld activities, with Malaysian jails housing large numbers of Indian prisoners in ratio to the numbers of their population in the country.
This has caused the socio-economic status of the Indian to downgrade rapidly. There is a need by Indian groups representing and leading the Indian community to be more watchful and vigilant and to steer Indians, especially Indian youth, in the right direction.
Choosing between BN and PR
Najib Tun Razak, erstwhile prime minister of the nation, has been on a grand spending and allocation spree in his quest and bid to capture the hearts and minds and votes of the Indians in Malaysia.
Every inkling of need put forward by MIC or Indian groups is listened to and given careful attention by Najib and addressed without delay or hesitation. This has caused Najib to become likeable and seemingly an ally of the Indian community and they are soaking up his goodies with much delight.
But Indians being what they are, are also engaged in covert negotiations with Pakatan Rakyat to see what the opposition coalition has for them. This intriguing double act by Indian leaders and Indian groups representing the community has become noticeable as of late in the run up to the 13th GE.
Whether Indian votes will play a critical, pivotal role in determining which side of the political divide gets to govern from Putrajaya is however debatable. But what is certain is that Indians have upped the ante and have pushed to get maximum mileage from the overtures being showered upon them.
It just might be that what they have in mind is to squeeze Najib and BN for as much as they can before crossing over to PR in terms of casting their votes. This might be viewed as an act of betrayal towards Najib who has gone out on a limb to relieve them of their woes and problems.
Indians, however, it must be noted, nurture deep resentment towards BN-UMNO for what they perceive as acts of bullying, intimidation and oppression inflicted upon the community despite serving with distinction and loyalty to the state.
While Najib expectedly is striving to balm and heal their wounds, Indians with their seemingly much valued votes are playing their cards close to their chest and have so far given nothing away.
Up to now, it is inconclusive as to which direction the Indian voters will swing towards. But the best bets and indications from the community should be forthcoming during the campaign period of the 13th GE.
Meanwhile, the Indian community is pushing the limits with their demands and needs with both sides of the political divide as they feel they need to seek restitution of some kind for having experienced deprivation in the past.
A wake up call to the Indian community
While all is not lost, the Indian community needs to wake up to the challenges of a globalized world or they will only have themselves to blame for becoming failures in their own country.
The need is urgent and pressing that Indians in Malaysia not go into a time warp but be aware that they are a species under threat and in all likelihood may not count or favor anymore as voters or as an important ethnic group in the years to come.
It is therefore high time and imperative that Indians rise up and answer this wake up call to pull the community out of the doldrums and to strive to contribute in a greater and more meaningful and impactful way towards building Malaysian society.