Thursday, 22 September 2011 00:27
GE-13 is near: Time for the Indians to come out of their shell and be M'sians

Written by Moaz Nair, Malaysia Chronicle

The Human Rights Party (HRP) purportedly sought to contest 7 parliamentary seats and 16 state seats in the next general election. But could their candidates win these seats if the political agenda of the party is strictly ethnic-based? In all probability, in a three-corner contest, HRP would lose all the seats. Even if it’s a two-corner political joust it is not going to be smooth riding for this newly minted ethnic-based party.

A veiled threat by HRP on Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to concede these 26 seats for them to contest is rather an unripe strategy. It should be borne in mind that PR is not an ethnic-based coalition and therefore HRP’s demand to contest those seats in an ethnic-based capacity is quite unreasonable. PR is a coalition that accommodates members of all races and religions. It’s more of an ideology-based coalition as opposed to Barisan Nasional (BN) that comprises many ethnic-based parties as members. HRP by virtue of its ethnic-based image perhaps may fit fine into the BN system of politics. HRP perchance could request BN to consider their demands to see more Indian representations in the government.

Could this be only a mind game?

Could it be that HRP’s quest to contest more seats in the next general is only a mind game? Be that as it may, if HRP has the opinion that by weighing up the plights and needs of the Indians their candidates could win more seats in the next general election, this is flawed. HRP should realise that no Indian candidate in any of the parliamentary or state legislative assembly seat could demand full support from all Indian voters and to win the seat without the support of other ethnic groups is virtually unattainable. HRP should relook into their political gambit if they are in the hunt of having their presence felt in the country’s political landscape. They should take cognizance of the fact that there are many more Indian political parties that are ethnic-based and Indian votes would be carved up among these parties.

Above and beyond this, there is no single constituency in the country that notably has Indians as the majority electorate. Even if there is a constituency that has a larger number of Indian voters, it cannot be certain that HRP would get the full support from all the Indians. Indian votes are fractionally split based on party and personality adherence, as there are several more Indian political parties that are ethnic-based. Indians are markedly becoming less and less relevant in the country’s ethnic-based political equation and they would soon become demographically insignificant to influence national politics.

Out of 222 current parliamentary constituencies Indian voters have a marginal influence only in 52 constituencies. This would sum up to only 23 percent of seats in Parliament. Out of 567 state legislature seats Indian voters have some minimal clout only in 129 constituencies. Thus their capacity to influence electoral politics is quite insignificant and this impact would slowly but surely wither with the dwindling population of ethnic-Indians in relation to the other races. In 1957, Indians constituted about 12 percent of the country’s population. It dropped to 8 percent in 2005. The projection is in 2021 the Indians would comprise only about 6.4 percent of the country’s people.

Shedding the image of ethnic-based party

Apparently, Indian votes could become momentous only when Chinese and Malay votes are divided. To lean on this vote depository is just too risky a task for HRP. It is thus wise for HRP to shed the image of an ethnic-based party and work towards championing the fate of all the downtrodden Malaysians, which of course would include the poor Indians and also the poor Malays, Chinese and the other races. HRP should represent the poor of all races to establish a better support base and become a political entity more relevant to a multi-racial Malaysia. It would be more fetching for HRP to work with PR or other parties and communities in the country to stay functional in Malaysian politics. Failing to do so would turn HRP into another political dinosaur.

The Indians are the most politically divisive community in the country. HRP should realise that the Indians are not only politically but social-culturally divided. There are too many political parties to represent the Indians and there are too many social-classes among them. Unfortunately, most of the well-to-do Indians would prefer to distance themselves from the destitute among their own community.

When the Malays are preponderantly represented by three main parties, the Chinese by two main parties, the Indians have no less than nine main political parties – inclusive of HRP - to represent their population of 1.9 million (7.5 percent of the country’s population). History has it that the problem with Malaysian Indians is that they could never be unified under one or two political banners. Every Indian politician wants to claim the political throne and if they fail to achieve this they must form a new political party to chance their luck.

When personal ambitions override altruistic mission in politics to render it ambivalent, we would see much less done to help the poor Indians. Those politicians with personal interests would only clamour for cosy positions in the government and endear themselves to the society as reputable personalities. Nevertheless, despite all the political aspirations many of these politicians have achieved, they are still enmeshed in the entangled mêlée of social class, caste and cultural identity.

The Indians are the disunited lot

When power, class and status in society become the priority of politicians there would be little chance for the many Indian-based political parties to become a collective force. HRP as well as the other Indian-based parties should realise that they are a disunited lot in Malaysian politics and this is the basis as to why they could never pool in all the resources needed to help build a resilient Indian community who could in turn help the poor among them.

Most of these political parties have not earnestly looked into the core issues facing the poor Indian communities. The poor Indians have been on the dole queue before and after independence (1957) and are expecting more from the incumbent governments – federal and state - failing which they are lost for ideas on how to generate enough resources to sustain their livelihood.

Instead of too much politicking, HRP and other influential Indian personalities - those financially established among them – and with the assistance of the government and the private sector should get on to generating enough resources to help these marginalised Indians. For this to materialise there must first be political unanimity among the Indians in the country. They should put aside their political, intra-racial, religious and class differences to work for the betterment of their marginalised people.

No one can handle the problems faced by the poor Indians single-handedly

The real need of the poor Indians is not politics per se. They need more people who are willing to sincerely help drag them out of poverty. The Indian NGOs and other social and welfare bodies could play a kind role in helping the poor Indians to change their mindset and adopt a better value system in life. Even a single representation in the government would suffice if this candidate could rope in the right people and machinery to see a change in the mindset of the poor Indians. This is more important than having too many political chiefs at the privileged level when they cannot contribute to the needs of the impoverished Indians.

The problem with the poor Indians cannot be handled by HRP on their own. Studying the fate of the disadvantaged Indians indicates that it’s their value system that has besieged their mindset. Their socio-cultural background and the pitiable value system they cherish are not helping them improve their livelihood. Abject poverty among the Indians stands at less than 2 percent of their population of about 1.9 million. Another 36 percent are considered relatively poor. Socio-cultural and religious value systems, poverty, unemployment, lack of education and skills, poor living environment have for the past 60 years drained the poor Indians into a culture of pessimism and resentment. At one time it was the British that took the brunt of criticism for neglecting the welfare of the Indian labourers and demoralizing them. Today we have the incumbent government, the Indian politicians and leaders as well as the Indians themselves who are to be blamed for the same impediments.

Displaced from the rural estates the poor Indians now live in slum housings in most urban areas. 80 percent of Indians today – rich and poor - live in urban areas. Unlike the poor among other ethnic groups, poor Indians are beset with many societal dysfunctions that need to be addressed. They are the preponderant ethnic group involved in violent crimes, gangsterism, drugs and alcoholism. 68.7 percent of those in police custody are of poor Indian youth.

Exploiting the temple and Tamil school issues

The temple and Tamil school issues have become a big fair among the poor Indians and most Indian politicians would take advantage of this and exploit on these issues for political mileage. It is an expedient way for these politicians to get support from the poor and ignorant electorate. These are the self-seeking leaders who are failing the mindset and entrenching the existing value system of the poor Indians.

Most ethnic-Indian based political parties – including HRP – have less to say when the poor Indians become too obsessed with religious or temple issues. They seldom take the trouble to edify the poor Indians not to be fixated with temples and Tamil school issues as it is not going to help the poor put food on the table. Obsession on matters of religion would not help the poor Indians. When mania creeps into the poor’s psyche too much money would be wasted on religious activities and festivals. Food and milk are wasted during these events when the poor among them are malnourished. Then this binge on building too many temples for a small community is not really necessary but no Indian politicians would want to educate the Indians on this matter for fear that they would lose their support.

It’s not uncommon to see five to six self-built temples and makeshift shrines built within a small district or along a single road. A slight quarrel among temple goers is good excuse enough for them to leave and build another temple just close by. Some Indian politicians would close their eyes to this for fear that they may lose support from the grassroots.

No visionary leaders

Most Indians attending Tamil schools are poor and they are not cognisant of the fact that no matter what the government does to uplift the status of Tamil schools it is not going to help the majority of them achieve excellence in education. These children would become the ultimate losers when they go to secondary school. They find it tough to adapt to the secondary school environment, feel inferior and could not speak the National language or English. They would be lumped in one or two classes together the moment they enter secondary school and are more often than not mocked by others. Failing to cope with this new environment they drop out from school. These drop-outs would in high probability end up teaming up with the mob and become social delinquents.

The Indians never had any visionary leaders since Independence who could change the mindset of the poor displaced Indians. Neither did these politicians have any business acumen like the ethnic-Chinese. For the past 60 years they could not even change the fundamental ways of thinking of the poor Indians and make them business savvy. Some Indian politicians have chosen to deliberately ignore these predicaments faced by the poor Indians. The poor Indians are thus still trapped in an educational and social dilemma that has affected their livelihood. Tamil school education has not elevated the economic status of over 90 percent of the poor Indians. Many, regrettably, have graduated from these schools as dropouts and later slumped into unemployment, poverty, alcoholism and violent activities.

Undeniably, the vernacular school contributes some good social values to the Indians. It helps the poor to be emotionally attached to their roots but in terms of economic value it has less to offer. The Jaffna Tamils at one time and the Tamil Diasporas in other nations, for instance, are socially and economically thriving because of the high premium they put on education.

Where education does not help

The poor Indians in this country have failed to grab the equal opportunity to education at the primary and secondary school level provided by the government. 50 percent of those with Tamil background still go to Tamil schools for their primary education. Majority of them are from the lower income group. Almost all other Indian communities choose the National school as they are not Tamil speaking.

Studies have shown that over 95 percent of the non-Tamil speaking Indians complete their secondary education. Their drop-out rate is less than 5 percent. Sadly, most Tamil speaking students who hailed from Tamil schools are the ones who do not complete their upper secondary education. Drop-out rate among these students is around 30 percent. Transition from the Tamil schools to the national system is a gruelling experience for the students. They just cannot cope with secondary education partly because of the language factor. Socio-economic conditions and their value systems too affect their world view. They end up becoming inferior to others and experience psychological disorders when associating with the other races in school.

A Chinese drop-out would conveniently fit into their business community and end up becoming successful but it is not the case with an Indian drop-out. In all probability, an Indian drop-out would end up becoming a social delinquent.

There is still hope

Seeing the quandary faced by the poor Indians in the country. HRP should not be too exclusive in their approach to politics. They should find ways to merge with other political parties - including those Indian-based political entities - and seek ways to improve the social and economic status of poor Indians. Ethnic-based parties and policies may soon become irrelevant for the Indians and other minority communities as their population is dwindling. A needs-based approach to politics would see better hopes for the Indian community. Indians should seek the opportunities to merge with non-ethnic, ideologically-based political parties to be on a par with the others and at the same time work for the benefit of their community from within this system.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Though about 36 percent of the Indians are categorically poor in the country, 1999 saw a drop in abject poverty among the community from 8 percent in 1994 to 6 percent. 2004 saw a further drop to 3.5 percent. The figure dropped to less than 2 percent in 2009. These are signs that if the Indians could be united for a good cause and work as a team with the other races the problem of poverty among the marginalised Indians could be further reduced. HRP has a role to play to help the marginalised Indians. They should work in this direction with Pakatan Rakyat or Barisan Nasional. Threats and mere rhetoric would only result in the party fading out as a political entity and just be remembered as a footnote in history.
- Malaysia Chronicle