Take a look in the mirror: Has Umno ever kept its promises?
For the past six decades UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN) have failed to uplift the standard of living among all the marginalised ethnic groups in the country and this includes the Indians, Malays, Chinese and the Indigenous. The gulf of disparity between the rich and the poor is ceaselessly widening. This poverty gap has made many poor Malaysians become tangential to the national economic pie.
About 70 percent of ethnic Indians in the country are in the poor or hardcore-poor cohort but receives the least attention from the UMNO-led government, as the poor Indians do not have much political clout in a country of about 28.5 million people. UMNO-friendly political parties representing the minority Indians in BN have not achieved much in trying to help this marginalised group of Indians.
They may have enriched a few cronies among them for the past six decades but the downtrodden among the Indians are left to live on crumbs. The norm has always been that Barisan Nasional (BN) with UMNO as its backbone party would make ostentatious promises before elections to help the marginalised Indians. All these syrupy promises would, more often than not, conk out just after the elections.
Those political parties in BN and other Indian-based political parties friendly to BN espoused to help the poor Indians would be quietened down by UMNO with all the ‘bullying’ tactics. Nevertheless, UMNO leaders have never been short of grandiose rhetorical phrases to ‘mesmerise’ the timorous and poor ethnic Indians:
“In view of the low level of corporate equity ownership among Indians, attention will be given to increase their participation during the OPP3 period.”
“Efforts will thus be undertaken to increase Indian equity ownership to 3 per cent by 2010.”
“ At the same time, a study to review the status of the Indian participation in the economy will be undertaken to formulate ‘appropriate strategies and programmes’ to help the Indians.”
“A ‘high-powered’ task committee will be formed, headed by MIC President, to find out the plights of the Indian community.”
“More allocations will be given to uplift the standard of living of Indians in the country.”
“RM200 million will be allocated to assist poor students to continue with their education.”
“Najib came out with a statement asking Tamil educationist to come out with a blueprint on how to take Tamil schools forward.”
“Najib vows to address Indian ‘legacy issues’.”
These are only a few of the many superfluous and flamboyant rhetorical phrases used to lull the poor ethnic Indians. All these gimmicks, however, have remained rhetorical and hollow in substance. Nothing much has got off the ground since the country’s independence to sincerely help the poor Indians and they have not benefitted much from any of these bare promises. In fact, not even 2 percent of the poor ethnic Indians have benefited from all these ‘grand plans’ for them. These are mere political publicity stunt to dupe the poor Indians. It has only given the poor Indians in the country a false hope in life.
Favours a single ethnic group
Malaysia’s affirmative social and economic policies favour a single ethnic group more than the poor among other races. The poor Indians, Chinese and the Indigenous are far left behind since the implementation of the NEP (New Economic Policy) in 1971 even when a prong of the economic policy clearly indicates that the eradication of poverty is irrespective of race. Apparently, poor ethnic Indians are among the most neglected since the implementation of the NEP.
The Indian community is still trapped in the trough of poverty when the NEP was not extended to help those in the estates and those displaced after the estates were taken over for development. While the NEP helped the Malays and the Indigenous out of poverty and managed to create a group of middle class among them, it obviously ignored the needs of the displaced poor ethnic Indians. In reality, this composite of Indians are as poor as the Malays and the Indigenous, if not more. The failure of the NEP to support the Indians below the poverty line has attributed to the community being marginalised until today. MIC and other Indian leaders politically aligned to UMNO have done little to resolve the problem of poverty among ethnic Indians despite helming the nation under the former Alliance and later the BN coalition for almost six decades.
About 20 percent of ethnic Indian families are earning a meagre RM 516 and below per month. Another 20 percent earn less than RM1000 and below per month. Ninety percent of this ethnic group do not own any land or shelter of their own. Many in the urban areas live in squalid slums and they form 60 percent of urban squatters. They are among those having the lowest per capita income – earning only about 8 percent of the national average.
When plantation lands were developed into other viable projects after the nation’s independence this had resulted in the plantation workers being displaced and forced to become squatters in urban areas. With no proper education and financial means, they left for the urban areas in search of a new life. They lived in squatter colonies that were gradually demolished to make way for development with no or little alternative housing for them. Depriving of everything from income and permanent shelter they have become urban ‘nomads’ who are continuously being forced to live under squalid conditions and constantly being evicted or harassed by the authorities.
Thirty percent of them are squatters or live on TOL (Temporary Occupation Licence Land). Poverty has made their life acutely miserable. Suicides became too common among desperate parents and the meagre bread winners among them. Poverty has forced many of these poor Indians to commit suicide and 40 percent of all suicide cases in the country involve poor Indians. The majority of orphanages and old folks homes are also filled up with members of this minority ethnic Indian community.
Education opportunities for this community has been decreasing since. Only about 1 percent of intakes by government education institutes in the country and opportunities overseas funded by the government are allocated for ethnic Indians. There was a 10 percent quota for ethnic Indians before 1970 and this was reduced to about 5 percent in the 80s and further reduced to less than 3 percent in the past decade. The so-called ‘meritocracy’ system introduced in 2004 shrivelled the percentage of ethnic Indians’ opportunity for tertiary education.
The double-standard examinations used for university entrance – matriculation and STPM – deprived many ethnic Indians making it to tertiary education in government universities and the chances of getting scholarships for overseas’ education. The poor ethnic Indians were those who were affected most because of this politically twisted system. The poor Indians are naturally discriminated against by a lopsided education system.
Low sense of worth
The over 500 Tamil schools in the country is no remedy to the plight of this ethnic group. Most of this schools are dilapidated and not fully-aided government schools. Over 80 percent of ethnic Indian children end up becoming dropouts at the primary school level, when they enter secondary schools and before they have finished 11 years of education. They are ill-equipped with literacy skills to cope with studies beyond the elementary stage. Access to even the lowest level skills training Institutions are deprived for this community resulting in most of them remaining unemployed or unskilled workers
After about six decades years of independence, there are thousands of ethnic minority Indians left being undocumented – without birth certificates, identity cards or marriage certificates. This has deprived them of even basic education. Without these legal documents they cannot go to school, obtain licences to do business or secure employment.
Indian participation in the civil service has been reduced to less than 2 percent in 2010. Seventy percent (70%) of ethnic Indians have been doomed into becoming labourers, IMG (Industrial Manual Group workers, office boys, security guards, public toilet cleaners, general workers and road sweepers. Sixty percent (60%) of ethnic Indians are lower income earners and 85 percent of Indian workers in the manufacturing sector are low level workers. Sixty percent (65%) of Malaysian Indians work as plantation or urban underpaid labourers
Despair, poverty and lack of opportunities and UMNO-led BN lopsided policies have led to high Indian involvement in crime arising out of poverty. beggars, squatters, criminals and gangsters. A significant number of Indian youth have become social delinquents due to their low sense of worth.
Beyond that, ethnic Indians have been deprived of business licenses permits, business loans and opportunities for small businesses or commercial licenses for them to run businesses – resulting in less than 1 percent Indian participation in the country’s economic wealth.
Justice for all
UMNO-led BN have been promising the poor ethnic Indians heaven when they cannot even deliver scraps to them.Disappointingly, the government has not kept to their promises. The poor Indians are still languishing in poverty with not much hope in sight for a better life under the present government.
UMNO-led BN has failed to honour their ‘gracious pledge’ to help the poor Indians but have craftily made use of their hollow rhetoric to win votes and stay in power. A few ringgit doled out to the poor just before elections is not going to bring votes to UMNO or BN. What's more, the poor on their part are not too ambitious to become filthy rich. Neither are they interested in going for a multi-thousand ringgit shopping spree or spending nights in posh hotels at the expense of tax-payers’ money. They are only seeking for the basic needs in life – food on the table, education for their children, a reasonable income to make ends meet and a decent shelter to live in.
In this country of opportunity not only the poor Indians who are marginalised. The poor Malays, Chinese and the Indigenous of this country – who have by design or default made this country their home – are equally been marginalised under the UMNO-led BN government. A responsible government has to see the rights and positions of all citizens irrespective of race, creed or religion honoured. This is clearly ordained in the constitution.
Since those who are marginalised are not confined to one community alone, it is time for every Malaysian to rise above racial politics, thrust aside racial parties, liberate this nation from endemic corruption and injustice at every level and cherish together for a Malaysia where the people can perceive themselves as less Malay, Chinese, Indian or Indigenous. The people should long for a government that is ‘colour blind’ – that helps all the poor irrespective of their race, creed or religion.
The voting pattern will swing when there are ethnic groups that are deprived of these basic needs and have come to understand that they are being discriminated against. Mere rhetoric and promises to win elections are not going to influence the enlightened poor to vote for the incumbent government. The voting trend will definitely change in the coming general election.