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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Making a stand with Hindraf and PSM

"Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than to be in bad company." - Booker T Washington

That's right; it is Indian-bashing season again. This close to elections Indians are told to get with the Pakatan Rakyat programme by anonymous DAP apparatchiks and Pakatan kool-aid drinkers.
The Indian vote is depending on the sensibility of the Pakatan supporter is either considered insignificant or crucial, but the narrative put forward is that Indian rights groups like Hindraf and the Human Rights Party, and to a lesser extent Parti Socialis Malaysia (no doubt because of the heavy Indian presence), are possible spoilers for the Pakatan quest to Putrajaya.

NONEThe Indian community is vilified with choice epithets like "beggars", "ignorant","toddy drinkers" "snakes", etc, with middle-class Pakatan-supporting Indians attempting to cajole their brothers and sisters into siding with Pakatan as if those poor unfortunate souls are unaware of the systemic discrimination that they face under the Umno-led regime. It is the same stupid attitude on display whenever Pakatan supporters discuss the Orang Asli "problem".

The theme this time is of legitimising marginalised groups. Two examples of how dominant groups legitimise minority interest is the U-turn by BN on the Hindraf ban and the reluctance of Pakatan in admitting PSM into its coalition.

Concerning the latter, it would seem a no brainer politically and morally for Pakatan to embrace PSM as fellow travelers on its journey to Putrajaya. Politically, because of late Pakatan has credibility issues when it comes to their principles.
There have been far too many instances where Pakatan has waffled when they should have remained firm, and has embroiled themselves in unnecessary controversies because of political ineptness and provided evidence of their racialist tendencies when they are supposed to be a multiracial, "class" objective coalition.
PSM, on the other hand, has remained a credible consistent force when it comes to its socialist principles and the internal workings of its political party. They have publicly made stands against the systemic discrimination that plagues this land and have not wavered even in the face of political expediency or racial advantage.

Members of this recent political party have been at the grassroots level opposing this regime far longer than the newbie but powerful potentates that Pakatan has created. If real change is the name of the game, then the players who are aware of how the rules disadvantage a majority of Malaysians who belong in the periphery of the political game should be welcomed into the alliance as valuable assets.
The choice is obvious 
Of course, now PSM is involved in a tussle with the influential DAP over the Jelapang seat in Perak. This no doubt contributes to the reticence of Pakatan of welcoming PSM into the fold. Whatever ones view on who should eventually take the seat, right-thinking Malaysian should not allow these power plays to distract from the fact a credible political force which could act as a buffer against the baser political instincts that plague most successful political entities is being denied a seat at the table.

NONEMorally, the choice should be obvious. The work of PSM leader MD Jeyakumar (left) speaks for itself (and whose speech at the KL112 Himpunan Rakyat, is a clear indication of the kind of government the PSM would like to see created) but there are others like S Arutchelvan who has propagated the cause of grassroots level activism that has been a great benefit to Pakatan.

You do not have to look very far to witness the passion of PSM adherents like KS Bawani and the temperament that would be introduced into Pakatan if organisations like PSM were to be made an integral part of the alliance.

At the end of the day, to any right-thinking Malaysian, the reluctance of Pakatan in admitting PSM into its ranks says a lot more of Pakatan than it does about PSM and none of it any good.

Concerning the government's reversal on the Hindraf ban, the head of think-thank Centre for Policy Initiatives' Dr Lim Teck Ghee articulates three issues that are relevant to the discussion at hand. On the political nature of the reversal, Lim says:

"This is obviously a move calculated to win Indian votes in the coming elections rather than a fundamental shift in the BN's resolve to address the marginalisation of the Indian community and the many problems that the community - especially the Indian poor - face. To deny that this is an election ploy is to insult the intelligence of Indian and other Malaysian voters."

The second issue is the effects this has on the Indian vote, of which he says:

"I do not think so but much depends on Hindraf's response. The movement is seen by many Indians as one of the few if not sole Indian organisation committed to the Indian struggle for equal rights and justice.
"Even if the BN publicly accepts Hindraf's blueprint, I do not see why Hindraf should give BN the nod of approval at this critical stage. There is in fact nothing to prevent BN from going back on its promises or for the home minister to declare a new ban on Hindraf again or to do even worse once the elections are over."

And finally the big issue, will the Indian vote shift back to BN? Lim notes:

"The BN has a long history of sweet talk - and often double talk. Indians especially have been the victim of BN empty promises and the great majority of Indian voters are fully aware of this. Until there are fundamental changes in national policies affecting minority communities - of which there is no evidence - I do not see why Indians should throw their support behind the BN simply because of the home minister's change of heart."

The better horse to bet on

While I agree with Lim's assessment, there is another issue that needs to be addressed. Hindraf is a non-partisan organisation. Like any other rights group, its special interest needs to be addressed and even though Pakatan may think otherwise, Hindraf does have the support of marginalised Indian communities across Malaysia.

The question here is which political alliance would best serve that interest. Ignorant comments are made that Hindraf is not "principled" but as any right-thinking Malaysian understands, Hindraf would be unprincipled if they chose to commit to an alliance because it was politically expedient to do so or politically correct in this partisan climate at the expense of its stakeholders.

Just as Himpunan Hijau have committed to working with Pakatan (in Pahang) because the alliance verbally agreed to shut down the Lynas plant in Gebeng if it came into power, the needs of other rights groups should be taken into consideration.

NONESince the alternative alliance is dominated by the other two main ethnic groups and there is plenty of evidence that the needs of the Indian community has been marginalised in Pakatan states - P Uthayakumar (left) in my interview with him, provided a litany of grievances all documented from verifiable sources - Pakatan (my preferred choice as a Pakatan partisan) should engage with Hindraf to sustain its multiracial credentials and as evidence that it is sincere in its social justice cause.

The alliance should do whatever is necessary to convince Hindraf leadership that Pakatan is the better horse to bet on, not of winning Putrajaya but rather in its commitment in solving the problems of the marginalised Indian community even if only at a state level. Pakatan is labouring under the misconception that Hindraf brings nothing to table.

In an election that may come down to the wire, every vote counts. While Hindraf may not for whatever reason choose to engage with BN, another possibility is that the Indian community may abstain from voting - choosing neither devil - which could be a very real possibility since neither coalition seem interested in committing to solving the problems that only Hindraf and the Human Rights Party highlight in any sincere way.

Hindraf leadership have been extremely sophisticated in the manner it has gone about cultivating grassroots support from the Indian community and the said support is dependent on Hindraf delivering what it has promised. However as far as dealing with BN, Hindraf has to be aware that it is never a good idea drinking from the poisoned chalice.

At the end of the day, much will depend on how the Malay vote swings. Both sides assume that they are the favoured to win the Malay vote. If Pakatan were mistaken in this belief than every vote, counts and it would be a shame if a certain section of the Indian community falls back into apathy because Pakatan (again) made another politically inept move only this time not recognising the gains Hindraf brings to the table.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

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