In 2007, the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) shook the nation in a spectacle unparalleled in the history of Malaysian political protest.
Despite threats from the police and pro-Barisan Nasional groups, more than 30,000 primarily underclass Indian Malaysians took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur, unafraid and resolute in their demands that the government looks into the sufferings and the deprivations of the community.
They marched in anger, hoping that they would be noticed and heard by the BN government for their near-60 years of neglect. But it was all in vain.
The head of Umno and the BN did what he was good at, which was to divide and fracture the movement. In this, he was more than successful. Hindraf leader P Uthayakumar was sent to jail. His brother P Waythamoorthy was made a deputy minister, while other Hindraf leaders were willing to abandon their struggle and meekly became apologists for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
I have not met Uthayakumar (photo) and I don’t know how popular he is or whether he is a good leader of the Indian community in Malaysia. However, I can feel his sincerity and commitment to fight for the poor and downtrodden. He has paid a heavy price for his struggle and I am sure he is still as committed as before.
I believe that a leader like Uthayakumar will never disappear into the sunset, no matter how hard his political opponents try to disable him. He is a man of steel and a believer in his struggles. He will succeed, one day.
I know his brother Waythamoorthy better. He is a lawyer and we have met a couple of times socially. He, too, is a committed leader of Hindraf and I hope his relationship with his brother has improved over the years.
Waytha was mistaken
Waytha was mistaken when he believed Najib would take care of the Indian community with his many promises. Najib would do enough for MIC, maybe, but he would not care for the poor, whether they were Indian or whatever other race.
Najib simply does not feel the pain of the deprived. He is an aristocrat who only knows the meaning of wealth, affluence glamour and comfort. He is not a leader for ordinary Malaysians.
Waytha (photo) redeemed himself by resigning the post of deputy minister. For that, I think he has done what was expected of a leader of a movement that had yet to achieve its objectives. It was a sacrifice on his part, of course, and we should congratulate him for doing the right thing - it’s nice to have an office in Putrajaya and appear in the national media every so often.
Waytha and Uthayakumar must now patch up whatever differences they might have and restart the movement that once troubled the BN. Hindraf can shake the establishment again and, this time, with success.
Hindraf must form a political party as quickly as possible. Its leaders will not be able to represent the Indian poor unless they get elected; and they will not get a seat in the next election just by making announcements of unconditional support for the opposition.
Opposition politicians think they are strong enough on their own and will talk about letting you contest a parliamentary seat - only if they think you are strong and can make them vulnerable.
For a team that has not won anything at federal level, the opposition is quite hard to please. They even discarded Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), which was once their friend. They confirmed what I have always suspected: that in politics, you can only negotiate from a position of strength. Being nice and smart and honest will not get you very far.
This is not to say we must not try to form a strong coalition. Ideally, the Indian leaders in PKR and DAP should extend a hand of friendship to Hindraf; and plan a workable arrangement to optimise the chances of the opposition to unseat the BN government.Do not feel perturbed if some people describe Hindraf as an “extremist organisation”... You cannot be more extreme than Umno and the red-shirts. Hindraf is committed in its belief that the Indian Malaysian community needs urgent help, and it is not extreme to believe in something that’s good for the country.
With only PSM, the working class is not represented very well in this country and needs more champions. Even some of the opposition leaders show no sympathy for the poor because they are elitists at heart. To them, poor people are dispensable.
We need to dismantle the privileges of the rich and the corrupt. There is no one better than Hindraf to start the ball rolling.
ZAID IBRAHIM is a former minister, in charge of law. This piece was originally published in his blog.-Mkini