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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Brickfields, as Manmohan spouted Tagore, Najib talked about eating curry


Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

It is obvious that visiting Indian premier Manmohan Singh won himself quite a few fans in Malaysia with his humility, breadth and depth of intellect, which was all the more amplified by the weak speech made by his host Prime Minister Najib Razak.

“Manmohan's speech was impressive, humble yet powerful. It showed the level of his statesmanship and carried a very meaningful message to Malaysian persons of Indian origin,” Batu MP Tian Chua, who made a special trip to Brickfields to watch the Indian leader, toldMalaysia Chronicle.

“Najib only talked about himself, his walkabouts on the second day when he became PM and how he visited and ate curry in Brickfields - sounds like election campaign speech.”

Keen on India's vast markets, but what about the Indians here

But Tian might have hit the nail on the head. Indeed, Najib has been blowing hot on snap general elections and last week reminded his Umno party more than once to prepare for polls. His administration has until 2013 to call for national elections but he is widely expected to do so next year.

Meanwhile, as the Malaysian government rolled out the red carpet for India and its massive markets, the local Indian community could not help feeling a little disappointed that Manmohan did not mention their plight.

"I am confident that the Malaysian system has built-in flexibility to tackle any problem of the kind you mentioned," news portal IBNlive reported Manmohan as saying at a joint press conference with Najib.

Najib himself was quick to assert that his government was confident India would respect what he termed was a “purely domestic matter” and “what we do” to resolve it.

“This is purely a domestic matter for us to handle and we are handling it very positively. We don’'t have to discuss such matters between the two countries," said the Malaysian leader.

Economic neglect, custodial deaths

Malaysian Indians, mostly from southern state of Tamil Nadu, form one of the largest overseas communities of Indians in the world. Ethnic Indians, who immigrated and worked mostly in rubber plantations in the early part of the last century, now form 8 percent of a fast-growing 28 million population.

But while there are many success stories, the vast majority is still trapped in poverty due to decades of economic, social and educational neglect by Najib’s Umno-BN coalition. Caught in the classic vicious cycle, conditions have deteriorated leading to rampant gangsterism and drug abuse in the traditionally conservative society.

Apart from economic deprivation, local activists say the factor that Malaysian Indians needed to highlight to the world was the way the police force has continually beaten and tortured to death Indian suspects caught and taken into remand to 'help' investigations.

“Recent cases include the murder of 22-year old Kugan Ananthan, the open-verdict for R Gunasegaran even though 4 people saw the police beating him, and most recently on Monday, one the eyewitness in the Gunasegaran inquest, K Selvachandan, was also beaten up and arrested – and this was just about 24 hours before Mr Singh’s arrival in KL,” PKR vice president Sivarasa Rasiah told Malaysia Chronicle.

Galvanized by shocking injustice

In late 2007, more than 20,000 Malaysian Indians took part in a massive demonstration in Kuala Lumpur. Enraged at the government’s refusal to hear their pleas, they travelled from all corners of the country to protest.

They were greeted by tear gas and chemical-laced water. But their courage in refusing to break up despite the harsh beatings dealt out by the Malaysian police force galvanized the rest of their countrymen, who were disgusted at the shocking injustice taking place before their eyes.

Months later, in March 2008, Malaysians of all races voted with their hearts, throwing their support behind Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Rakyat coalition and withdrawing the two-thirds parliamentary majority they have been giving to the Umno-BN coalition since 1957.

“No need for Malaysian Indians to lose heart because Najib didn’t win, Umno-BN didn't win. You see, Manmohan is bound by diplomatic etiquette not to criticize his hosts. I am not sure when we will have general elections, but for us, it is an everyday struggle and Pakatan will continue to fight for all the races including the Indians of course,” said Tian.

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