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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hindraf calls same tune, but no 2007 encore

Hindraf’s 2007 protest was widely believed to have been the catalyst for BN’s electoral defeats the following year. — Reuters pic
ANALYSIS, Feb 26 — The cause remains the same — a call for Indian rights — but Hindraf’s protest tomorrow is unlikely to be a repeat of its famed November 2007 protest, which ground the capital city to a halt and rocked the nation in the process.

Planned by the now-banned organisation to protest Umno’s alleged racism and the use of the “Interlok” novel in schools, tomorrow’s gathering has failed to strike a chord with the Tamil working class, which formed the bulk of the movements supporters then.

This has been compounded by the absence of Indian leaders from the Pakatan Rakyat’s DAP and PKR this time, largely because of the rift between them and Hindraf’s founder and leader, P. Uthayakumar.

Although Hindraf and Uthayakumar still enjoy hardcore support, the bulk of the Tamil masses have fractured, with some joining the Malaysia Makkal Sakthi Party led by former Hindraf leader Datuk RS Thanentheran, now enthusiastically pro-Najib.

Besides Thanentheran, the original “Makkal Sakthi” movement has also splintered into at least four different groups — each under a different leader and financial backer.

None of the four can see eye to eye on anything, let alone come together for a protest at the heart of the city’s centre tomorrow.

That leaves only the emaciated core of Hindraf to carry on with the protest, which is expected to face heavy police action come tomorrow.

The row over “Interlok” has not engendered the same fervour as in 2007.
Mindful of the popular uprisings in the Middle East, which have so far claimed two presidents and is on the cusp of ousting another long-time leader, the authorities are anxious not to let tomorrow’s event become the catalyst for more such protests in days ahead.

Uthayakumar has said the protest will go on with or without a police permit (a permit has been refused) despite the improbability of an encore to the protests which helped to change the political landscape of the country.

That and the huge Bersih rally the same year calling for a fair and free elections, had served as a clarion call to voters angered by the perceived corruption of Barisan Nasional (BN), as well as its growing impunity and arrogance of some its leaders.

Since the momentous 2008 general election which followed the two protests, BN has come under new management.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who picked up the baton which Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had dropped, has also launched his 1 Malaysia concept along with numerous political, social and economic transformation programmes that have helped solidify support for BN.

In this current climate, Sunday’s protest is unlikely to find the same traction the Hindraf and Bersih protests of 2007 had.

Hindraf has attempted to rekindle the fire of its followers, distributing pamphlets of icons such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela ahead of the protest — but to limited effect.

The heavy use of force last week against a Hindraf convoy has also served to dampen Tamil grassroots’ mobilisation for tomorrow.

But of all the elements of 2007 missing from tomorrow, it is the Commonwealth head, Queen Elizabeth’s repeat absence that will most serve to discourage participation.

In 2007, the British monarch had become a beacon for Hindraf’s protest. Then, it had been portrayed that the struggle was to bring the plight of the Indian community to her eyes.

Many of the participants in 2007 had believed that once the news made it to Buckingham Palace, they would then be on their way towards the multi-million ringgit compensation that Hindraf said was their due and which it would be suing for.

No such payoff — or its promise— will be there tomorrow.

Another key difference is that the political climate for a 2007-esque protest is missing.

Then, there had been unbridled anger — temples were being demolished, Umno leaders were seen as arrogant, and Indian angst ran deep.

Today, government is bending over backwards to resolve many woes peculiar to the Indian community.

It has kicked off an on-going Mydaftar campaign to register, process and eventually provide fast-track birth certificates and identity cards to stateless Malaysian Indians.

Najib has also taken other steps to win Indian hearts and minds, and while these measures will take years to take root and produce results, changes are happening in the mindset of Indian voters towards Najib — even if not BN.

For these reasons, along with the divisions in Hindraf ranks and movement’s failure to gather all the stakeholders, tomorrow’s protest will not be more than a shadow of the events that helped change the course of the nation. - Malaysian Insider

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