The opposition Perikatan Nasional coalition is rumoured to have appointed its secretary general Hamzah Zainudin to head its Indian community special committee, presumably to deal with the welfare of one of the poorest communities in the land.
If this appointment is indeed true, then it also indicates that the ethnic Malay-dominated PN recognises the importance of the community in the context of the 12 August state elections.
The ethnic Indians are expected to make a difference in certain mixed constituencies in terms of electoral outcomes, as they possibly would send a loud message to the competing parties that the neglect of their wellbeing over the years can no longer be tolerated.
It is noteworthy that Hamzah’s appointment came on the heels of PN signing the so-called “Malay proclamation” that was advocated by their former political enemy Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The proclamation is drenched in pro-Malay rhetoric.
The purported appointment would seem to be PN’s attempt to reassure the ethnic minorities, particularly the Indians, that their interests and concerns will be looked after by the coalition, especially if it comes into power.
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To be sure, the concern for the plight of the Indians should not be seasonal. In other words, the Indians should not matter only in the run-up to elections nor be regarded as merely a convenient vote bank. Otherwise, there would be reason for the cynics to grin.
Contesting parties, including partners of the “unity government”, should be mindful that the Indian votes, which are important to their political fortunes, should not be taken for granted.
The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), for one, considers it important to provide help to the Indian community, especially the needy, regardless of elections. This is very much in line with its general philosophy to care for the welfare of the poor and the marginalised, irrespective of colour or creed.
It is, therefore, not surprising that PSM politicians are often seen defending the rights of the vulnerable, who include the Indian poor in estate plantations, villages and urban areas.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that PSM and its candidate for the Meru state seat, Sivaranjani Manickam, deserve to be derogatorily labelled as an “Indian estate party”, as expressed recently by Shah Alam PKR deputy chief Najwan Halimi.
It is downright outrageous and racist, especially coming from a politician whose party had recently stated its stand against the exploitation of the “three Rs” – race, religion and royalty.
But more importantly, PKR leads a federal government that has popularised the concept of Madani (a civil Malaysia), which promotes compassion and inclusivity.
Najwan apologised for his racial slur soon after his posting in a WhatsApp group chat went viral. But the damage had already been done and it constitutes a blot on PKR’s history.
If there is a lesson to be learnt here, politicians ought to have the moral fibre to fight for the rights of the poor and the disenfranchised. Trivialising such a noble role is ghastly.
The Indian poor, like the downtrodden of other ethnic communities, would expect that their living standards would improve over time and, where necessary, financial assistance and other facilities to be provided by the government.
Speaking of government aid, it would be effectively and fairly disbursed if it is done in a way that ignores the racial or religious divide. This is because poverty strikes all communities.
That is why putting poverty into racial compartments or having separate units to address the plight of the poor of the respective communities would seem daft as well, as it could lead to abuse.
It is time we cease dressing poverty up in racial terms so that politicians can no longer be encouraged to thrive on divisive policies and politics. – The Malaysian Insight