KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 — For Indian Malaysians, Datuk Seri Najib Razak appears to be their ticket to a better life compared to the MIC whom they described as still living with a colonial mentality but no longer had the power to represent their community’s interests today despite being a senior partner in the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
In a straw poll yesterday, ethnic Indians told The Malaysian Insider they still supported the ruling coalition mainly because of the prime minister’s personal charm, adding that they believed the Malay leader, who is also BN chairman, to be the best person to protect their community’s interests with Election 2013 looming.
“One reason why the Indians support BN is because of Najib,” bookstore worker S. Kulasegaran told The Malaysian Insider when met during the Thaipusam festival at the Batu Caves temple complex, home to the Hindu deity Lord Muruga.
“He has done programmes like BR1M and other projects to help the Indian community, but it is as if MIC is not doing anything. This saddens me,” said the 24-year-old, referring to the popular acronym of the Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia cash aid dispensed by the federal government.
Putrajaya dished out RM500 cash aid under BR1M last year that cost taxpayers RM2.6 billion, a move that increased Najib’s approval ratings to 69 per cent according to a recent survey.
A second round of BR1M this year is expected to benefit 4.3 million households and 2.7 million single unmarried individuals, compared to 4.2 million people for the first BR1M.
Political observers have said that Najib and BN leaders have lost confidence in MIC’s ability to score the Indian vote, resulting in efforts by the prime minister to engage directly with the community, who make up the country’s third biggest racial group. Some 800,000 are registered voters.
MIC said last December that it was banking on the Najib factor to recapture Indian support, which had swung to the opposition in Election 2008.
Putrajaya has also lifted the four-year ban on Indian rights group Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) on the eve of Thaipusam, just as the country prepares for the 13th general election that must be called by April.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin also announced last Saturday that the government would provide a special budget for Tamil schools next year, on top of the RM100 million allocation in Budget 2012 and 2013 each.
Under Budget 2013, Najib also allocated RM50 million for Indian entrepreneurs and another RM50 million to train impoverished Indian students in industrial skills.
The federal opposition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), is trying to woo Indian voters by raising the plight of stateless Indians.
Najib, however, said last December that there were only 9,000 stateless Indians, as compared to the 300,000 claimed by PR.
The prime minister added that 7,000 of them have already been issued identity cards and birth certificates, with the remainder still being processed.
Bank officer K. Punitha told The Malaysian Insider yesterday that Najib has won the hearts of Indians.
“I hope that programmes like the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) project will help many people, including me, who come from Cheras. As the rakyat [people], I want to thank him. When he says transformation, he means it,” she said.
Punitha also said that MIC was not dominant compared to Umno in BN, which was why the Indian party could not better help the Indian community.
Tuition teacher L. Suresh called MIC a “mandur” or overseer party, referring to the Malay word for the supervisor in charge of labourers, a term with deep psychological significance for the Indian community here, as many Indians, especially the Tamil, were shipped by the British to work in the plantations in colonial Malaya, as the country was known before Independence in 1957.
“My friends make fun of them. They call MIC, ‘mandur-in-charge. Many are overseers. But we, the rakyat, are no longer their coolies,” said Suresh.
Lorry driver R. Muralitharan said that PR needed to prove that their battle was for the people, and not merely to seize power.
“If you just fight for Putrajaya, that’s being selfish,” Muralitharan, 44, told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.
Punitha stressed that she disliked PR’s street protests and also expressed hopes that Hindraf would be able to bring up the Indian community’s concerns to the government.
“I hope that with the government lifting the ban on Hindraf, they will be able to have good talks with the government. And the government will listen. There is no point having demonstrations here and there. We are a civilised community, and this is a peaceful country. We can talk,” she said.
The PKR-DAP-PAS pact has backed several mega rallies organised by various grassroots movements and held nationwide over the last four years, with the most recent being the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat (People’s Uprising Rally) just two weeks back.
Suresh, however, doubted the government’s efforts in documenting stateless Indians and said he hoped that PR would win the next election to stop corruption and racial hatred.
“We have so many Indians who don’t have identity cards. It’s already 2013. Why are there still people without identity cards?” he said.
All Malaysians are required to have an identity card, which is marked blue to denote their citizenship.
Car dealer K. Ravichandran also expressed hopes for a PR victory, but questioned Najib’s ability to rein in right-wing Malay group Perkasa.
“Najib can’t lead if it goes on like this. He must take serious action against Perkasa who keeps on saying, ‘This is Malay land. Indians go back, Chinese go back’,” said Ravichandran.
“My ancestors were born here. For hundreds of years, my family has been here. If he (Najib) wants to win the Indian vote, he must be stern. If Hindraf can be made illegal, Perkasa should be too,” he added.
Kulasegaran, likewise, said that it was Perkasa, and not PR, who was Najib’s greatest enemy.
Indians make up about 7.3 per cent of Malaysia’s 28.3 million total population.
A large majority of them also form the bulk of the country’s 6.3 per cent Hindu population.