Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Hindraf, what next?

The Hindraf rally has made its point. It has shown what it can do to mobilize huge numbers to its cause. But perhaps it is time for Hindraf to evaluate the impact of its actions and set its future course.

Briefly, by words and actions, it has

  • dramatically brought the problems of the Indian community to the attention of Malaysians and the world
  • condemned MIC for not doing more for the community
  • revealed how insensitive and arrogant the authorities have been in the way they demolished temples built illegally
  • shown that when a people have been pushed to the precipice, there is only one way to go: jump and to hell with the consequences
  • demonstrated that communitarian politics espoused and upheld by the government is a double-edged sword
  • given voice to the groundswell of discontent over the NEP, or the national economic policy that promises to be colour-blind in the eradication of poverty but is in effect an affirmative discrimination policy that favours the major ethnic population
  • warned that Malaysia may become another Sri Lanka.
Would Hindraf continue further on a collision course that it has already set? It has embarrassed the government immeasurably by bringing its fight to the world’s stage and canvassing for global support. The government is not going to forget the perceived harm done to the country. It has worked hard to project Malaysia as a model multi-racial country, “Malaysia truly Asia”, and what Hindraf has done is to dispel this myth.

Already there are calls to revoke the citizenships of those involved and ominous warnings that the majority ethnic population could do what Hindraf has done, and even better given its numerical superiority.

The government on the other hand has

  • arrested and charged some of the demonstrators for attempted murder of police personnel
  • arrested and charged some for illegal assembly and for causing public disorder
  • alleged that Hindraf is manipulated by the opposition
  • alleged that Hindraf has links to terrorists
  • refused to meet with Hindraf
  • accused Hindraf of creating a climate of racial intolerance and instability
  • threatened to impose the ISA, or the Internal Security Act where an accused could be detained indefinitely for disrupting the peace and security of the country
  • directed the police to come down harder on illegal assemblies as no one is above of law.

Above all, it has strengthened UMNO’s hand as the protector of the Malays, providing it with yet another chip to raise its stake in the political game.

Both are caught in the same bind. Hindraf has no political clout to negotiate with the government; neither does the government want to deal with an organization that has accused it of practising ‘ethnic cleansing’. Further, it cannot be seen to be talking or even negotiating with a maverick organization as that would be perceived as giving in to the demands of Hindraf. On the other hand, Hindraf would not want to associate itself with MIC, the Indian partner in the government. Checkmate.

Hindraf would have to consider carefully what its next course of action should be, keeping in mind the prevailing racial sentiments that resulted from its actions. If it is hell-bent on pursuing a confrontational course that leads to chaos and anarchy, Malaysians, and even the Indian community, would never allow it. Hindraf has to find a way to reach out to the government now that it has conveyed to the government the misery of the Indian poor and dispossessed while the government cannot wish away its presence by continuing to ignore it or remove it by demanding its pound of flesh.

The impasse has to be broken without either side losing face.

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