It has been about a week since the Hindraf rally and the dust has just begun to settle. This is a good time to ponder about the significance and impact of this gathering on the future of Indian Malaysians and also on Malaysia's future as a whole. Nobody can deny that, like Bersih, the Hindraf rally may be a significant milestone that could turn this country's direction.
Who are these people who turned out in thousands on that Sunday? Firstly, they are not criminals or gangsters as the police and government portray them. I also do not believe that all of them fall into the "poor" category. I am sure a lot of them are in the middle-income group.
I believe the 30,000 people (as Malaysiakini reported) that were present during the rally are a sample of the Indian Malaysian majority who are totally dissatisfied and disillusioned with the MIC and the Barisan National government. It would not be far-fetched to say that the majority of MIC grassroots themselves are supporting the Hindraf cause either openly or in secret.
So, why did they do this? They have been blinded all these years and now, the blindfolds have been removed. Indians usually blame the current situation on their fate (vithi or thale yeluthu in Tamil). It is in their nature not to blame others but themselves. That is why they continue to give undivided support to the MIC and BN all these years. The Chinese votes are always divided between MCA and DAP. The Malay votes get divided between Umno and PAS. The Indians votes hardly get divided. For the BN, Indian votes have always been considered as "in the bag" or a sure thing.
Unfortunately, this undivided loyalty did not bring them much good. Hindraf has succeeded in making them see that they, as Malaysians, deserve to be given opportunities to better themselves, come out of poverty and the pathetic living conditions especially in the estates.
The Indians themselves see that as each day goes by, they are falling behind the other races. They realise that their present situation will only get worse especially when the playing field is not level. The Malaysian Indians realise that they are also stakeholders of the country and they too have rights. Even so, all these reasons would not be enough for the thousands to put aside their fears and make their voices heard on Nov 25.
What triggered this overwhelming reaction? The last straw was the recent demolitions of Hindu temples. The government acted insensitively towards the Indians' sacred objects, even if the temples were built illegally. The Indians understood that they were insignificant and their feelings were not important. They were made to feel like pariahs in their own land (yes, this is their land). They are asking "Why didn't the MIC come to their rescue?"
If the mighty Samy Vellu and the MIC are not even respected by the government, who is going to protect them from being stomped and trampled upon? Hindraf is not the opposition's stooge, as the government claims. They are ordinary Indians with no political agenda who have stepped up to voice their opposition when the MIC decided to be silent. Their emergence coincides with the recent surge of temple demolitions, not the coming elections as the government would want you to believe.
The two recent massive rallies have put the government in a tight spot. They would prefer to call the general elections before Anwar Ibrahim becomes eligible to run in April 2008. At the same time, the rallies show the deep dissatisfaction of the people, irrespective of race, with the current establishment. In addition to unfair electoral practices and the demolition of places of worship, the government is also in bad light for the recent price surge of goods, petrol and toll.
In these hard times, people cringe to hear that the Pahang state government has spent RM48,000 of taxpayers money for a single-digit car licence plate. To make things worse for BN, the "Lingamgate" scandal exposed a possible corrupted judiciary. All these events have resulted in Abdullah Ahmad Badawi having a hard time pinning an election date.
MIC has always wanted to be the one and only path that brings assistance and improvements for the Indian community. S Samy Vellu wants to be the only link between the Indian people and the prime minister. There should be no other avenues which is why he protests vehemently whenever other Indian parties such as IPF and MUIP apply to join Barisan National.
He is probably insecure that members of his party will leave him high and dry and join other Indian parties if they are in the Barisan coalition. The possibility of MIC becoming a smaller Indian party within the Barisan coalition is a nightmare that he would not like to face. If that happens, he would lose his ministerial post and his god-like status in the Indian community.
The Indian people's support for Hindraf is a slap in the face for him and MIC. Current MIC incumbents in both parliament and state seats are already feeling the ground giving way below them. In a Malaysiakini video, I heard one of the Hindraf protesters say, "We'll show it to them when we go to the polls!" If the elections were to be held today, many MIC members of parliament and state assemblymen will be dethroned, perhaps with the exception of Cameron Highlands MP Devamany.
He was against the Hindraf rally in the Al Jazeera interview and now, seeing the huge response and possible implications to his political future in Cameron Highlands, MP Devamany is flip-flopping on the issue. Even Samy Vellu, who was once so against the Hindraf gathering, is now singing the same tune that the government may have not "done enough" for the Indian community. But all they could come up with was a hotline and a committee. The things that these people would say and do to cling on to the slippery poles of power, what a shame.
Hindraf should be proud of what they have achieved so far. They have managed to highlight how low the Indians have been feeling through the lawsuit and the rally. Their claims are not racist in nature. They are not saying "Don't give to the Malays and the Chinese." What they are saying is, "Give to us also. Do not forget us. Treat us like citizens, treat us fairly. Do not marginalise us anymore." They are saying enough is enough. They may be directly faulting the constitution for their current predicament, but they are indirectly blaming the Malaysian government.
What Hindraf wants is a government that will treat all Malaysians fairly, irrespective of race and religion. This is also what PKR and Anwar Ibrahim is championing. Their goals are one and the same. The present government cannot change. Change is almost impossible when you have been in power for far too long.
Hindraf's ultimate goal should be for Malaysia to turn a new page towards a new government that will end corruption and absurd spending, implement sound fiscal policies, keep the judiciary independent, raise the standard of living for everyone and most importantly, instill a sense of belonging in all Malaysians.
Hindraf and Indian Malaysians in general having lost faith in MIC and BN. They need to work hand in hand with PKR and the opposition to achieve this. They should reach out and welcome these brave Malaysians unto their fold. There is no shame in doing this as both parties have a common purpose. The tides are changing. I see the light at the end of a dimly-lit tunnel.