It was refreshing and most encouraging to read BN Kota Baru parliamentarian Zaid Ibrahim’s constructive response to the Hindraf rally. In a synthesis of common sense, in-depth understanding and a futuristic projection of what this country ought to be, he has pointed to the fault lines in the structure of society and the failure of our political leaders to understand them, let alone to make meaningful decisions.
He said, "We have to remember that we are a multi-cultural and multi-racial country and if we, all the time, see it as a Malay, Chinese or Indian issue, we are not going to see the real problem.” He also said that, “We have a wonderful model (and all we need to do) is to think, to adjust and change from within.” His analysis is absolutely brilliant. In strongly endorsing the need for “fresh thinking”, I, with greatest respect and in all humility, have to say that the vast body of information needed for new thinking is already available in the many books, articles and postings on the Internet.
On this basis, any fresh thinking must in the first instance accept the reality that the Hindraf rally was nothing short of an uprising against the system. Without a doubt, the rally was an uprising that reflected the denial and suppression of the voices of the poor, the exploited and the underclass of all ethnic/racial groups throughout the country over the decades. Therefore, what is needed now is a holistic perspective that takes into account the main dimensions of social inequality and suggestions to address and hopefully overcome the issues.
It is important to emphasise that the uprising is against the system, not the government. Insufficient attention has been given to the fact that at independence, the alliance government inherited an unequal political, economic and social system. It is not a question of blaming colonialism. In my published books, I have repeatedly pointed out that the colonial system was sustained by a systematic, multi-pronged attack over a prolonged period towards the social structure of the Malays, Chinese and Indians, such that it comprehensively damaged their culture and stifled possibilities for indigenous development.
But having said that, it must be acknowledged from the start that while this system has generated social inequality and widening the rich-poor gap, adversely affecting all groups throughout Malaysia, the Indian situation constitutes a dire case of deprivation. They were the only community indentured as wage earners (proletariat), completely at the mercy of the estate management. I have described their situation as one of “internal colonialism.”
This situation has not changed radically and where it has, those leaving the estates find themselves unable to sustain life in urban areas because of low levels of education and the lack of marketable skills. As a result, serious institutional constraints deny these people upward social mobility. They work, live and literally die under situations of total mobility closure.
When this situation is projected to the wider society, it is not difficult to see that a sense of hopelessness in being able to articulate grievances through involvement in decision-making permeates the entire social system. The vast majority of the working population, especially outside the public sector and in agriculture, simply do not have a stake in the economy. Hardly any measures are taken to help workers improve their potential capabilities through knowledge-based skills training. As a consequence, they are perpetually doomed to play on an unequal field. The dynamic of the revolution of rising expectations gradually dips into one of rising frustrations.
Even from this overview, it seems clear that the government must take radical and immediate steps to address and hopefully overcome some of the basic contributing and precipitating causal factors before it is too late. It would be absolutely futile to adopt bureaucratic ad hoc measures and appoint yet another, as seen to be contemplated by policy makers. As Zaid has pointed out, the time has come for “fresh thinking.”
To conceptualise and implement this “fresh thinking” boldly, an appropriate person must be entrusted to review and reassess the situation in its totality. A person of the right caliber must be identified to provide the dynamic leadership needed to undertake the much needed reforms and restructuring. He must not only be highly qualified, but more importantly, widely experienced to gain the confidence the team of professionals he leads.
The person should also have a clear vision, a deep sense of commitment and passion to undertake and continue tasks that might often be unpopular to the political masters. He must engage them and others in free and fair debate. This necessitates an open mind, a willingness to listen, encourage criticisms and encourage involvement in decision- making for effective policy implementation.
For such a position to be effectively administered, it is imperative that the person should be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and be answerable only to His Majesty. Therefore, I in all humility kindly suggest to the Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that he make representation to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to appoint Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah as the ombudsman to address and hopefully overcome the issues associated with this uprising and beyond.