COMMENT | The current chairperson of Pakatan Harapan and its prime minister-designate Dr Mahathir Mohammed cannot and should not shy away from taking responsibility for failing the Malaysian Indian community during his tenure as the prime minister of Malaysia for nearly 22 years.
It is not that he did not do anything for the Indians, but that the financial and other resources accorded to the development of the Indian community were simply not enough.
Whatever was accorded to the community was simply hijacked by individuals and groups that had close links with the MIC. The Telekom shares accorded to Maika Holdings being an example of this illegal diversion.
The current MIC leadership cannot turn around and say that Mahathir failed the community without also putting blame on their former leader S Samy Vellu for not bravely and honestly addressing the woes of the community.
In fact, the entire BN government during this period must be held responsible for the neglect of the Indians.
At the end of the day, it was not Mahathir alone, but former MIC leaders, including its former president and the current special envoy to South Asia who must shoulder the blame.
In other words, there was failure of the collective leadership! Samy Vellu who once praised Mahathir as a great leader and he cannot go back on his words now just to please current Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
The BN leadership under Mahathir and Samy Vellu failed to provide necessary means for the uplifting and progress of the Malaysian Indian community. Since it was collective neglect, it serves no purpose to put the blame on one or two individuals.
All of them neglected the Indians, a community that has contributed so much in tears, sweat and blood for the development of the country.
Even if Mahathir, as the former prime minister, diverted funds for the development of the Indian community, a major portion of these were never channelled to needy Indians. The MIC must take the blame for this.
Mahathir, as the leader of the present Harapan coalition, has over the last one year or so spoke about the necessity to obtain Indian support for the coalition. This is the reason why Hindraf has been included as a strategic partner of Harapan, hoping that such an inclusion will be able to bring in the much needed Indian support.
Since Indians have a sizeable presence in about 60 state and parliamentary constituencies in the country, there is a realisation that their support could make difference when it comes to tight contests during the coming general election.
Mahathir, as leader of the present Harapan coalition that aspires to provide a new political vision for the country, should not shy away from taking responsibility for failing the Indians or other Malaysians during his term in office.
If he takes responsibility, it will mean courage and fortitude on his part to take ownership of his own failings to ensure that such things would not be repeated if he becomes the prime minister after the 14th general election.
MIC's feudal nature
It is not that Mahathir consciously abandoned the Indian community during his tenure in office, but the prioritisation of the Malay/bumiputera agenda forbade any major help to only for Indians but also other non-Muslim communities.
It is not that the entire bumiputera community benefitted from Mahathir's policies, however, but given the class bias of pro-bumiputera policies, it was only natural that the lower segments of Malay society were not the recipients of economic and social benefits.
While the economic impact on the various communities might have produced differential results, the political focus on Malay/Muslim rights at the expense of the rights of non-Malays could have produced the polarised situation in ethnic and religious terms.
It was not that Mahathir totally abandoned the Indian community but it was just that their interests were not foremost in the minds of the government of the day.
Furthermore the feudal nature of the MIC, the suppression of the democratic rights of Indians in the MIC, and the need on the part of the leaders like Samy Vellu to maintain a semblance of Indian unity through autocratic means to serve the narrow interests of the Umno leaders, robbed the Indian community of the crucial bargaining power to improve their position in the game of numbers and ethnicity.
Whether it was a deliberate omission on the part of Mahathir to deny Indians their rightful place in the country can be debated. However, deliberate or not, Mahathir and Samy Vellu and other political leaders during this period cannot escape responsibility by blaming one or two individuals for Indians taking a backseat in the economic, social and cultural development of the country.
Under Harapan, Mahathir might have been sufficiently reformed to take a broader look at the society and decide what is good for this society.
This is the reason why he sought to bring about more Indian inclusion within the folds of Harapan. If he becomes the prime minister in the future, he might be well-poised to bring about a more inclusive society that is badly needed in Malaysia.
A quick glance at Harapan's manifesto provides some indication that if it comes to power, it might be conducive to furthering the aspirations of the Indian community, a community badly neglected by the BN government for more than 60 years.
Mahathir could have been party to the problem earlier, but surely if he wants to improve the administration of the country beyond removing Najib, I think he should become part of the solution to the woes of the Malaysian Indian community.
P RAMASAMY is Penang deputy chief minister and Perai state assemblyperson.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.