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Let’s not export saffron mischief to Malaysia!

By Sampathkumar Iyangar

Malaysia has been of the very few countries with which India can be said to be enjoying consistently friendly relationship. Bilateral trade volumes, currently at USD 4.5 billion, are growing. The relation has been marked by full respect to for each other and been mutually beneficial. There has been no talk of one of them taking advantage of the other.

Yet, India was at the receiving end of a humiliating insult from Malaysia in the beginning of Dec 2007. An angry outburst from Malaysia’s de facto justice minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, directed at a State Chief Minister of India – M Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu – soured the relation significantly.

Tragic as it may be, the insult had been invited upon itself by India, due to the naivety of its politicians. The Indian media called Aziz’s remark as too undiplomatic and harsh; but a dispassionate observer will not fault the Malaysian minister. Even Karunanidhi realised his blunder within a couple of days and retracted from his earlier irrational position.

Nazri Aziz was reacting to reports that Karunanidhi had written to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on alleged use of excessive force by Kuala Lampur authorities on a protest march by Tamil-speaking Malaysians on November 25. He blurted out, “This is Malaysia, not Tamil Nadu. . . Lay off!” The CM had drawn the PM’s attention to “sufferings and bad treatment” of Tamils in that country and asked New Delhi to “take immediate and appropriate action to end the sufferings.” The Malaysian government considered it as unwarranted meddling in its internal affairs.

Even a perfunctory look at the Kuala Lumpur incident will show that it was orchestrated by a band of Malaysian lawyers of nuisance value, banded under the guise of HINDRAF (Hindu Rights Action Force).

The mercenary lawyers have filed a class action suit of USD 4 trillion (Rs 18 lakh crore!) against the UK government in London and wanted to hand over a funny petition to the British High Commissioner in that connection. The petition asks Queen Elizabeth II to appoint a Queen’s Counsel to represent the Indian community in its suit against her Government! The jokers have claimed a compensation of USD 2.2 million from UK to each of the 1.8 million persons of Indian origin in Malaysia.

HINDRAF says that their ancestors were brought as indentured labourers to the then Malaya and were exploited by the white settlers to create rubber plantations. The outfit holds the present UK government liable for compensation for the marginalisation suffered by these people in Malaysia. The outfit had been refused permission to collect a big crowd to mark the occasion of handing over the comical petition. Yet, it mobilised a crowd of few thousand (estimated at 5000 by BBC and 10,000 by AP) Tamil-speaking Malaysians. The ignorant, brain-washed and probably stupid crowd, daydreaming of a million dollar fortune, carried placards containing Queen Elizabeth II and MK Gandhi during the protest! Some of the demonstrators carried placards demanding ‘equal rights’ and against demolition of temples erected in government and private land.

Malaysia is country that believes in discipline and wants its people to sort out their problems in a systematic way by following due procedures. There, road blockades are taken as serious cases of hooliganism, unlike in places like India. People are not allowed to take to the street, inconvenience others and damage public property for pressing their demands is. It is only through such discipline that Malaysia has hurtled past India in every field, although it got independence ten years after India.

A strong police force of 5000 officers carried out a routine crowd control exercise, using tear gas and water cannons to disperse the unlawful mob. While the ‘success’ of rallies is measured in terms of number of deaths, rounds of bullets fired, lathis broken and hospitalisations in countries like India, the Malaysian protesters were not cane charged or lathi-charged or fired upon.

Incognizant of these basic facts, Tamil Nadu MPs of all hues came to the rescue of the Malaysian citizens through the only thing they are good at—disrupting Parliament’s business to discuss the issue! The concern of these worthies was put in perspective by Dr Subramaniam Swamy: “It seems as if the parties have not really understood the problem at all. It’s not a Tamil issue. The Tamil Muslims are not participating in the agitation.”

Malaysia was furious at the lawyers for petitioning British Prime Minister Gordon Brown 50 years after the country had gained independence. This petition stated that a genocide would occur there, with the Indian community being forced into violence like in Sri Lanka if their “cause” was ignored.

Nazri Aziz stressed that the demonstrators had violated the law as no permit was issued. He had labeled the demonstrators as “penyangak” (thugs) and added, “It’s not the Indian community that’s involved. Only some samseng (gangsters).” He fumed, “The HINDRAF memorandum is also a matter of concern because its contents are seditious. I’m sure these matters will also create animosity between the Indians, the Malays and the Government.” Asked if the authorities, accused of excessive action, will be reprimanded, he said, “Look at France, whose police used tear gas and even rubber bullets when a demonstration occurred there.”

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister realised his blunder instantly and clarified that he is not supposed to criticise the Malaysian government. “I don’t want to reply to Aziz’s remarks. I don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat. It is my duty to defend Tamils.”
Saffron bosses of India have however been quick to jump into the fray to fish in troubled waters. After all, Malaysia accounts for the second highest numbers of ‘people of Indian origin’ after US, a cash cow for saffron outfits. The BJP insisted that the Central Government must report to UN the “the ill-treatment being given to Hindus” in Malaysia. Its leader VK Malhotra said in parliament, “The Hindus are being treated in such an inhuman fashion, the government must go to the Commonwealth.”
External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Rajya Sabha, “There is a large community of Indians living in Malaysia who are citizens of that country. We have friendly relations with India and are in touch with the authority there. We are aware of remarks made by a Malaysian minister against the respected Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi.” Manmohan Singh joined the fray, commenting, “There is concern whenever Indians or people of Indian origins are affected.”

To put it mildly, New Delhi’s response, without ascertaining facts fully, was a demonstration of putting one’s foot in one’s mouth. Its folly has actually put people of Indian origin and Indians doing business with Malaysia in an awkward situation. Their image has been tarnished and they have been made a subject of ridicule among peers.

“What happened involves Malaysian citizens. If they break any law, it is our right to deal with them in accordance with Malaysian laws,” reacted Syed Hamid Albar, Malaysia’s foreign minister to New Delhi’s reported ‘concerns’. Malaysian PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi obliquely referred to India’s records on communal riots, “In Malaysia, there has been no conflict between the Muslims and Indians or Islam and Hinduism. This country has rules and laws. We have a constitution and we are successful . We abide by it and hold firmly to the Rukun Negara.”
Malaysia may still not be an utopia where things are absolutely perfect. There are positive discriminations and preferences to help the locals assert themselves, which put certain groups like migrants at a disadvantage.

Abdullah admitted frankly, “There are weaknesses and there is still work to be done. . . There is no country in the world or any leader who can say he has done everything and there are no more poor people in his country. We still need to bring them out of poverty. We have to strengthen ties between the races and religions.”

The government authorities do wield sticks to silence suspected troublemakers, when necessary. However, to call the rulers as bigots and the affirmative actions taken in their national interests as “ethnic cleansing” can only be termed as unconscious vilification of the worst sort. Records do prove that Malaysia has been moving rapidly in the direction of social justice, while being extremely successful in seeking prosperity.

Prime minister Abdullah had every reason to term as “blatant lie” the charges of ethnic cleansing and Malay-Muslim authoritarianism. He demanded of his Indian critics, “. . Causing racial conflict in the country, especially between the Indians and Malays. Is this what we want?” Abdullah does seem to have got at the root of the conspiracy. The meticulously organised smear campaign against his country is obviously aimed at employing the Hindu front to destabilize ‘Muslim’ Malaysia.

The activities of Waytha Moorthy, one of the lawyers deputed by HINDRAF to garner support from India and other world capitals provide ample indication of the involvement of India’s fundamentalist saffron elements in the movement. When in Tamil Nadu, he established contacts with former minister Vaiko, who is currently in alliance with Karunanidhi’s bête noire Jayalalithaa. Hers is the only TN regional party to have any truck with the BJP.

It is no secret that BJP advocates a barbaric brand of Hindutva and wants to establish an Akhand Bharat Hindu Rashtra (Greater Hindustan), lording over the region as a nuke-armed superpower. In fact, the only leader to meet him in New Delhi was BJP Chieftain LK Advani. No minister or official in New Delhi was prepared to meet him.

HINDRAF has been an nonentity so far and had started off as a small Lawyers’ practice. It was engaged in representing uneducated and poor labourers pitted against authorities, engaged in seeing the law across, taking back squatter land. Its clientele consisted of descendents of Tamil-speaking labourers, who had put up several shrines indiscriminately. They now stand in government land as well as private land owned by others.

About 80 per cent of Malaysians of Indian origin profess Hinduism and are at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. When the government seeks to dismantle the structures to make way for public projects like roads, after giving notice and alternate land elsewhere, HINDRAF incites these people to resist. Advocates Ganapathy Rao and brothers P Waytha Moorthy and P Uthaya Kumar would then make a big din and file court cases, alleging humiliation, emotional trauma and insensitivity to ‘Hindu’ sentiments by a ‘Muslim’ government.

The Hindu right outfit’s campaign plank is that ethnic Indians control just 1.5 per cent of Malaysia’s economy while constituting 7-plus per cent population. This must be seen in historic perspective. About 80 per cent of ‘people of Indian origin’ whom HINDRAF claims to represent are Tamil-speaking descendents of unskilled migrants brought in essentially for brawn. Their economic condition cannot be compared with the status of Indian Diaspora in US, which filters in only people with highest skills and capabilities.

Despite that, the ‘most marginalized’ section of Tamil-speaking Malaysians enjoys definitely a much better living standard than an average citizen of Tamil Nadu. According to a WIDER (World Institute of Development Economics Research) survey of India, the richest 10 per cent of the population earns on an average 7.3 times the average earnings of the poorest 10 per cent. At this Indian yardstick, ethnic Indians should be happy to have just under 1 per cent of the GDP! Added to that, Malaysia has become far more wealthier than India . Although India’s GDP may be 13.2 times that of Malaysia, the latter’s population is under 2.5 per cent of India’s. An average Malaysian holds 5-1/2 times as many dollars as an average Indian.

More important, the 20 per cent ethnic Indians outside the HINDRAF influence – skilled Malayalis from Kerala, Sikhs brought in as policemen, Sindhis who came as businessmen and Sri Lankan Tamils brought in as clerks – have all done much better. In fact, most foreign-qualified Malaysian doctors happen to be from this segment. Incidentally, the richest Malaysian Ananda Krishnan is from the Tamil-speaking community.

Affirmative action, favouring indigenous people in preference to migrants, is an accepted phenomenon of responsible governance. Before frowning at that, Indian leaders must introspect the status of discrimination in India, against the minorities who can by no means be termed as emigrants. Secondly, accepting HINDRAF’s characterization of demolitions of unregistered shrine structures with improper ownership title to land as a symptom of Talibanisation of Malay government and society will simply amount to exporting of India’s gravest bane, saffron mischief to Malaysia.

Whether Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee stick to the groundless implied accusations about Malaysia, or whether they keep quiet after realising their blunder, they will be doing great disservice to their countrymen as well as to millions of persons of Indian origin in other countries. The Indian government must apologise to Malaysia to minimize the harm their blunder can cause to Indians living abroad – extreme prejudice from their present co-habitants. Accepting a blunder should not be taken as a slur in diplomacy. In fact, it will enhance the stature.

Source: The Milli Gazette, Jan 1-15, 2008.