Sunday, December 9, 2007

Why Malay Indians are unhappy

Why Malaysian Indians are unhappy

Aditi Phadnis / New Delhi December 07, 2007 (Business Standard)

When senior Malaysian cabinet minister for 28 years and leader of the ‘official’ ethnic Indian party the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), S Sami Vellu, cancelled his Diwali party this year, the government of Malaysia should have sensed something was off kilter.

MIC internally debated the appropriateness of a Diwali celebration against the background of the demolition of several Hindu temples in the country. Malaysians of Indian origin were angry and they wanted to show this.

What no one expected, possibly not even the Malaysian government, was the ferocity of the rage. Used to the sedate pace of protest by the MIC — which Vellu has headed without a break since 1979— demonstrations by volunteers from the new kid on the block, HINDRAF (Hindu Rights Action Force), were as much an expression of resentment at the lack of internal democracy in MIC as they were against institutional ethnic discrimination against Malaysians of Indian origin.

Because the Malaysian ruling class is a coalition of races, the government expected MIC to speak for the Indian community. Loud and vociferous protests by HINDRAF unnerved it, which resulted in the use of disproportionate force to suppress it, observers say. Indians of Malay origin consider India their country and expected that it would speak up for the Indians.

Sensing an Indian lobby in its political establishment, from time-to-time, Malaysia likes to assert itself vis-a-vis India, especially in the trade arena.

India’s entry in Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) continue to be resisted by Malaysia on the grounds that APEC should be regionally rigorous, though Peru is already a member.

Malaysia, which is the coordinating country for the ASEAN-India FTA, is another spoiler in the process. When Indian representatives insisted on keeping palm oil, which constitutes over 60 per cent of Malaysia’s exports to India, on its sensitive list to protect Indian soya bean producers, the Malaysian government declared that FTA negotiations have come to a halt.

Concluded. The first part of this article appeared on December 6.

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