Indian Poor as Political Tools

Author:   Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria

Indian Poor as Political Tools

By Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, Principal research fellow, Institute of ethnic studies UKM


BN government agenda for Indian community

I have been involved in policy advocacy since 1997 when I joined the MIC Social Strategic Foundation. While many recommendations and proposals were submitted through the 1st national economic consultative council and the 2nd very little strategic and focus intervention was undertaken. Poverty was measured and priorities set which did not directly benefit plantation workers or the displaced plantation workers who migrated from estates to urban squatters and now reside in high rise low cost flats in urban centres in 38 districts in Malaysia.

During my time at YSS (1997 to 2008) there was however the start of many new initiatives byproviding access to minority Indian community directly into government programs which was originally targeting Bumiputrassuch as GiatMara and opportunities for skills training, MRSM and also at Tekun& AIM micro loans. In addition there were direct grants via YSS for social development especially among the urban poor and intervention to improved Tamil schools both education and infrastructure. The coordination and implementation was directly undertaken by the MIC as a party and its social arms. The MIC as a party stabled educational institutions as well as provided scholarship. However these were not enough to address the complex community and urban poverty issues.

In the post Hindraf events of late 2007 and early 2008 and the impact of the 2008 and 2013 elections we saw a major shift in government approach for the Indian community. This was largely due to the inclusive development policy adopted by the Federal govt in the 10 Malaysia plan and the setting up of special implementation units under the PM office & dept. Much of these more structured interventions emerged in the Najib administration. Now there there is a Blue print as well as a dedicated department in the PM dept to coordinate the implementation & delivery of socio-economic development of Malaysian Indians. There was a gradual development from a party focus intervention to government administration intervention.

While these are good there are currently some major structural weaknesses, as a special department on Indian concerns cannot replace the fully arm of the government but it can complement and coordinate it. The total government machinery is not well oriented toward the practical implementation of the inclusive development policy. It would require both mind-set orientation ie paradigm shift in delivery as well as structural changes such as higher recruitment of non-Malay staff in critical agencies such as social welfare, education, police, economic development, local council staff, youth department etc is urgently needed


Why Indians left behind?

The early Alliance and BN approach was that each of the community leaders who are in the cabinet take care of their community. It was in the NEP period that special programs and institutions set up to address poverty in the Malay community. However now via the Eleventh Malaysia Plan and Malaysia adopting the sustainable development goals – the UN 2030 agenda it is “leaving no one behind”. However there are many delivery and implementation issues so as to ensure that no community or section of Malaysian society feels alienated from prosperity and well-being.

There are sections of Malaysian Indians especially former plantation workers who were displaced and who migrated to urban squatters and who now live in high rise flats. Urban poverty is not just the absence of income but there is the cycle of poverty and development issues linked with low income, low educational qualifications and skills, under employment, mind-set, past experience of injustice and exploitation, loss of confidence in political leadership whom they feel did not flight for their rights, family related issues, alcohol abuse, crime, violence and gang related associations. It is complex web of urban poverty which is very different from rural poverty.

This is related to the understanding of urban poverty and inequality - it must be viewed from a multi-dimensional aspect. This also requires a multi-dimensional intervention strategy and the orientation of both civil servants and NGOs in undertaking this. Much of the approach is today still a single focused approach ie education or economic development. We must adopt a multi-dimensional approach and intervention strategy with various agencies in partnership.

Specific targeting as well as effective monitoring and impact assessment is most essential

We must stop the idea of a BN  or PR government at federal or stateie in the use of this term as there are serious negative implications. Prior to elections yes a party can use the democratic system for contest but once elected they are the Federal govt for all or state govt for all. Its not to be then still linked to the political party as the role now is as a public official. Direct association of government to political party draws negative aspects as tax payers money is now used not political party funds. What about all those who did not vote for the political party or the person finally elected. Do these people have no rights to the service.

The line is very thin and in Malaysia politicians continue to act as politicians and not at public officials. In other counties there is a clear separation of party role and that of govt. most heads of state like in the UK or USA are not head of their political parties.

One major problem in addressing Indian poverty issues they have become tools in the political struggle for political power. One major danger here is the hand out which has now killed the self-help and self-reliance now its for handouts and who will give more of the goodies. For many politicians its also self-interest rather than community interest. There must be check and balance so that the poor especially in this case Indians become a political tool or object.

Addressing urban poverty and inequality requires long term strategy and not just quick fixes. Handouts are quick fixes but it is not sustainable. Education, character development, capability development, neighbourhood building requires long-term social work and community intervention. This is currently lacking as a majority of Indian based NGOs are volunteer base and they are not trained social and community workers.

There are many similar issues being faced by the poor in sabah and Sarawak or among the poorer malays especially in urban flats and the orang asli community too. Community empowerment and accountability with strengthening political consciousness on a rights based approach to development will restore the dignity of the community.It can bring lasting change with people’s participation especially of the poor themselves.



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