There is an old joke about unity within the Indian community.
During British rule in Malaya, the British ruler was asked: How do you manage the three distinctively different races in Malaya? He answered: “It is simple. To the Malays, I give them government jobs and they are happy. To the Chinese, I give them all the business licences they want and they are happy. For the Indians, I approve all the associations they want to form. They will fight among themselves and they will never come back to me for anything.”
The Malaysian Indian community has so many diversified views on issues and there are so many NGOs representing the Indian community on various sectors. These NGOs often clash among themselves and, on most occasions, face internal squabbles.
Indians are also politically divided through several political parties despite being a minority community.
However, during the last one week, surprisingly all the Indian NGOs and political leaders alike were united in their common stand in defending Bersih leader S Ambiga on the remarks passed against her by the Sri Gading MP Mohamad Aziz.
For the last one week, the Tamil media were flooded with press statements by notable Indian personalities, political leaders and Indian NGOs who came out in full force defending Ambiga and demanding action against Mohamad for his remarks. It was a rare moment for the Indian community to witness such a unity in recent times.
This prompted even Mohamad to credit the Indian community for coming out united in their stand in defending Ambiga.
Even MIC president G Palanivel voiced his objection on the remarks by Mohamad and warned the Umno-BN leadership that they will fail to get the Indian votes in the 13th general election if the attacks on Ambiga continue.
He was concerned that while MIC and Prime Minster Najib Tun Razak were working hard to convince the Indian community to vote for BN through their various initiatives, there were elements like Mohamad, who derailed their plans by making racially slanted remarks.
Another MIC leader, M Saravanan, despite being a deputy minister, also slammed the government for making Ambiga popular with its actions.
Ambiga’s stupendous rise in popularity has clearly affected and dented the political image of MIC, which now fears she could become their real threat in the election, only if she decides to campaign openly against BN.
In 2008, MIC had to convince the Indian voters to vote for BN despite the five Hindraf leaders being held under ISA. The MIC then failed miserably in its mission.
This time when MIC was happy that there were no such issues, the government’s attacks on Ambiga have put the party in another dilemma.
Ambiga has even started attending Indian-based functions and has begun interacting with Indian- based NGOs. Recently, she attended a Tamil community function in Klang and was given a grand reception.
She received thunderous applause during her appearance on stage but was ridiculed by some in the Tamil newspapers later for her lack of proficiency in speaking in Tamil despite it being her mother tongue.
It is believed that in addition to the Pakatan Rakyat parties, many Indian-based NGOs are lining up to invite her for their functions.
This has put MIC and other Indian leaders in BN component parties like Gerakan and PPP in a quandary. Instead of highlighting the BN policies and future plans for the betterment of the Indian community, every other day they are forced to defend the government.
With the Indian community’s total attention and focus now on Ambiga, the question that looms in everyone’s mind is whether she will contest in the forthcoming general election.
Although she has denied the prospects of contesting in the 13th general election, political sources believe that the continued attacks on her may force her to choose a political platform to continue her public role after the polls. Pakatan parties would be more than willing to accommodate her for a parliamentary seat.
Recently, there were some reports that she might be fielded as a common independent candidate for the Bersih movement in one of the seats in the Klang Valley and that the opposition would let her win by not fielding any candidates against her, paving the way for her to be elected as an independent candidate and to be the voice of Bersih in Parliament.
Alternatively, she may choose to campaign for the opposition without contesting for a seat. In such an event, without any doubt, she would sway a bulk of the Indian votes away from BN.
RJ Rajah is an observer and writer on politics and social issues with a keen interest particularly in Malaysian Indian affairs.