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Growing up under his leadership, one tends to have utmost fear for this man. 22 years as Prime Minister, his fame or infamy has stretched far and wide. When in power, many a Malay looked up to him with pride and respect. Sad to say, the moment he was out of power, even his deputy – the extra mild Abdullah Badawi – turned on him.
His latest article attacking Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim for denigrating the New Economic Policy failed to make much impact. In the past, Malaysians would have read with eyes agog at his unrestrained criticism of Anwar, who during the 1990s was popular enough to overthrow him.
But now, ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad only draws a yawn. Most Malaysians have already formed their opinions of the NEP and whatever Mahathir says will not change their minds. Even the Malays, who are in two minds about the NEP, are steadfast in their differing views. Some Malays insist that the NEP be maintained as it is, while a similar number insist that it be revamped to help more lower-income Malays rather than benefit only the rich Malays and the Chinese tycoons connected to Mahathir himself.
Still a he-devil
In Mahathir’s eye, Anwar is still a devil and busy lying to the people that the NEP only benefits the BN cronies and that the contracts, Approval Permits and licenses given out in the name of affirmative action invariably involve corruption. He also said Anwar made it sound as if the NEP did not benefit the Malays and other Bumiputera at all, just the UMNO elite and their ‘friends’.
Gripe as Mahathir may wish, the statistics from his own government show that Anwar is also right, perhaps even more right than he is. Many experts will agree the NEP did benefit many Malays and Bumiputras in the country. But as Anwar pointed out, when one compares against the overall Malay and Bumi population, those who benefited work out to a miserly fraction. In many of his speeches, Anwar often quoted government figures showing that 96 per cent of the poorest people in the country are actually Malays. And the NEP has been in existence since 1971 or for 40 years. How can Mahathir, a doctor by training, fail to grasp this piece of simple math?
The only explanation may be that Mahathir is still ‘politicising’ against his former deputy, despite having sacked him, chased him out of their party and jailed him for 6 years. How did the blood between the two men become so bad? Some say it is guilty conscience on Mahathir’s part for the 1998 sodomy charges. True or not, it appears Mahathir’s dislike for Anwar has only grown stronger and not weaker with the years.
Non-Bumis were sidelined
In his latest article posted on his chedet blog, Mahathir said that every Malay child is helped in his education with free text books and often with free meals. Schools are built in the remotest areas where before there were no schools. Hostels are built for mostly Malay and other Bumiputera children so that they can live a better life and are able to study in better surroundings then in their homes in the villages.
But in doing so, Mahathir is also admitting that he has marginalized the non-Bumiputras in his effort to prop up the Bumiputras in the country. Why? Are non-Bumis lesser beings that are not deserving of governmental assistance? What happens to the poor non-Bumis who are also in need of assistance? And all this while, the country thought that BN was developing the country for all Malaysians, and not just for the Bumiputras.
Mahathir goes on to say that for the qualified, tertiary education is readily accessible with huge numbers of scholarships. As a result many of the children of poor families or of families unable to pay high fees now hold university degrees and are highly qualified professionals. As an example, he states that where before only 5% of the doctors in Malaysia were Malays and Bumiputera, nowadays 40% of the profession are Malays.
If this is so, did the NEP benefit the Bumiputras at the expense of the Non-Bumis? And was this the NEP’s intention? Did it get side-tracked along the way by unscruplous politicians? These are all questions that have been asked many times before and until now, no answers have been forthcoming from Mahathir. All he has provided are half-answers in the vein of his latest article – either using Malay supremacy as his defense or as a basis for attacking his favourite targets, such as Anwar or the DAP’s Lims.
No wonder the 85-year Dr M has lost his audience. The only times that he stirs interest these days is when he espouses the racist rhetoric of extremist Malay groups such as Perkasa. With his vintage wit and his courage to simply ‘hantam’ (wallop), his spin or version of a particular event or issue is in a class of its own. He now entertains Malaysians, rather than serve a role as an advisor, elder statesman and someone for all Malaysian to turn to in any hour of darkness. Very likely, he may be the one creating the darkness, his crtics make no bones about saying. This is the extent of cynicism that Mahathir now draws.
The numbers cannot lie, Mahathir may
Other boasts made by Mahathir to attest to the NEP’s effectiveness include the Bumis’ share of corporate assets. He said today, more than ten and half million (10,500,000) Malays and other Bumiputera hold shares in these unit trusts with total holdings valued at one hundred and thirty-five billion (135,000,000,000) Ringgit. This is a direct benefit from the NEP. The unit trust makes up a substantial percentage of corporate wealth held by the Bumiputera, he added.
“Felda too has been nursed until it has become the biggest plantation company in the world. The settlers have much higher incomes while their children are much better educated. All these are due to the New Economic Policy. Microcredit is extended to the smallest village enterprises and this has helped tens of thousands of Bumiputera villagers, especially the women in business.
There are now thousands of Bumiputera businessmen who benefitted from the importation of used and new cars, from becoming agents and vendors to the national car projects and also in the oil and gas business as a result of the NEP.
The best of them have grown big, some very big, becoming car dealers and assemblers, housing developers, steel fabricators, boat and ship builders, IT, transportation, ports and shipping, food and cosmetic manufacturers and many other businesses,” wrote a still passionate Mahathir.
So thanks to the NEP, the bumiputras have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Then why are they still left far far behind compared to the non-Bumiputras who had to struggle without government assistance?
And can someone explain why the non-Bumiputras who form in total only 33 per cent of the population can manage to hold 82 per cent of the equity in corporate Malaysia? How can 67 per cent of the Malaysian population – the Malays and the Bumis – hold only 18 per cent after 50 years of affirmative action? Shouldn’t the figures be the other way around or did someone miscalculate? What went wrong? Surely, not bad math again.
An insult to the Malays, a back-stabber to the non-Malays
The fact is that although Mahathir may harbour noble ambitions for the Malays, his effort have failed to alleviate the lot of the majority of Malays and Bumiputras in this country who are more or less still in square one, unable to move forward while on the other hand we have a handful of super rich Malay individuals who think of nothing other than how to protect their ill-gotten wealth from overflowing to the Malay masses.
Many Malays in this country are truly insulted by Mahathir, who still continues to tell the world that the Malays are weak and helpless. We still need crutches to walk, we are still handicapped and need government assistance in the 21stcentury. And the best part is, the non-Malays actually believed him to the extent that they stupidly voted the BN all these years, while he stabbed them in the back. If you doubt this, just ask Ling Liong Sik and Chan Kong Choy – two former MCA ministers in the BN Cabinet and better hurry while they are still free men.
Mahathir also went on to tell the Malays that the non-Malays in this country are Supermen, capable of controlling the wealth and power in this country as they already hold more than 82% of the country’s wealth. Malays must be on guard, do not be too friendly with them or else one day the carpet will be pulled from under their feet.
How on earth are Malaysians going to unite with such political charlatans around! –
By the fag end of the movement for Jan Lokpal bill, a communal debate emerged in media and society; whether Muslims should align with Anna Hazare and his indefinite fast or not. Perspectives took shapes, Arvind Kejriwal personally sought support of many Muslim leaders, media started floating stories of Muslim angst and anxiety on the backdrop forces and the counterviews, scholars raised points to make the discourse sour and sweet and various other issues were raised. It seems that the agitation will soon come to an end with a happy note on the acceptance of the three demands of Team Anna by the Parliament for consideration. However, one of the most interesting ends to the scenes of the fast unto death was the presence of Bollywood star Amir Khan on the stage and his breaking of Ramdan fast over there while wearing the skullcap popular among Muslims. More interestingly, for a few moments, Anna Hazre put on a similar skullcap in place of his famous Gandhi cap; thus almost closing the communal tone of the debate.
After a long silence, the ice melted ultimately. Muslims slowly started voicing their stand on the ongoing fast unto death of Anna Hazare against corruption. Their initial hesitation on the Jan Lokpal issue faded out. A couple of developments within the last week: All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawrat held a meeting of leading Muslim organizations which collectively resolved to support the agitation against corruption, Shahi Imam of the historic Jama Masjid of Delhi appealed Muslims to refrain from the Hazare movement due its Hindu overtones, another Shahi Imam of Fatehpuri Masjid of Delhi opined just the opposite on the plea of fighting corruption, Jamat-e-Islami Hind supports the cause but chose to remain away from participating in the agitation, Darul Uloom Deoband favored the cause but expressed its inability to join the movement being an educational institution, the Association of Indian Muslims of America expressed its solidarity with the anti-corruption stance of Anna Hazare, the Muslim member of Delhi Assembly from Okhla constituency Asif Mohamma Khan resigned from his party on the issue, and there is an increasing number of Muslims breaking their Ramadan fast and are seen offering their prayers on the site of the ongoing Anshan (fast unto death).
It will be unfair to say that Muslims have shown their first signs of popular support to Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption just now. There were a few Muslim faces on stage in the initial days of the campaign. Imam Ahmad Bukahri and Maulana Kalbe Javvad were seen among the leading campaigners of the India Against Corruption launched on 8th April 2011 from Jantar Mantar. Social Democratic Party of India, a Muslim-based political party, declared its support to the campaign for Jana Lokpal bill drafted by the Team Anna but with a rider that it will not be the sole panacea for the disease called corruption.
Several Muslim youths mingled with other campaigners at Jantar Mantar site. However, their romance with a new rising India remained short lived. The leaking stories of the RSS connection of Anna Hazare and the Hinduist overtones on the podium distracted the initial warmth of the community, which is still more or less confused regarding the motive behind the ongoing movement.
At the outset, the grand show of ‘Mother India’ on the background banner used during the Jantar Mantar phase of the campaign gave the signal that there was something fishy about it. The typical picture of Mother India, almost iconic of the RSS and its chauvinist organizations in the country, not only hinted of the mala fide motives behind the undertaken campaign but it was also seen by many as promoting idol worship in a tacit way. Such faces as that of Baba Ramdev, Ravi Shankar, Ram Madhav etc when constantly appeared on the stage of the campaign, reassured the public perception that the India Against Corruption was nothing but a proxy attack on the ruling front for political dividends. The appreciation of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi almost around the time by Anna Hazare for the latter’s efforts towards rural development amidst a peasant’s movement against the forced acquisition of agricultural land for industrial development by the state government, further confirmed these doubts. Active participation of the RSS cadre in organizing support rallies and demonstrations in most parts of the country reinforced the RSS-connection of the Anna movement in public perceptions. The enthusiasm of not only Muslims but also of the activists from other communities and secular sections slowly cooled down and there still remains a lot of hesitation in these sections in spite of the wider receptivity of Anna Hazare’s campaign among a variety of people.
There is no doubt that there have always been some comforting faces around Anna Hazare both during the first phase and the current one. The presence of leading human rights activists of known secular credentials like Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Swami Agnivesh, etc in the core group of the team Anna has been a strong practical rejoinder to the RSS-connection theories. Anna’s u-turnon Narendra Modi remark further strengthened the secular appeal of the movement. The stage at Ramlila Ground has a grand shining face of Gandhiji instead of the deity of Bharat Mata. And, now thes poradic public demonstrations against the MPs and MLAs of BJP, apart from those of the ruling parties, have brought back a lot of secular fervor for the Anna movement including that of the leading Muslims groups.
It is some innocent sections of youth, joined by some guided ones that are using slogans dear to the Hindutva organizations that are polarizing the campaigners on communal lines. When Muslims hear such chanting from the podium and even more from Anna Hazare as “…patitpavan sitaram sabko sanmati de bhagavan” they feel dejected since it would be the most heinous thing for a Muslim to mix ‘Sita Ram’ with Allah, a human temporal personality or personalities with a non-incarnate God. It is a matter of faith and belief for him. Imam Bukahri and Darul ullom Deoband vehemently raised this point. When Muslims hear the sloganeering of ‘Vande Mataram’ they can hardly forget that it is the most common device of the RSS groups for teasing Muslims and a strange pre-condition fixed by the Hinduists for allowing Muslims to stay in India (i. e. Bharat mein rahana hai to Vande Mataram kahna hoga). May be these feelings may not be there among the current sloganeering public but such slogans will be definitely interpreted even by many Hindus as the signs of RSS cadre around. What will happen if the Muslims sitting among the agitators raise the slogan of “Allahu Akbar” for invoking the Almighty to help the campaign succeed? Such an act will be taken by the campaigners as divisive and misplaced.
Then why not ‘Vande Mataram’ is treated so and be dropped from the agitation ground altogether? Perhaps the Congress would also like a communal divide on the issue for weakening it. The agitation for Jan Lokpal bill is in fact a secular cause and let it be so. Any religious overtone on the part of the majority campaigners would only result into the situation, something like the one the Muslim leadership is presently facing, i.e. forced to take a religious stand on it.
But the question arises why Muslims as a community should take some stand on the agitation at all? Are Christians taking any stand on it the way Muslims are? Are the Sikh organizations debating whether to support Anna Hazare or not? Are the Buddhists anxious to express their viewpoints on the issue? Is the religious leadership among Hindus perturbed to respond on the call? For that matter, no Shankracharya has so far expressed his support or dejection on the issue. No other social groups, their organizations or leadership are taking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ stand on the issue of Jan Lokpal bill. It is really a secular issue and must be kept as such. Corruption is an all pervading menace and all Indians must fight against it together. There is hardly any need to incite any communal overtones in that regard. A lot of youngsters and social activists hailing from a cross section of society are actively taking part in the agitation including Muslims, but not on the basis of their religious identities. They are rather seeing the issue from a secular angle and working with each other for saving the country from a monstrous problem. For them, it is a legal battle, not a sacred war cry. Then, why there should be the need of a ‘Muslim stand’? Why Darul Uloom Deoband or Jamat-e-Islami or Imam Bukhari should issue Fatwas favoring or disfavoring Jan Lokpal?
The Muslim response on the issue emanates basically from their apologetic mindset. By Hinduist overtones in the agitation, both in media and on the battleground, the RSS cadres or youth influenced by them have subtly created an impression as if only Hindus are fighting against corruption; and that means Muslims are refraining way from it, “as they are always on any larger national issue”. The Muslim leadership is innocently, or perhaps unwittingly, responding to such perceptions by either favoring the agitation in spite of their feeling that it may be perpetrated by the Hindutva organizations or it makes a call for non-cooperation while complaining for the same. There are Muslim leaders and organizations that may be inclined to take the opportunistic advantage of the hotly debated issue. For them this is a chance to express their noble stand and mobilize people on a popular upsurge. For many this is a time when media would be soft in giving coverage to their visibility on the issue and, therefore, they should come forward and take a stand on behalf of the community. This has been a persistent weakness of the Muslim leadership to unnecessarily communalize an issue and then take an unbecoming stand on it.
When the present outburst of ‘Muslim’ statements is compared with the ones expressed on the Tahrir Square awakening, it has already surpassed the latter one by many counts. This is nothing but a sheer imbalance of mind and character. Let Muslims support the cause not as Muslims, rather as Indians. The responsibility in this regard lies on the communal activists on both the sides of the fence.