Demands for seats belonging to Umno’s allies in Barisan Nasional again became a topic of a heated debate among delegates attending the party’s AGM today.
A delegate from Penang, Musa Sheikh Fadzir, echoed the undercurrent among party hawks that non Umno candidates who lost in the 2008 election give their seats “back” to Umno.
These are Malay majority seats that Umno believes it could recapture given the return of support from the ethnic majority, said Musa in a tone more demanding than constructive.
“We have made our sacrifices. We even allowed our BN component party members to contest in Malay majority areas,” he said at the presidential policy speech debate session.
“This is because the Malays and Umno, in the spirit of BN, are very accommodating. But they should return the seats to us if they know they cannot win,” he added.
Umno’s hardliners in the past have criticised component parties and blamed them for the waning non Malay support towards the government.
This resulted in intense racial politicking from the Malay party which observers believe had brought about the return of Malay support to Umno.
Votes from the majority electorate had strayed at the 2008 general election.
‘Two thirds impossible with non Malay support’
Party conservatives believe taking back Malay-majority seats would help party president Najib Tun Razak realise his need to return BN’s two thirds parliamentary majority.
This, however, would be impossible without the support of non Malays and “middle Malaysia”.
Najib is now forced to play the moderate in a bid to reconcile the gap between the party’s hardliners and the need for liberal support.
To do this, the prime minister placed emphasis on party reform while urging members to retrospectively look at Umno’s multi-racial history to deflect accusations that it is racist.
Musa, along with other delegates who took to the stage at the ongoing AGM, echoed their president’s sentiment and blasted those who accused Umno as racists.
He said the demands for non Umno seats were not communal in nature but for the good of the ruling coalition.
“What is important is for BN to register a victory as we have to look at the bigger picture and these are things that other component party members should realise.”
The first inquiry into the demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992 was completed within seven days. On the morning of Sunday, December 13, Sharad Pawar, then defence minister, invited a group of friends and colleagues to the home of an associate MP. He watched a film – live footage of the whole episode, taken by some government agency, possibly intelligence. Those antique reels should still be somewhere in the archives. There was little that any inquiry committee could have added about the sequence of events on December 6 that ended with the fall of the mosque by the evening.
The causes of this historic event were also a matter of public record. L K Advani’s rath yatra was not a surreptitious journey. Indeed, extensive media coverage may have been part of the purpose, since he wanted to create mass momentum for his political project. Neither was there any secrecy when Congress laid the foundation stone of the temple to Lord Ram in the middle of the 1989 polls. Babri was a central theme, along with Bofors, of those dramatic elections. The 1989 BJP versions of Varun Gandhi were full-throated, not muted, in their slogans as parties sought votes with a rhetoric that has been subsequently banned: Mandir wahin banayenge! and Mussalman ke do sthaan, Pakistan ya kabristan! No one hid anything: We shall build a temple on that precise spot! Muslims have two options, either Pakistan or the graveyard!
Democracy is a volatile game played in the open. What was there left to inquire into?
All that an official inquiry could do was place a stamp of judicial impartiality on known facts. It did not seem strange, then, that Justice M S Liberhan, appointed on December 16, 1992, was asked to deliver his report in three months. If he had extended it to six months or even a year, it would have been reasonable. Why did he take 17 years?
The key actors were known and available. No sleuths needed here. Why did Liberhan take more than nine years to obtain V P Singh’s deposition, and nine-and-a-half for P V Narasimha Rao’s? Surely they were not evading his orders? Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti were ministers in a BJP-led government when they gave evidence. Former RSS chief K S Sudarshan appeared only on February 6, 2001. Rao could have said all he had to long before April 9, 2001, four years after he lost his job as prime minister.
Had the commission already served its first purpose by 2001? It had outlived Rao’s term in office and thereby, ensured that its findings could not be used to demand Rao’s resignation. Rao survived December 6, 1992 by the cynical expedient of buying out those he feared most, Muslims within the Congress. Some inside government were given promotions; most outside were inducted in a January 1993 reshuffle. Conscience purchased, life went on.
It would be interesting to know if the Liberhan Commission has disclosed the one mystery of December 6: what was Rao doing that entire day? Babri was not destroyed by a sudden, powerful, maverick explosion. It was brought down stone by stone, the process punctuated by the rousing cheers of kar sevaks.
So, what was Rao doing during those minutes and hours from morning till sunset? Sleeping. That is what his personal assistant said to the many agitated Congressmen and women who phoned to ask why the government was asleep. They were shocked to learn that this was, literally, the official explanation. Their agitation cooled when they realized that the party would have to pay a horrendous price if government was destabilized. Plus, of course, there were concrete benefits in silence.
There may not be a rational explanation for a 17-year inquiry, but there is a political explanation. Every government between 1992 and 2004 had a vested interest in delay. The minority governments of H D Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral could not have survived a day without support from the Rao-Sitaram Kesri Congress. (Mrs Sonia Gandhi was not party president then.) Neither Gowda nor Gujral would have wanted a report that indicted their benefactors.
The BJP-led coalition that ruled for six years had the guilty on its front row. Only Uma Bharti has been candid enough to say that she was delighted when the mosque fell (“I’m ready to own up to the demolition and will have no problem even if I’m hanged”). Justice Liberhan could have punched mortal holes into the BJP front row when it was in office. And so when he sought one extension after another, there was public silence and private relief.
Whether advertently or inadvertently, Justice Liberhan protected politicians on both sides of the great divide. There remains a curiosity question. Why did he not submit his report in 2004? Admittedly Dr Manmohan Singh was finance minister in the Rao government, but he had nothing to do with the politics of Babri. When delay becomes so comfortable, why bother?
The first thing that needs to be done in order to find a robust solution is to accept that a problem exists. Any argument that tries to deny the existence of the problem or to talk down the problem by ridiculing it or by downplaying its significance has to be first stopped.
N. Ganesan, National Advisor to Hindraf
The demolishment of Hindu temples seem to be an ongoing saga. We thought the 2007 Hindraf Rally and the Tsunami of 2008 would have seen an end to such wanton abuse of power against the minority Indian poor in the country. But this seems not to be the case.
The most recent demolishment of the Glenmaries Mathuraiveeran Temple in Shah Alam, and at least three others before that in Selangor in the last two years, the near demolition of Sri Raja Muniswarar, in Jalan Tun Dr Ismail, Seremban in August this year and the current issuance of an eviction notice to the Sivasakthi Kuan Yin Temple in Bagan in Penang with the possibility of ultimate demolishment, are indications that the problem is rearing its ugly head again. It certainly has found no solution yet.We have known for some time that the BN government does not have within its DNA to solve this problem at the root. We however expected that the Pakatan Governments in Selangor, Penang and Kedah to show more imagination and competence in dealing with these issues. This is not a simple issue, by any stretch of imagination. We expected them to have it within them to deal with this problem in more effective ways. But that seems not to be happening, with what we see in Selangor and Penang. The same careless approach of the BN is rearing its head again, in the Pakatan avatar too.
The BN and Pakatan Governments seem to take a very simplistic approach to this problem and want to wish the problem away. However there are fundamental issues of minority rights, of law, of morality and of the role of the State. In addition there are issues of history, traditions, ways of lives and allocation of the national resource involved. But all these seem not to be significant considerations by those in power. They seem to think them irrelevant because in their reckoning, the Indian poor do not count for much more than their votes.
The first thing that needs to be done in order to find a robust solution is to accept that a problem exists. Any argument that tries to deny the existence of the problem or to talk down the problem by ridiculing it or by downplaying its significance has to be first stopped. There needs to be an understanding that what is being destroyed is not just the structures and the idols of the deities that make the temple, but indeed a way of life of the poor and marginalized Indians.
What is being destroyed is a way of life, not just the temples
The Indian poor not only have to give up the structures and representations of god that make up the temple whenever the temple is demolished, they have to give up their community activities in and around this temple that forms a major part of their social lives, gathering in their small communities every so often for festivals, for marriages and for other religious events, to replenish their spirits and to lighten up their otherwise heavy lives.
When their temples are destroyed, they are forced to give up this way of life. Yet the destruction is necessary only to maximize the profits of the rich. These poor end up subsidizing the profit of the rich by having to give up their way of life. And that is a major problem. It is a major issue of their rights.The next thing to do is to accept that the problem cannot be solved by using the same old methods and arguments of the BN government – demolish first then justify afterwards if needed. This is what we see happening in Selangor now, demolishment happens stealthily and then the State Government rushes to justify it with vexatious arguments. This is exactly the kind of thing BN used to do under Khir Toyo and Mahathir. They used to collude with their erstwhile Mandores in MIC. This is what we see happening in Selangor with the most recent demolishment of the Glenmarie Temple. There was the demolishment of the Sri Maha KaliammanTemple, Ampang on the 9th of September 2008, Muniswara Temple in Port Klang on the 11th of Aug 2010, then Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on 8th of November 2010 and now the Mathurai Veeran Hindu Temple, Jalan Glenmarie in Shah Alam a few days ago.
Too many temples?One argument used to justify the demolishment is that there are too many temples, and that that is the source of the problem. There are 2000 temples for about a half million Hindus in Selangor said the State Rep. What he was insinuating was that there are too many temples resulting from irresponsible and wanton building of temples. That there are these many temples bring out some useful history. These temples were the centre of communities. And the numbers of temples reflect the number of communities – rural Indian estate communities. These rural communities were effectively self contained Indian village communities tucked deep inside Malaysian rubber plantations.The owners of plantations knew that they needed a self sustaining and self perpetuating pool of labour and they had to create such communities for the needs of their profits. Effectively the elite of the day created rural Indian villages in Malaya and with them, these temples on their land. These temples were not wantonly or irresponsibly built as the State rep would have us believe. They are a direct outcome of the history of the country and the hunger for profit by the elite.And when Malaya became Malaysia and these plantations gave way to a variety of other development, and estates gave way to cities, this labour force became steadily superfluous. Disintegration of these rural communities began. This touched most of these several thousand communities all over the country and with them, their temples. The temples were all now sited illegally on someone else’s land, as the estates dispossessed these communities. The practice in these rural communities had always been that temples were on estate land – nobody in the community owned the land – the land was provided; anyway, they could not afford it. That is all still very true today – the poor and marginalized Indians cannot afford the land.But the new rules required that they own the land. The fact that the temples served a necessary social function for the communities that had lived there for years and continue to serve did not seem to matter anymore. The rights to the religious practices of these people did not count in these changed circumstances. This is the unsaid part of the arguments of the politicians. The truism once more confirmed – the Indian poor mean nothing more to the politicians in Government other than their votes.
We demolish shrines, not temples – really?Another argument often proferred is that the demolished structures are not temples but are just shrines – shrines built all over the place, under the trees, in god forsaken places and so on. And therefore what they are demolishing are not temples but just shrines. If these dimwits in Government had true knowledge they would immediately recognize that shrines are only the beginnings of temples. In the hearts of the people, shrine or temple, the belief is what draws them there and they represent the same religious significance to them. As more visit the shrine and the shrine gets drawn into the mainstream of society, the structures upgrade to reflect and support the increased traffic and morph to become temples, small at first and then bigger with time – along with other changes inside the temples. And it is also common knowledge that shrines begin mostly by trees.
So to imply that shrines by the trees are wanton religious practices on the basis of some alien understanding only demonstrates the ignorance and mischief in these arguments.
All the nonsense that has occurred in demolishing temples must stop. It is necessary that some sense come into all of this. Temple demolishments only tugs at the core fabric of Malaysian society. It is not only a problem of the Indian poor, it is a problem of Malaysian society, as a whole. I do not know how many Malaysians have the courage to accept that this is really the case.What the Governments in the States must now do is to stop the wayang and get down to brass tacks by addressing the problems. It is all a matter of political will. Do the governments have that political will to resolve this problem? Do they want to find a permanent solution to this problem or not.And, they must stop the practice of giving excuses for not doing what is right. If the Indian poor are indeed sons and daughters of this soil, this will be a concrete opportunity to express that idea. Recognizing that these impoverished sons and daughters of the soil have these religious beliefs and practices, the Governments in the States need to intervene appropriately. The methods employed till now are just not cutting it. The simplistic approaches only result in continuing damage. There are far too many issues involved. This requires an informed solution.Only when this happens will the saga of demolishments of temples stop – only then will true and free rights for religious beliefs and practices prevail.