INTERVIEW If the prime minister invites Hindraf, though he has not done so till today, it will submit the Hindraf blueprint for his endorsement.
“There are, however, several key differences between our expectations for a response from BN than from Pakatan. For BN to meet our expectations, it will have to come a very long way from where it stands today.
That will mean significant, positive changes in the BN’s basic policies. I will inform the people of these developments and make a final decision with my s
upporters of what position to take in this election, given these developments,” Hindraf chief P Waythamoorthy told Malaysiakini in an exclusive interview during his hunger strike, which began a week ago.
The interview continues: What is the real purpose of your hunger strike? Waythamoorthy: We want our rights, our dignity. None is available. The government has cheated the Indians, though it continues to say that the Indians have all their rights.
We have been living in indignity for 57 years, without equal rights and opportunities. The real purpose of my hunger strike is to mount pressure on the government and the government-in-waiting to bring about a political change. What is holding Pakatan back from giving you a final reply?
We don’t know. They said they agreed with the blueprint that we submitted in principle and intimated to us there would be a need for some minor changes, adjustments in language and terminology. We told them to tell us what they really wanted.
At the first meeting that we had with Anwar Ibrahim on Nov 1 (2012), I put it to him that we can deliver Indian votes and campaign for him. We can marshal the services of 2,000 volunteers at no cost to him.
In return for these services, we proposed that Pakatan should allocate seven parliamentary and 10 state seats to Hindraf to contest in the general election. This request, we made it clear, was open to further negotiations.
But we laid a precondition to our request for seats – without endorsing the blueprint, we will not accept any seat.
Anwar Ibrahim suggested that we meet with the Pakatan election strategists. We did. We explained to them, with statistics, how we can bring out every one of the 50 percent of the undecided Indian voters to their satisfaction.
We made it very clear to them that they should not take the Indian voters for granted. We repeated this to every leader of Pakatan and we also told them, “If you don’t want our assistance we will go our way.” Their “silence” was the only visible answer we got from them.
But they did say something. That is, they were looking forward for some “electoral cooperation” from Hindraf.
What would have been your reaction if Pakatan had rejected your request for seats, but endorsed your blueprint?
If Pakatan had told us that they would endorse our blueprint, but there would be no seat allocation, we would have agreed with this. We would then tell the Indian voters to vote for Pakatan. But, there would be no “electoral pact”. It means that we will not send our forces to the ground to campaign for them.
The public should take note that to-date, none of the top leaders of PAS, DAP and PKR had rejected Hindraf’s request for seat allocations, nor did they complain about it. It is the lower-ranking Indian leaders within Pakatan who are complaining. What will you do if the prime minister invites you?
From the day of my return, I have been clear and consistent in my proposal to have the 57-year-old Indian problems solved. My proposal is the same to both the government and the government-in-waiting.
If the prime minister invites me, I will submit to him the same blueprint that I had submitted to Pakatan and ask for his endorsement of it. For them to meet our expectations, they will have to come a long way from where they stand today. That will mean significant changes in their basic policies.
This will not be easy at all. But if after all that, they do endorse the blueprint to our satisfaction, then this will be a revolution of sorts we would have created for all Malaysians. I will inform the people of these developments and I will call for an urgent national convention of our supporters to decide on the possibility of supporting BN.
Why do you want seats held or contested by MIC and not that of Umno or other components of BN?
We want a regime change through an electoral pact with Pakatan for resolving the Indian problems. We want to oust MIC because that party has been with BN. BN has been the cause of the marginalisation of the Indians.
Actually, MIC, throughout the 57 years of BN rule, has immensely contributed to the marginalisation of the Indians by colluding with BN. In this way we do not ask for incumbent Pakatan seats but would work with Pakatan to eliminate MIC completely.
Of Hindraf’s six specific proposals, namely, 1) 800,000 internally displaced estate workers; 2) 350,000 stateless people; 3) The denial of adequate and equal educational opportunities; 4) Unequal employment and business opportunities; 5) The impunity of the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM); and 6) The standards of human rights practice.
Pakatan chief Anwar Ibrahim had offered to include five points in his party’s manifesto, namely, a) Resolving the ‘long-standing issue of stateless people’ in Malaysia, without excluding Indians, in the first 100 days of Pakatan’s administration; b) Technical training and job opportunities for school leavers, stressing the major beneficiaries to be the Indian community; c) Ensuring all Tamil schools will be fully funded, and their infrastructure comparable to the national educational standards; d) A government National Housing Board to build affordable homes that includes focus on helping build freehold homes for ex-estate workers around the country; and e) The setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).
What more do you expect from Pakatan, especially when there is nothing from the BN?
Briefly, the offer said to have been made by Anwar Ibrahim does not in any way truly reflect Hindraf’s blueprint for resolving the Indian problems permanently. The six blueprint proposals actually break out into 23 specific interventions and plans. Out of these, Anwar has picked to address only five.
What we seek, and this is key, is that the interventions must be comprehensive and permanent for them to have the effect of correcting the socio-economic problems of these people.
Anwar has not addressed the primary issue of 800,000 displaced estate workers who were displaced and disenfranchised without alternative land and houses for settlement, alternative job opportunity training/skills, specific economic programmes tailored as result of state-induced displacement.
Our blueprint lays out specific economic programmes like Felda. There is also a budget worked out by us which amounts to RM4.5 billion per annum, which is 1.8 percent of the national budget.
On the issue of statelessness, one has to appreciate that the Indians face problems because they could not prove their birth. We proposed a statutory declaration by two Malaysian citizens confirming their birth in Malaysia as sufficient to resolve their problem. We do not trust vague promises; we want a firm procedure laid out.
In all of these ways, Anwar’s proposal does not meet even a fraction of our proposals. There is no reference to our sixth proposal which is to ratify two UN covenants – one on civil and political rights and the other on elimination of racial discrimination. For a coalition that struts its democratic credentials, this omission is ominous.
In addition, that there must be an endorsement of our blueprint by way of an agreement, still remains unanswered. We want Pakatan to sign an agreement with Hindraf that upon forming the government, it will implement the terms of the agreement.
What will you do if both the BN and the Pakatan ignore you and your blueprint?
We have a number of options, one of which is to advise the Indians not to cast their votes. Of course, either one party will be elected to power. But, we can be sure that it will not be a strong government, and will compel them to engage Hindraf in the next election.
At that point, they will realise the importance of winning the Indian votes and will, in all likelihood, strike a deal with us. Look at Selangor, the Ijok by-election in which Khalid Ibrahim lost to the BN candidate. But in the 2008 general election, with the swing caused by Hindraf tsunami, the Indians in that constituency supported Khalid and he won.
We have also been persuaded by many supporters to go for three-corner contests. We will decide on this option at the appropriate time. You had said previously, during the Hindraf rally, that politicians are akin to fireflies. What are you doing with them now?
I agree that all those activities that I have been talking about are political activities.
Parliament is not a monopoly of the politicians. It is a house of the people, where all segments of the people are represented. Though not a political party Hindraf is a movement to bring about political change. Therefore, we intend to go to Parliament as the “people’s movement” and we have the right to do it.
We have qualified and capable people. We have proved our commitments in various ways, for example, Hindraf had organised campaigns against violations of human rights in the UN, the US Congress, the European, UK, Holland and Belgium parliaments, India, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights Defendants.
In Malaysia, we are at the forefront of the various campaigns against human rights violations concerning the Indians and institutionalised racism.
I have said previously that politicians are like fireflies. They glow, but you get no fire from them.
Politicians do not have a track record of resolving issues concerning the people. They ride on the issues to gain political mileage.
They know the issues raised by Hindraf. They chanted “Makkal sakthi” and “Long live Hindraf” to solve the issues. They did all these because they wanted to gain mileage. They used the issues to ride to political power. But they failed even to make an attempt to solve the issues of Indians. They glow, but produce no fire! That is my view of politicians.
In addition to the seats asked for, was there any proposal for a Ministry of Minority Affairs headed by Hindraf?
The request for a Ministry of Minority Affairs and our offer to head the ministry are clearly an integral part of our proposals. The ministry proposal is premised on a theory of development for all marginalised minority communities in Malaysia.
Our blueprint makes specific provision for other minorities, including Orang Asal, natives of Sabah and Sarawak, the physically challenged, etc. This theory postulates that to correct specific weaknesses in the economy the efforts must be focused and targeted.
For this to be done, there must be adequate financial and other resource allocations and adequate allocation of authority to those responsible for implementation.
Taking a macro approach to allocations of funds and resources to generalised weaknesses in the economy and then hoping for the trickle down of the allocations to correct a specific, sticky and multifaceted problem deep within the economy is an approach that is inconsistent with the reality of a leaky and self-interest driven implementation bureaucracy.
That is what the BN government has been doing all these years through their five-year development plans. Unless there is this paradigm change, the desired corrections will be a pie in the sky.
As far as the leadership of this ministry is concerned, we believe it is best handled by those most motivated to bring about these changes. Hindraf is well-positioned, both from the point of motivation as well as from the point of capability, to address the various challenges along the way.
The Umno racist bureaucracy is waiting down the hall to kill any effort like this and they will be there every step of the way. Tenacity and high levels of motivation are absolutely necessary to fight them and see the programme through. Hindraf is offering to take this challenge. We seek to head this ministry for one term only and thereafter it should be headed by any one of the other minority communities.
You have described BN and Pakatan as “puppets”. Why do you then seek collaboration/partnership with them as it will make you an integral part of the puppets to serve the interests of the “puppet masters”?
When we say puppets, what we mean is these entities do not have independent policy power. They have to submit to the dictates of the elites. Given that and the fact that the elite see no strategic interest in our blueprint proposals, it is a sure non-starter if the blueprint implementation is left entirely to them.
Hindraf represents the working-class Indians and will fight to break the stranglehold of the elite over such people orientated efforts.
And if the price for Pakatan getting to Putrajaya is to incorporate some elements of the working class into their stable, then they have to take us on.
That is why we ask for the dedicated ministry with necessary budgetary allocations, authority and resources upfront itself. This way, we will come out of the grips of the elite somewhat. We only want to do this to serve the interest of the working poor, and to do this outside the grips of the puppet masters.
Will Hindraf seek to become the Indian wing of the Pakatan as MIC is the leading Indian wing of the BN?
Hindraf exists today only because of the inherent ethnic inequalities entrenched in our system. We represent the worst victims of this bias. Will this bias go away in the foreseeable future? The answer is clearly “no”. Will it go away in the long run?
Quite likely, because the movement for such change has begun and is gathering momentum. In the meantime we have a period of transition. During this transition all segments in our present ethnocentric society need to be robustly represented in the political process.
Yes, you can look at us representing the poor Indians during this transition period in an alliance as equal partners against the conservative forces.
The present multiracial memberships of DAP and PKR are no substitute for this, as the true hold on power lies where the numbers are. Indians are outnumbered in every case and have no effective representation power.
We saw it clearly in the recent Manifesto Rakyat fiasco. When equality and social justice become fundamental values in our system, and rule based on ethnicity is eliminated, there will be no more need for Hindraf and Hindraf will just wither away.
JIWI KATHAIAH is a member of the Malaysiakini team