ACADEMIC Bridget Welsh’s article on “State polls: Important Indian vote” is one of the many pieces she has written on the behaviour of voters in the country’s elections.
In her recent article on the behaviour of Indian voters, she asks for Indians to taken seriously on the basis of recognition and respect.
I agree with her that in the coming state polls, Indians can make a difference in determining the winners and losers.
Although by and large Indian voters are loyal to Pakatan Harapan (PH) and the unity government, the support should not be taken for granted. There is always a possible swing, sometimes unanticipated.
They should be respected for their past contributions to the country. The recent racist remark against Indians by a PKR state assemblyman in Selangor might not gone well with the Indian community.
There is a meaningful presence of Indian voters in this particular state constituency. The assemblyman might have apologised or regretted on what he said but the damage might not be completely reversed.
The unity government anchored by PH is facing a critical litmus test in the coming state elections.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is on a whirlwind tour of the six states to ensure support for the PH-Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance.
It is important that the three PH states of Selangor, Penang and Negri Sembilan are won over and at the same time inroads can made in the states under the control of PN.
The performance of the unity government in the state elections will be an important barometer for its longevity in Putrajaya.
However, the PH-BN combine is not in a position to alienate ethnic communities that might not have large numerical presence such as Indians.
Indians might only constitute about 7% of the total population but they are concentrated unevenly in the Peninsular Malaysia.
Majority of them are located in the urban areas in the west coast state of Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor.
This is the reason why it is often mentioned that Indians might make a difference in varying degrees in about 60 constituencies that have more than 10% of Indian voters. In some constituencies, their presence even exceeds 30%.
This is the reason why they are called kingmakers during the elections. Winning or losing will be determined by Indians and this is the reason why they cannot be ignored, disrespected or even subject to racial slurs.
Can’t address in vacuum
No doubt Anwar might be a good leader who is in office for eight months, miracles cannot be expected from him. He might want to see the plight of Indians from a broader perspective by addressing the matter of poverty.
Yes, hardcore poverty among Indians can be a thorny issue. Anwar has mentioned this fact many times in his speeches.
Having acknowledged class or economic problem, it is expected that the unity government will come out with new policy measures if the present ones are not sufficient.
The issues faced by Indians cannot be merely reduced to economic ones. These are important, but the question of their meaningful participation in the national mainstream is equally important.
Here we talking about their rights as citizens, ensuring proper safeguards for the strengthening and perpetuation of their vernacular system of education and their identity as Malaysian, their culture and religion.
The present unity government has all the necessary attributes of government bent on good governance. Eight months in power is extremely challenging for the government.
The centrifugal forces of religion and race unleashed by the PN is extremely challenging. If not managed well, it might derail the government from pursuing its much talked about reforms.
The Indian question cannot be addressed in vacuum. Broader challenges of political instability and governance might sidestep the focus on Indians or other numerically small communities.
The onus is on the government in power to balance the delicate act of addressing both national and issues of the affected communities. It is not that national issues are not community issues and vice-versa.
I call for a broader holistic perspective in addressing the problems of ethnic communities like Indians and others in the country. – July 16, 2023
Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the DAP state assemblyman for Perai. He is also Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.