Is an Indian business leader’s praise for Hindraf indicative?

By occupation, businessmen (and -women) are usually the politically most conservative group in Malaysia. They may throw support behind the ruling coalition but will rarely express support for the government’s critics. Even when they support the opposition, they would do it very discreetly and secretly.
This is not least because many businesses are politically vulnerable for broadly two reasons: the carrots and the sticks. Some have got or are hoping to get licenses, permits, and concessions through political connection. Many other fear for politically-motivated investigation on tax evasion or other offenses. Some also fear for being targeted in political violence.

Some Indian-Malaysian businessmen seem to differ from most of their counterparts.

According to a Malaysiakini report, the Malaysian Indian Business Association (Miba) president P Sivakumar has attributed to positive changes that happened to the Indian community to the work and sacrifice of the Hindraf leaders.

“This must be acknowledged. It is because of the five individuals locked up under ISA that so many things are moving now,” he was quoted by Malaysiakini as saying, “These professionals, who could have led comfortable lives, were forced to shoulder this issue because the groups tasked with helping the Indians failed miserably. They have sacrificed their freedom for this.”

You need not the intelligence of a rocket scientist to understand the effectiveness of Hindraf’s articulation. Hindu temples are now spared from demolition, at least before the next elections. The Prime Minister and Selangor Menteri Besar are meeting Indian groups. Even MIC is setting up committees to attend to the Indian problems. Do not be surprised even if before elections some funds ala Amanah Saham Nasional are set up exclusively for Indians, or at least a sizeable portion of such funds reserved for them.

If the “awakening” of the Indians are not pushing the Malays towards UMNO and the portion of Chinese voters who go for “stability-at-any-price” towards BN parties, then UMNO will have to worry.

As one of UMNO’s main goals in the coming election – as the “son-in-law” has once proudly claimed – is to politically annihilate Anwar Ibrahim (the other goal is of course taking Kelantan), the ability of the disaffected Indians to form alliance with other ethnic group will crush UMNO’s wet dream.

If the ruling coalition’s victory are largely made through UMNO, with the non-Malay candidates mostly wounded or slaughtered in the Chinese or mixed seats, BN will be effectively reduced to UMNO. Stripped off its multi-ethnic cover, the naked UMNO will have to hand over the crown of ethnic arbitrator to the opposition camp. The transfer of the “power-sharing” legitimacy may mean the beginning of BN’s gradual disintegration and UMNO’s real decline.

To prevent this, MIC must have been working very hard to persuade both the elites and masses in the Indian community to stay on or return to the UMNO’s side. All the pacifying moves right from the PM downward are the carrot. And there is also the stick. Remember the Minnal 7 have paid their price for not being the best DJs in the eyes of the Minister of Information? Surely, many others who depend on the state for employment, livelihood or economic opportunity, including the business persons, are similarly in some vulnerable position.

This makes Mr Sivakumar’s view all the more interesting. Are he and his group MIBA representative of the mainstream opinion within the Indian business and middle class? If yes, are they not afraid of the political repercussion of such sympathy for Hindraf? Does maintaining good relation with MIC mean nothing for Indian businesses?

It’s a shame that being a Malaysian, I know so little about another community to tell the background of MIBA and the significance of Mr Sivakumar’s statement. Would you who know better kindly inform us?

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