Too many parties fighting over small Indian pie

K. Kabilan

Despite the establishment of Indian parties and their pledges to uplift, the community is still looking for support, financial or otherwise, from the government and other benefactors. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, December 12, 2023.

Commentary by K. Kabilan

IN less than a month, two new Indian political parties have been formed, both claiming to want to uplift the Indian community.

On November 27, former Penang deputy chief minister and ex-DAP leader P. Ramasamy announced the formation of the United for the Rights of Malaysians Party, or “Urimai”, which means “rights” in Tamil. 

And last Sunday, former MIC youth leader P. Punithan announced the launching of his party, the Malaysian Indian People Party (MIPP), which aims to prioritise the welfare of the Indian community.

While Urimai has decided to stay away from joining any of the political coalitions and stay independent for now, MIPP has made its intentions clear of wanting to join Perikatan Nasional (PN).

These two will join a long list of other established Indian parties in the national political landscape, chief among them the “mother party” MIC.

Other Indian parties still in the picture, but not necessarily influential or active, include Indian Progressive Front, Makkal Sakti, Malaysian Indian Justice Party, Malaysian Advancement Party, Malaysian Indian United Party and People’s Progressive Party, although it claims to be multiracial in nature.

Businessman P. Thiagarajan, more popularly known as Ohms Thiagarajan and a close friend of Anwar Ibrahim, is also said to be planning to form an Indian party, which will align itself with Pakatan Harapan (PH). 

There are also several others that have gone dormant in recent years after a noisy start.

The question that arises is this: why are there so many Indian parties in Malaysia?

For context, the size of the Indian community is only 6.6% of the country’s population of 33 million. That is about 2.1 million Indians in total. This number is even smaller than the size of the formal and informal foreign labour force in the country.

With so many parties to look after their needs, the Indian community should have nothing to complain of. That should have been the ideal scenario.

However the reality is far from that. Members of the Indian community, a large portion of whom are from the B40 group, are still looking for support, financial or otherwise, from the government and other benefactors.

They continue to struggle to put food on their tables, still finding it hard to survive with the ever increasing cost of living and remain beggars for educational chances in public universities.

Annually there will be scores of Indian students seeking financial support to start their tertiary education or complete it.

The social problems affecting the community are also well recorded. Just look at the prison population and the number of Indian youth involved in gangsterism.

It is true that the government cannot do everything all the time to help support the community. 

Previously, the Barisan Nasional government had parcelled out the responsibility of helping the Indian community to MIC. However after its fall from grace at the 2008 general election – MIC has only one MP now – the party no longer enjoys the clout it used to have in the government.

In fact, it is not even in the government today.

MIC no longer enjoys the clout it once had as part of the Barisan Nasional government. – Facebook pic, December 12, 2023.

Making loud noises

So, going back to the main question, what is the need of so many Indian political parties when the plight of the Indian community remains the same?

Will the addition of two or three more parties make any difference? Are these parties genuine in wanting to uplift the community? Do they have a masterplan or blueprint that can help the community, even if it needs to be done without government support? Or how will they tap into government support to achieve it?

Another question to ponder is if the new parties are only being formed to promote their own interests.

When Ramasamy formed his party – which has yet to be registered – he said he had lost faith in the concept of a multiracial political party.

“The multiracial political parties that exist now do not represent Indians. For example, DAP and PKR are multiracial with many Indian members.

“But, what is the state of Indian members in these parties? They (Indian leaders) cannot speak. They need to obey the leadership’s instructions. The party’s leadership is more focused on their respective races.

“If there are Indian leaders who speak out, then they will be marginalised or fired from the party.

“Therefore, I believe that Indians in Malaysia cannot have hope in multiracial parties like DAP and PKR,” Ramasamy had said.

Ramasamy was a senior DAP man and a three-term deputy chief minister of Penang. If he says now his then-party and PH had failed the Indian community, questions will surely be raised as to how he failed to make changes from within.

Perhaps he and his team at Urimai are free from whatever DAP-PH shackles to help the community now.

Or perhaps they can play a better role in making enough loud noises for the government to sit up and take note, and not to take the community for granted.

As for Punithan’s MIPP, he said it was the “rising of young people to lead community”.

Fair point, but he must first make sure they are treated as equals in Malay-based PN. They must also remember how PAS leaders treated the Gerakan president during the state elections campaign in Penang.

If MIPP is in PN just to be a showcase in the coalition, without any voice or strength, then it will fail in its aim to uplift the Indian community, especially when its two big brothers in the coalition are PAS and Bersatu.

One would have thought that the Indian community is well represented with the existing Indian parties. But alas, that does not seem to be the case. 

Otherwise, why would new Indian parties be formed, all fighting for the same targeted audience, and with a limited sphere of influence and power?

The truth is that the fragmentation in the community is too wide, and perhaps the best course of action is for a merger of Indian parties to become a stronger voice, but that is a topic for another day. – December 12, 2023.

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