Dr Mahathir’s ‘Indian problem’

Mustafa K. Anuar

Malaysians should be thankful that our unity in general and cultural exchanges over time have been blessed by our diversity. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 17, 2024.

Commentary by Mustafa K. Anuar

IN the midst of the country’s law enforcement agencies hunting people in high places for corruption, a sense of belonging among Malaysians – particularly ethnic Indians – was suddenly shaken and put into question.

This came about when former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in an interview recently by Indian satellite TV channel Thanthi TV, claimed that Indians in Malaysia were not “completely loyal” to the country. Consequently, their perceived diluted sense of Malaysian identity has come under scrutiny.

To the horror of concerned Malaysians, particularly the non-Malays, the nonagenarian declared that “immigrants” could not call Malaysia their home for as long as they practised their customs and cultures.

Mind you, this divisive narrative still emerges after more than six decades of the country’s independence and formation when most of the immigrants’ descendants born in this country have regarded Malaysia as their only homeland. It’s downright insulting.

This is apart from the fact that the former Langkawi MP, who was beaten in the last general election, presided over this multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country for 22 years as its prime minister. In other words, he is not a village idiot.

Dr Mahathir, who professed to be “100% Malay”, insisted that the non-Malays would have to “totally assimilate” to become Malay if they wanted to claim Malaysia as their home.

This raises a question, among others: while some degree of acculturation might have occurred over the years, why would the non-Malays abandon their ethnic identities and cultural heritage only to become Malay, instead of Malaysian?

Furthermore, there is no reason for them to feel embarrassed or insecure about embracing and preserving their respective identities, whether it be Indian, Chinese, Orang Asli, Eurasian, Thai, Dayak, Kadazan-Dusun, and so on.

For the uninitiated, Malaysia was born from the womb of diverse ethnicities and cultures so there was at one time an official endeavour to forge “Bangsa Malaysia” to represent this diversity.

One can be a proud Indian, Malay, Chinese or Iban but foremost a committed Malaysian. To discriminate against them on this basis is simply bigotry.

Besides, you cannot simply erase your ethnicity and cultural heritage – even if you want to – like you would delete a typo on your handphone. Or, can you really?

To be sure, all the ethnic groups have played a crucial role in building the nation over the years. To question any of them on this count borders on being dangerously mischievous.

Loyalty to the country, which is indeed important, is more than just about language and culture although we do recognise the importance of the national language as a medium for interethnic communication and understanding.

Patriotism can take various forms: there are soldiers, irrespective of their ethnic background, who have put their lives on the line to defend the country from external threats; there are people who fly the Jalur Gemilang at home on independence day; conscientious Malaysians strive to foster harmonious ethnic relations; and concerned Malaysians oppose certain leaders who put their vested interests before national interest, etc.

Conversely, Malaysians, irrespective of their ethnic origin, who steal the public purse that is meant for national development are disloyal to the country. This is because the stolen money would have been used to help uplift the living standards of the people, particularly the poor and the needy.

Acknowledgment and celebration of our diversity notwithstanding, let us for one moment wonder what would happen if we were to follow Dr Mahathir’s argument to its logical conclusion.

Would he and his ilk approve, for instance, of the idea that those non-Malays who have fully committed themselves to being “Malay” would be accorded special treatment in such areas as university placement, scholarships, and employment in the public sector?

Not to forget, can some of the newly-declared Malays be regarded as prospective prime ministerial material?

We should be thankful that our unity in general and cultural exchanges over time have been blessed by our diversity.

If we may borrow certain words of Sanskrit origin, we are all “bangsa” (race/nation) Malaysia, proud of our “merdeka” (independent) country. – January 17, 2024.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.


  • The old man cannot erase the fact that he is the son of an Indian migrate, even if he breaths, eats, sleeps and excretes the Malay language.

    Posted 3 months ago by Alphonz Jayaraman · Reply

  • Mahathirs remarks clearly demonstrate his shallow mind, thinking that he can sell the idea Malaysia belongs to Malays. It is a mind trapped in a cage not accepting the reality that Malaya is no more and Malaysia has more indigenous people than he can count with his fingers. It is a mind that is desperately looking for ways to make himself relevant betraying his own legacy as a ruler that led this democratic country for decades. It is this kind of thinking that makes a scary racist dictator like the genocidal leader of Germany during WWII.

    Posted 3 months ago by Loyal Malaysian · Reply