They want villains to hate and heroes to cheer - and they don't want explanations that do not give them that. - Thomas Sowell (Dismantling America)

COMMENT Some people, Indians mostly, ask me, why I bother writing about Hindraf? I realise this question points more to a particular class mindset and political alliance allegiance rather than to any genuine interest on the part of the persons asking the question.

padang chetty klang hindraf 220411Hindraf's latest strategic move to field candidates in Pakatan Rakyat-controlled areas has resulted in the usual flame war between Hindraf and Pakatan proxies with accusations of racism and mandore-ism as a convenient stand in for any rational discussion and of course that P Uthayakumar has been bought over by Umno. I'll leave the rumour-mongering to the experts.

I make it a point to touch base with my favourite status quo agitators via the Human Rights Party (HRP) website, and I suggest that anyone interested in learning more about the entity that supposedly speaks for ‘working class' Indians and the issues they face should make it a point to look up this site to discover for themselves how Hindraf and the HRP (at this point in time the two are interchangeable) view the Malaysian political and social landscapes.

There, I'm known as a "classical pseudo [multiracial] Indian" - I assume the writer meant "classic" - "who will never be chief of Navy but calls Hindraf racist".

The fact that I never once called Hindraf racist, in fact I defended Hindraf against such allegations in every one of my comment pieces, escaped the writer of the piece but seeing as how the writer chose only to publish a snippet of my comment piece and a paltry one Malaysiakini comment against the piece, is just further evidence of how Hindraf intentionally builds rhetorical straw men in lieu of any rational discussion.

Many Pakatan supporters are aghast that Uthayakumar and Hindraf are choosing to exercise their democratic right by fielding candidates in the upcoming general election or rather are aghast that Hindraf is fielding candidates against Pakatan, which just goes to show you that for some Pakatan supporters democracy is a one-way street, that street being the way to Putrajaya and the banishment of Umno.

NONEMeanwhile, because of their lack of traction with Umno, Hindraf for whatever reason is hoping that Pakatan-controlled areas would be more amenable to their particular brand of politics.
This of course is amusing because they have labelled Pakatan just as racist and vile as Umno-BN but yet believe they stand a better chance of gaining some support from whatever racial mix residing in those areas.

And by advocating that Indians abstain from voting ("it's an option") even if they (Hindraf) lose, either Umno (with a proven record of systemic discrimination) or Pakatan (which according to Hindraf is no better) would win. So what exactly is the game plan here?

A throwback to old racial formula

However what is missing from the polemics from both sides is the acknowledgement of the differing political ideologies underpinning this political and racial feud.

I would argue that Hindraf is a throwback to the old racial formula that BN continues to perpetuate. Although Hindraf/HRP and its adherents claim to speak for all Malaysians, a cursory glance at their propaganda organs or representatives tells another story.

And the story focuses on the disenfranchisement of the Indian community mixed up with constant polemical references to the "bi-racial (1Malaysia) Malay and Chinese", "others" who perpetuate the systemic discrimination that Indians face in Malaysia.

Those of us who are critical of the movement are labelled as "mandores" or "elites" (if Indians) who did nothing for the community since independence or thereabouts, or just plain racists, for non-Indians.

This kind of slagging off is common whenever any critical discussion of Hindraf occurs. The comments section in Malaysiakini is filled with this kind of nonsense with the term "hero" used to describe those that Hindraf supporters have decided "did nothing" for the Indian community when an examination of a post-colonial, Indian community reveals a complex narrative poisoned with systemic discrimination but also a period of vibrant growth sustained mainly by the efforts of the community itself.

These racial taunts or an appeal to emotions coupled with Hindraf's own ‘demands' for the Indian community and the response they hope to get (this last bit is the important part of the equation), is a fairly common strain of minority groupthink found across the world.

Thomas Sowell* gives a conservative perspective of the American experience in ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals', the passage which I reproduce here:

NONE"The general orientation of white liberals has been one of 'What can we do for them?' What blacks can do for themselves has not only been of lesser interest, much of what blacks have in fact already done for themselves has been overshadowed by liberal attempts to get them special dispensations - whether affirmative action, reparations for slavery, or other race-based benefits - even when the net effect of these has been much less than the effects of blacks' own self-advancement."

And let's not forget that Hindraf claims to represent ‘working class' Indians, which is not as convenient as it first seems. If the Malay demographic is changing because of external influences, I assure you the same is happening to the Indian/Hindu demographic.

So while Hindraf's agenda may not be racist but rather a restatement of a political ideology (which failed us mainly because of the corruption of Umno and its partners) we as a nation subscribed to pre-Pakatan, this does not mean that the movement itself is free from racist members. You want to see the worse of Malaysians, just read the flame wars concerning Hindraf.

So while I dismiss Hindraf's claims of a class-based approach to the ‘Indian issue' as disingenuous since nothing in their rhetoric or deeds backs up this claim, I don't think anyone should dismiss their race-based approach as racist simply because the general orientation of oppositional politics has shifted from that of a race-based approach to a supposed class-based ethos.

So how does Pakatan deal with Hindraf?

Hindraf is getting nowhere with BN. The possible consequences of blackmailing Pakatan could be either Hindraf does manage to get representation in Parliament or deny Pakatan that chance, thereby proving their political worth to BN. If the outcome is the former, how does Hindraf intend to work with political parties which it has labelled as racists?

Depending on the outcome of the elections, in the wet dreams of Hindraf supporters, they believe Hindraf in Parliament could be kingmakers, but the reality is they would probably end up as whipping boys.

The question is, if Hindraf manages to do for the Indian community (and their best bet for the time being is the federal reach of Umno) what MIC (and according to Hindraf, everyone else) has failed to do, what then are the ramifications to the so-called multiracial platform that Pakatan supporters subscribe to?

Understand now, that Hindraf is speaking the same race-based language as Umno. When Uthayakumar laments the fact that Pakatan won't give them the seats they need even though it is less then MIC, it demonstrates that for some, certainly for Hindraf, Pakatan is merely a stand-in for BN. In other words for some, Pakatan speaks the same language as BN but merely uses a different dialect.

And because the DAP has done such a sterling job presenting itself as a multiracial party, you still have large swathes of the non-Chinese voting population sceptical of the inclusiveness of the DAP.

Make no mistake, I think Pakatan and its partners have been doing the best job that they can by pushing their class-based agenda but at the end of the day all that effort has been hampered by the malfeasances of the federal government and their own internal bickering.

And the lure of a race-based solutions to problems is hypnotic. It makes everything easier when you can come up with formulas that appeases various communities but would seem arbitrary in any other context.

And for years this worked for us. For years we got the government we deserved embroiled in our own petty communal concerns and by the time we realised we deserved something better, we were too deep in the rabbit hole of our own racial preoccupations.

NONESo how does Pakatan deal with Hindraf? The glib answer would be, hope they aren't as influential as they seem to think they are amongst the voting Indian population.
It's difficult to claim the moral high ground when the reality is that nearly every issue be it education, the economy or culture is still viewed through a racial/religious lens but neatly camouflaged in the ‘new' multicultural/racial spin of Pakatan.

The only way to render any type of race-based philosophy obsolete is to ensure that the class-based approach is not only done but seen to be done and so far either because of lack of political will or being sidetracked by the machinations of Umno or both, Pakatan has a lot more to do in fulfilling this expectation.

*Anyone familiar with the works of Sowell would be having a good chuckle seeing as how I'm quoting him in a piece sympathetic to class-based solutions to problems.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.