Recognising ethnic representation is democratic
My piece “Only one Indian for minister? Harapan can do better” (Malaysiakini, 4 November 2022) elicited a wide variety of comments.
Some were supportive whereas others went to the extent of calling me names, racist, bigots and others. Some even portrayed me as the enemy of PH having the mindset of those in the ethnic political parties.
By using pseudonyms, these commentators were unusually brave.
I doubt they would have engaged in extremism if they had to be honest in using their names.
Anyway, anonymity gave them a sense of great irresponsibility.
Given this, how could you take the comments seriously. After more than 60 years of divide and rule on the basis of ethnicity and religion, I don’t think Harapan can by overnight escape the entrapment of race and religion.
These are not mere entrapment or false consciousness, but very much part of identity politics. Identity politics in the forms of race and religion are very much part of the political landscape of this country.
Race and religion are the axes as how politics have evolved over the years. These identity terrains are difficult and stubborn ones to be dealt with in the political evolution of the country.
Harapan might profess idealism to transcend the narrow confines of race and religion in the long run. But they have to be dealt with in the short run.
If the majority of those appointed as ministers are Malays with some representation from Sabah and Sarawak, then why was the ethnic criteria used.
Harapan is in a most difficult period after taking power based having parliamentary majority. The government is not Harapan per se but unity government based on the conglomeration of interests, ethnic and non-ethnic parties.
Given this, there is no escaping for Harapan to think along the lines of identity politics. Harapan being the anchor of unity government must think of ways and means to politically stabilise the country.
There was no escaping from using the ethnic criteria in the appointment of ministers, the majority were Malays.
I am not saying that this was wrong, but under the prevailing political circumstances it was a pragmatic move. The government formed was one of compromise.
If the unity government had used merits in the choosing of the ministers, there would not been a necessary for my article calling for an additional Indian minister.
Asking for an additional Indian minister was basically to increase the representation of the community. Yes, under the BN, the MIC cabinet ministers were not up to their mark.
In fact, the MIC was responsible for derailing the developments initiatives of the community. Using the example of the MIC ministers to deny another ministerial post for Indian is quite unfair.
It is not other Indian leaders might behave like those in the MIC.
Capable Indians are denied the opportunity, yet it is said that it is not necessary for Indians to represent the community in cabinet.
If this is the argument, then there is no need for even the one Indian from DAP to be appointed as the minister. Maybe there is feeling that others, non-Indians, could provide the representation for the community.
As Malaysians we must think and act in the larger interests of the country. If the unity government can slowly move away from the confines of race and religion, then there is a possibility for the development of multi-racial thinking.
This political evolution is time consuming at the same time beset with the never ending racial and religious parochialism.
Ethnicity is a double-edged sword.
Too much of it might lead to ethnic nationalism. Less of it might lead to the non-recognition of the identity and culture of ethnic minorities.
I was not speaking from the angle of ethnic nationalism but from the perspective of recognising the basic ethnic and cultural rights of the Indian community.
Such a recognition must be also extended to other nationalities.
Even die-hard Marxists can pay importance to the rights of nationalities or ethnic groups, I wonder why the sheer mention of an extra ministerial seat for an Indian had to evoke cries of bigotry and racism.
As though I had breached one of the cardinal principles of the unity government based on merits and talents.
Asking for an additional minister for the Indian community is call for recognition and respect.
It is not that an additional post is going to fundamentally alter the development status of the community.
It is a mere one small step in the right direction saying that the present unity government pays attention to the powerless numerically small ethnic communities in the country.
If ministrial representation should proceed by way of merits or talents, then the is no necessity for ethnic criteria.
Then it would serve no purpose in my quest for an additional Indian minister.