Former twice prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohammed keeps on repeating the argument that the non-Malays, the Chinese and Indians are to be blamed for not creating Bangsa Malaysia.
Appearing as a guest of the podcast “Keluar Sekejap” hosted by former Umno leaders Khairy Jamaludin and Sharil Hamdan, Mahathir lamented the non-existence of Bangsa Malaysia in the country.
He gave the example of Indonesia where the Chinese have readily accepted assimilation.
In his other writings, he had given the example of the United States where immigrants melted into the local population to accept the English language and the ways of the majority.
Mahathir seems incorrigible in casting the blame on the non-Malays for lack of Bangsa Malaysia.
However, as one of the longest prime ministers in the country he forgets the history of the country in general and his precise role.
The historical evolution of the races determined whether they chose the path of integration or assimilation.
In the case of Indonesia, the minuscule presence of Chinese coupled with the turbulent history of the coup associated with the Communist Party paved the way for assimilation although not a complete one.
However, in the post-Suharto democratic era, there is tendency on the part of the Chinese to use their ethnic names and practice their culture and religion.
In the case of Peninsular Malaysia, the majority of Chinese and Indians were brought in as labourers to work in the mines and plantations.
The colonial government ensured that racial compartmentalisation would be maintained so that the Chinese, the indigenous Malays and Indians would lead separate existence.
There was never an attempt to bring the races together. Moreover, the maintenance of ethnic identity helped to reaffirm the belief that Chinese and Indians would be sent back to their respective countries at a later point in time.
The maintenance of racial separation was prolonged during the World War II and the communist insurrection in the immediate aftermath.
The formation of the Alliance Party before political independence in 1956 basically accepted the notion of ethnic cooperation between the three races represented by Umno, MCA and MIC.
The evolution of Malaysian politics followed the formula of ethnic representation on the basis of a contractual bargain encapsulated in the consociational system of inter-ethnic elite cooperation.
Mahathir’s political argument invariably puts on blaming the non-Malays for the absence of Bangsa Malaysia in the country.
He conveniently forgets that ethnic political, social and cultural system that the country inherited was the product of history.
In other words, why there is no assimilation, the blame should be cast on the British colonial policy, Malay elites and the non-Malay elites.
In fact, Umno leaders like Mahathir and the others are equally to blame for perpetuating the ethnic, cultural and religious divisions in the country.
It is easy, convenient and even racist to say that the absence of assimilation in the country is the fault of the non-Malays as though they were responsible for the charting the course of the country’s history.
Mahathir was the prime minister twice first for 22 years and later 22 months, what did he contribute by way of implementing assimilationist policies.
Apart from the slogans of Bangsa Malaysia and Look East Policy and others, there was no substantive move to promote Bangsa Malaysia.
Given the politicisation of ethnicity and religion for political expediency, Mahathir and Umno were the beneficiaries of policy that were implemented in the name of Malay dominance or Ketuanan Melayu.
Didn’t it occur to him that the idea of Malay domination ran counter to his idea of the need for Bangsa Malaysia.
If Malay domination was pursued relentlessly under Mahathir and others who came later after him, what would have been the reaction of the non-Malays.
Was there an expectation that they would promote Bangsa Malaysia when there was perception that their language, culture, religion and vernacular schools were under threat.
Mahathir cannot have the cake and eat at the same time.
The absence of the spirit of Bangsa Malaysia must be seen in relation to the historical forces that shaped the political course of the nation.
The British colonial power, the elites in Umno, MCA and the MIC were the architects of the post-independence policy the country.
Following the 1969 racial riots, Umno’s hand was considerably strengthened to reinforce the ethnic, cultural and religious divisions in favour of the Malays.
The non-Malays were merely trying to hold to their ethnicity, culture, language and religion that they perceived was in danger as result of Malay hegemony.
Mahathir having administered the country cannot turn around now to blame the non-Malays for the absence of assimilation.
He is equally responsible if not more in the perpetuation of the divisive political, economic and social system.
It is strange in the age of the recognition and celebration of identities, Mahathir is suggesting the adoption of an outmoded political system based on the concept of assimilation.
Even Indonesia having long suppressed the Chinese identity is beginning to pursue cultural reconciliation.
It is strange that why Mahathir failed to choose India as an example where the flourishing of regional languages has not posed problems for the integration of India as nation.
To doggedly pursue the argument that assimilation is a way forward in ethnically divided societies is none starter.