Written in response to Bukit Selambau: Lets unite on the issues by Vijay Kumar Murugavell:
I agree with a lot of what you have said, but would like to highlight some points from your letter for discussion. I have organized them as follows:
A. The nature of Hindraf & its constituents
You have mentioned or alluded to many of the behaviours & attitudes that Hindraf & its members exhibit, & indeed a lot of the criticism being sent their way is based on general perceptions of their mindset & actions, which tend to evoke emotional responses ranging from mild annoyance to outright disgust. Let us look at the causes. Where do these silly, regressive, self-defeating behaviours arise from? There are so many theories out there, ranging from poor upbringing, low intelligence, inferior culture, no “X” factor (ala LKY), to even too much parpukari. Others might even blame defective genes (as Mahathir partly did for Malaysian Malays’ economic backwardness in his Malay Dilemma).
IMHO, these behaviours strongly correspond to the “distress pattern” behaviours of people who have been oppressed. I have not come across a more accurate or useful explanation of Hindraf’s behaviours than the one afforded by class analysis & socio-political development theory. Take a look at this page, and in the second section under the heading “Ways Oppressed People Suck”, you will find the most uncanny, true-to-life portrait of Hindraf, down to its most annoying quirks. You will even find a thumbnail sketch of some of Hindraf’s detractors, especially those who have internalized their oppression. However, what knocked me off my chair was seeing, in paragraph 20 of the same section, our friend Kalaivanar, complete with 70's style sideburns, eyeliner and shaved eyebrows, peeking out from between the lines, in the company of some other crooks.
As a comparison, we will also find similar behaviours & attitudes in oppressed groups all over the world; poor African-Americans, Australian Aborigines, Palestinians and the Roma (Gypsies) in Europe, and often this will be recycled into stereotypes that will be used to further oppress them.
Coming back to Hindraf, it truly vexes my superior, English speaking intellect that I cannot swoop down from my perch in the heavens & save them. How I would just love to grab them by their collective shoulders & shake some sense into them, or tell them to buck up, get back to work, get their s--t together, wake up & smell the Starbucks, or so on and so forth ad nauseam. Sadly for me, telling them what to do for their own good simply won’t work. Only they can save themselves, beginning with critical consciousness, and they need to be in the driver’s seat of their liberation.
Seen in this light, what can we do? Well, we can support them while they do it. And we can start by engaging them & listening proactively as they find their voice. What might this look like? Practically, this could have meant that, when they brought us a tainted sandwich before the elections (Kalaivanar & his ilk between slices of pertinent issues), we could have taken it apart, gingerly removed & discarded Kalaivanar while showing everyone what a rotten piece of baloney he was, then carefully chewed & ingested the pertinent issues (tough, I know, but very nutritious for PR).
One more way we could support them is by remembering that their oppression makes it easier for us to hate them and by consciously ending the oppression, subtle or not, that manifests itself in so many forms.
And no, it’s not going to disappear miraculously the day Anwar Ibrahim steps into Seri Perdana as PM.
One last thing about Hindraf that we should take note of: for all their race based pleading & posturing, they have not once crossed the red line; that of claiming supremacy, requiring special rights over that of others or requiring that the rights of others be curtailed. This makes it patently unfair to lump them in with those who do. They will in all probability happily fight for those same rights for all Malaysians, provided we can build a compelling enough vision for them to share in. This makes them a natural potential ally for any group who fights for equal rights for all. But we must realize that, if our end in mind is to support Hindraf & their members & to gain their support for our cause, all our vitriol & indignation, however well understood or righteous, will not take us one step closer to it.
B. Malaysian Democracy, where is it going?
This second part is not about Hindraf anymore, but about Pakatan Rakyat & our role in forming a “more perfect union” in Malaysia. At the root of it is this question: How would we define the Malaysia that we desire for ourselves?
My own “model” looks something like this:
A fully functional democracy & civic society.
Government and national leaders as servants of the people in its truest sense of the word.
Individual rights & freedoms respected, diversity in all forms valued & welcomed
Citizens, either individually or collectively, politically engaged.
Malaysians free from race bound thinking
People’s agenda & needs come first
Balanced development, social justice
Sound leadership at all levels – national, state, local govt.
True separation of powers
Judiciary above reproach
Truly independent Parliament, not mere rubber stamp
Government transparency, accountability & responsiveness
How might this look like in practice? Governance will not be left to government alone. Citizens will not only seek, but demand that they be consulted on major decisions. Individuals & groups will demand accountability from their government. Politics is no longer a dirty word or the exclusive domain of politicians only. To politicize something will no longer mean to use an issue for personal gain, but to raise an issue for full enlightened discussion before collective decision making, not behind closed doors, but in the bright light of day.
Yes, it will be noisy, raucous even. Diverse groups will bandy about their own manifestos for the common good & they will jostle with other groups for influence & mindshare. But this noise of the marketplace is infinitely more desirable to the dead silence of the temple, where only high priests may enter. It will also be necessary, since to know what the rakyat’s agenda is, leaders will need to be in constant engagement & dialogue. Leaders do not get a blank cheque once every 5 years, and the only decision that is the sole discretion or prerogative of a single leader is when to resign.
No blind loyalty to any party or leader. No cult of personality and no unrealistic belief that leaders are angels who know better what’s good for the rakyat. No political party would ever dare presume to demand loyalty or obeisance from the rakyat, and if there is to be any vitriol at all to be had, it will be from citizens towards the government and not the other way around.
Finally, no more trips to Disneyland, and the PM rides the bus to work :-).
Wouldn’t this make the jobs of our leaders more difficult? Wouldn’t this make government’s plate full? You betcha, but that’s the price of leadership.
The next question is, How ready is Pakatan Rakyat to deliver this? Some issues:
Firstly let’s consider DSAI himself. True, he has been the unifying factor in getting PAS, PKR & DAP as well as the other groups to work together. His image and political persona as well as the sympathy he gets for having been the target of Mahathir’s frame-up gives him a store of political capital. Indeed, he was the only one who could have so brilliantly enunciated the concept of “Ketuanan Rakyat”. However, this is no substitute for substance, and his penchant for political grandstanding can seriously damage the credibility of PR, especially when the hype exceeds the delivery. Malaysians instinctively distrust the big-headed, the over ambitious, the arrogant & the boastful show-offs. It would be a disaster if he turned out to be too much of a politician to be a good leader. My thoughts: DSAI needs to work on delivering substance, building a compelling vision and avoiding errors; his political skills impress but he is not the Second Coming.
Secondly, let’s look at PR’s mandate from PRU-12. PRU-12 was indeed a perfect tsunami, but it would be a mistake to assume that we will automatically see a repeat performance for PRU-13. True, more voted for PR out of opposition to BN’s policies & practices, but large numbers also voted in protest of higher prices, deteriorating living standards and other bread & butter issues, not to mention the internal disunity in BN component parties. There is nothing to stop these voters from returning to BN if they manage to stabilise the economy & create some semblance of unity within BN; unless PR creates a true alternative vision for Malaysia that all Malaysians can unite behind. This PR has not done convincingly yet. BN may still use our tactical errors to begin rolling back the gains of PRU-12. Serious potential gaps in the ideologies of PR parties exist and we cannot rely on DSAI’s personality alone or a string of by-election victories to keep things together. My thoughts: From now until PRU-13, creating & sharing this vision & how it will be realised for all is job no. 1 for PR.
I can appreciate that given the current state of affairs, our leaders are pre-occupied with various issues. However, when PR finally forms the next government, the problems that the rakyat face will still be there, and BN is not going to disappear into thin air. Our plates will still be full, even fuller than they are now. So if we really believe in participatory democracy, if we really believe in “Ketuanan Rakyat”, then perhaps we had better begin practicing it from today, instead of waiting for the day after PRU-13. Is this crossing the bridge too early? I don’t think so – develop good habits now, show the rakyat we practice what we preach & prepare ourselves for victory in PRU-13.