- Mahendra Ved
"ICAN see you are not convinced," Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said with a smile as he replied to my question whether he was sure to win back the ethnic Indian votes Barisan Nasional lost in the 2008 general election.Of course, he was confident. For good measure, he advised me to check with Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) leaders.
I had been cautioned against asking questions on Malaysia's domestic politics. An Indian official reacted with disbelief when told that a question was indeed posed, but the prime minister did reply, with aplomb.Talking to MIC president Datuk G. Palanivel, who traces the party, now 65 years old, to the Indian National Congress, and his team helped. They cited recent by-election victories to show they were on an upswing.
But their focus was more on "collaboration" that India ought to have with its largest diaspora, with an understandable complaint: the Chinese diaspora gets "a much better deal".Having no pretensions of being an expert on Malaysia's political complexities, I could not help wondering, and despite being introduced to a score of very successful Indian Tan Sris and Datuks, how far the government and MIC have succeeded in mitigating the conditions of a large section of ethnic Indians.
There is no mistaking the many political trends that India and Malaysia have in common. One could not but take note of those that emerged just before and after my visit, along with a dozen other Indian journalists, organised by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies.
For one, Najib has announced major legislative reforms with regards to some stringent laws: the Internal Security Act, emergency ordinances, Banishment Act, Restricted Residence Act and Printing Presses and Publications Act. The first three would be repealed while the other two would be reviewed.Najib's move, despite being hinted at for a while, nevertheless had many surprised Malaysians talking.
Writing in this space, Umapagan Ampikaipakan approvingly notes that "no prime minister has ever taken such a firm stand on these issues that have plagued our discourse for so long. In the past, there have been promises to review and reshape, but never to repeal...."This was the prime minister putting himself out there like no other prime minister before him. And for that reason, and that reason alone, those 2,433 words may have been the most historic that our prime minister has said yet."
We had hardly reached our respective homes after the Malaysia visit when came another one from Najib that would be welcomed by the Indian intelligentsia and political circles. On Sept 24, he ruled out imposing hudud (Islamic criminal law) in multireligious Malaysia, saying even though it was "God's law" its implementation needed to be based on "realities".
He said the aim of an administration according to Islam was based on maqasid syariah, which entails protecting the religion, life, morals and property, among others.With such a stand, he is taking on conservative sections of the political opposition and rejecting a majoritarian approach on a delicate issue.
This is akin to the Indian realities of people of different faiths having their own jurisprudence with regard to marriage and property rights, even as the proposal for introducing a uniform civil code, debated from time to time, has not earned a consensus and remains far from being implemented.Other issues that came up during the 30-minute interaction at his office in Putrajaya also touched an Indian chord.On terrorism, he said: "From India, principally, we would want cooperation in the area of timely sharing of intelligence, so as to prevent horrific acts of terrorism from occurring."Since "terrorists do not recognise national boundaries", he said, "Malaysia is working with like-minded countries like India to counter the threats."
While India has felt the heat for a long time, Malaysia and its region have been better placed."We have been very fortunate in Malaysia in the sense that we have had no significant acts of terror like bomb blasts and no loss of lives on such account. We have acted in a very timely manner to prevent such acts from occurring," said Najib.
On bilateral ties, the prime minister stressed that the relationship was "of strategic importance, requiring leaders from both countries to look into seriously".He was happy that New Delhi shared this view."We have elevated our strong ties by signing the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) signifying the burgeoning economic trade ties which could soar to US$15 billion (RM48 billion) by 2015 from the current US$10 billion."
Najib said Ceca would be reviewed in the future to take stock of the situation following the landmark agreement and hoped that the private sector would be active in promoting India-Malaysia trade."Developing infrastructure is our strong point and we are looking for opportunities in India where massive infrastructure development is under way."
The relationship is increasingly money-driven. If Mahindra Satyam and Reliance are in, Maxis Communications is in Aircel and TM International in Spice Communications.Khazanah Nasional has invested in Apollo Hospitals, Yes Bank and L&T Finance and Projek Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan Berhad (PLUS) is building three major highways.
After upgrading New Delhi and Hyderabad airports, more are in the pipeline and Malaysia Airports, along with Indian collaborator GMR, is exploring third countries.That Malaysia was ranked 21st among foreign investors in India in January 2007, with 210 foreign direct investment approvals worth US$1,836.18 million, will soon be an old story with more investments and projects, thanks to the efforts of a significant vanguard of Indian Malaysians.
(News Straits Time)