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Does Mahathir Mohamad Bat for Malay Supremacy as Denial of his Indian Ancestry?

Malaysian PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s pro-minority rant is lost in history. Because his Malaysian United Indigenous Party, formed in 2016, is an unabashed votary for the ethnic-majority Bumipetras, who are flourishing at the expense of minority rights.

Joydeep Sen Gupta |

Updated:December 24, 2019, 2:48 PM IST
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Does Mahathir Mohamad Bat for Malay Supremacy as Denial of his Indian Ancestry?
File photo of Malaysian PM Mahathir bin Mohamad.

At 94, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, has inverted the moral aphorism that power is the elixir of the young and restless.

Dr Mohamad, whose father Mohamad Iskandar was a Penang Malay of partly Indian ancestry, has had a history of embarrassing India on global stage with unflinching regularity. Perhaps, a trait that traces its origin to denial of his Indian ancestry that has been highlighted by six Prime Ministers of Malay descent.

In September, at the United Nations’ annual General Assembly meeting, Dr Mohamad, who came out of retirement in 2018 for a successful shot at power at a ripe old age, made a scathing remark against India’s ‘unilateral’ bid to scrap special powers to Jammu & Kashmir on August 5 following the abolition of Article 370.

India was quick to respond to Dr Mohamad’s barb, urging Malaysia to “bear in mind the friendly relations between the two countries and desist from making such comments”.

There has been an icy chill in New Delhi-Kuala Lumpur ties because of New Delhi’s growing frustration at its bid to extradite Dr Zakir Naik, the controversial Islamic preacher, who has been in India’s crosshairs for making hate speeches.

To make matters worse for the bilateral ties, on December 21, Dr Mohamad spoke out of turn about India’s internal affairs such as nation-wide protests against the Citizenship Amended Act, “especially without a right understanding of the facts”.

Dr Mohamad had expressed regret that India as a secular state would take action to “deprive some Muslims of their citizenship.

“Already people are dying because of this law, so why is there a necessity to do this thing when all this while, for 70 years almost, they have lived together as citizens without any problems,” he reasoned.

Dr Mohamad’s bleeding-heart sentiment towards Indian Muslims is a divorce from reality as his Malaysian United Indigenous Party or Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, formed in 2016, is an unabashed votary for the ethnic-majority Bumipetras – a euphemism for Malay supremacy and at the expense of minority rights.

Over 50 per cent Malaysian population are ethnic Malays, who enjoy a lopsided socio-economic and political advantage, thanks to a preferential affirmative action that was initially introduced in 1971 for 20 years, but has since been extended by another 30 years.

What was the need for the all-pervasive Malay supremacy that has led to deep social schisms and communal tension and distrust?

A refresher course in contemporary Malaysian history puts the pro-Bumipetra theory in perspective,

When Malaysia gained independence in 1957 from the British, the Chinese and Western expatriates had a vice-like grip on the Muslim-majority country’s economy, and over 75 per cent of the majority Malays were languishing in extreme poverty

In a bid to break the business monopoly of the Western expatriates, ethnic Chinese and Indians, who comprised over 47 per cent of the population and now dwindled to less than 30 per cent (Chinese: 22:6 per cent and Indians: 6:7 per cent), the Malaysian government introduced the New Economic Policy in 1971, targeting the wealthy non-Malays.

The NEP was rolled out in the backdrop of deadly racial riots, which broke out between Malays and Chinese in several cities, and the country was placed under emergency rule in 1969.

The NEP is an assertion of Malay race identity and make them the most prosperous ethnic group in the country.

In 1970, the economic disparity between the Malays (53 per cent of the population) and non-Malays were indeed stark. The Malays held only 2.4 per cent of all shares in the stock market, while the Chinese controlled 27 per cent, ethnic Tamils had about 1 per cent. And, the lion’s share at 63 per cent was controlled by Western expatriates.

The NEP aimed to rewrite the history for Muslim Malays, who historically got the wrong end of the economic stick since the advent of Islam to the Malaysian archipelago via Indian and Arab traders in the 13th century.

Initially, it was announced in 1971 that Bumipetras should control 30 per cent of all corporate equity by 1990. Malay home buyers were entitled to a discount of 5 to 15 per cent on new developments.

Dr Mohamad’s bid to promote Malay supremacy through the 80s and 90s continues to subjugate minority rights as the dwindling minority populations buttresses the flight of capital and human resources. The Malaysian Prime Minister’s preferential bid to promote his ethnic community such as all senior bureaucratic positions are reserved for Malays has drawn repeated global flak for rampant human rights violations, lack of accountability, transparency and unsound economics such as the dud Proton car project. But, the Prime Minister, who the Malays fondly refer to as Dr M, continues to remain wedded to majority appeasement.

Dr Mohamad’s inversion of social class order in Malaysia has created nouveau riche Bumiputeras, who by 2014 formed a third of the country’s wealthiest households.

The Chinese, which in 2002 made up more than two-thirds of the richest people, saw its share reduced to just over 60 per cent.

As racism kerfuffle roils Malaysian politics, aided and abetted by Dr Mohamad, the nonagenarian Prime Minister cuts a sorry figure in trying to play a global statesman and meddling in another sovereign nation’s internal matter.

Dr Mohamad’s bid to usurp the vacant mantle of his southern neighbour, the first Prime Minister of Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, likely to remain an uncherished dream as posterity will to remember him unkindly with a slew of negative attributes for his vaulting and canny ambition to grab power and a disdain for minority rights.

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