Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hindraf adrift one year after mass protest

By Baradan Kuppusamy

Last night's gatherings in Batu Caves and a Penang temple to mark the anniversary of last year's explosive Hindraf protest were tame affairs with low turnouts, in what is a clear sign the movement's influence is waning amid a police crackdown.

Members of Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) hold banners as they shout slogans after prayers to commemorate the first anniversary of the Nov. 25, 2007 mass rally at a Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur, yesterday. — AP pic

The recent spate of arrests of prominent Hindraf leaders and the constant warnings by police not to stage any further protests may have also deterred Hindraf followers from filling up the streets once again to mark the 1st anniversary of the Great Awakening, as the Nov 25 protest is now known.

But more significantly, the lack of a clear and firm leadership is probably the most major setback for the movement.

Top Hindraf leaders led by lawyer P. Uthayakumar and four others are now incarcerated in Kamunting and out of the picture.

Another founding leader P. Waythamoorthy is in self imposed exile in London and unable to effectively manage the movement.

In the meantime the Hindraf leadership has been taken over by various "co-coordinators" whose allegiances are increasingly in question. There is frequent infighting among the coordinators.

Despite the setbacks there is strong public support for Hindraf but the support is uncoordinated, and not gathered into a coherent political movement to win resources for the Tamil working class from the political centre.

The DAP's and PKR's Indian leaders remain keen to tap on to the Makkal Sakthi or people's power of the Tamil masses for their political careers and as a result they dominated the two commemorative functions here and in Penang.

At the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Batu Caves about 500 Hindraf supporters attended a prayer ceremony and climbed the 272 steps to light oil lamps and chant "Makkal Sakti Valga" (long live people's power).

In Penang about 700 people prayed at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Butterworth to commemorate Nov 25. They were led by Penang Deputy Chief Minister P. Ramasamy and coordinator R.S Thanenthiran.

Ramasamy promised to declare Nov 25 a national public holiday if Pakatan Rakyat captured the federal government.

He added that he would ask the PR- ruled Penang to declare a state holiday on Nov 25.

It is unclear how a holiday would advance the Hindraf cause or put bread on the table and cash in the pockets of the Tamil working class but the offer is emotive and would endear the opposition to the Hindraf supporters.

On this day in 2007 nearly 30,000 Indians marched to the capital to demonstrate and demand an end to marginalization and equal treatment and a fair share of the national wealth.

Despite greater political representation their demands remain largely unrealized although there appears to be greater sensitivity - both in the opposition and the government - to the needs of the Tamil masses.

The vast majority of Indians live in the Pakatan Rakyat ruled states of Selangor, Perak, Penang and Kedah and the state governments have come under great pressure to deliver.

On the side of the BN government a cabinet committee under deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has been formed to comprehensively review the problems Indians face and how to resolve them.

Hindraf supporters who expected immediate change in their lives after voting for the PR parties are now growing increasingly frustrated at what they see as a "failure" by the PR governments to satisfy their needs.

But they are not yet disillusioned enough with PR to again embrace the BN though that day may not be far off going by the lukewarm reception to the Hindraf call to show protests yesterday.

Both PR and BN will continue to pay lip service and make cosmetic changes to exploit the Hindraf movement for political gains.

But this indeterminate situation could change dramatically if the founder and leading light of Hindraf P. Uthayakumar is freed and allowed to lead the movement again.

Hindraf adrift one year after mass protest
The Malaysian Insider, Malaysia