KUALA LUMPUR, May 24 – Officials in Putrajaya will huddle with a team of professionals over the next few months to formulate a comprehensive plan aimed at “rescuing” the country’s Indian poor, in an apparent effort by Barisan Nasional (BN) to cement their support from the community ahead of an election expected soon.
The initiative, announced today by Datuk Seri G. Palanivel (picture), is expected to be finalised during a roundtable conference to be chaired by Datuk Seri Najib Razak, which is expected to be called by July.
Among others, the conference will include representatives from the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry, International Trade and Industry Ministry, Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, Women’s Development Department, Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM), Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli), Singapore Indian Development Association, Entrepreneur Economic Fund (Tekun), Petronas, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, Securities Commission (SC), Indian contractors, businessmen, academicians, consultants bankers and those in the agriculture industry.
Palanivel, who was appointed to the post of lead minister for Indian affairs under Najib’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) last year, said the government could not take its Indian support for granted, despite reports that the community has begun returning to BN’s fold.
“The prime minister must help us. He has to give us a sizeable budget to take the Indian community out of their present problems,” he told a press conference here after meeting with several think tank groups on the proposed initiave.
“For the Indian support to return to BN, we need to rescue the people. The more we do that, the more our support will grow.
“We cannot depend on the existing support and be confident that everyone has come back to us. The more we help them, the more they grow confident and the more our support will grow.”
The MIC president said that at least 30 per cent of the country’s Indian community are either living in poverty or in dismal conditions, suffering from debt problems and are unable to make ends meet.
He said the government must take immediate action to “rescue” the group from their problems by formulating a basic roadmap to transform their current socioeconomic positions using short, medium and long term solutions.
The conference, added Palanivel, will discuss a 10-year plan to bring about such transformations and identify key areas of concern where immediate help can be given to the community.
“A good percentage of the community has been marginalised... they are trapped in poverty, earning low or no income, trapped with money lenders, their homes facing auction, they are unable to pay their basic utility bills, they cannot send their children to school, pay bus fares for them and so on... they are in deep problem,” he said.
Palanivel said that today’s meeting with the think tank groups also discussed a proposal to start an “urban transformation centre” for the Indians, where individuals could seek counselling or advice on how to resolve their problems.
“They (the think tanks) were telling me that unless we take these kinds of steps, we will not be able to lift the community out of their present position... so they want me to create a very powerful transformation centre,” he said.
Palanivel said he will put together a basic working paper over the next two weeks before presenting the proposal to the prime minister, ahead of the planned conference.
“We will tell the PM, this is our socioeconomic agenda and we would like him to chair this meeting (conference).
“The PM can open the conference and listen to their views and then he himself will make some announcements that will bring some benefit to the Indian community,” he said.
It has been more than four years since over 30,000 members of the Indian community marched during the infamous Hindraf gathering in November 2007 to protest against allegedly unfair policies of the BN government.
The Indian community has long been seen as a “fixed deposit” vote bank for BN but Hindraf’s march to the Petronas Twin Towers blew the lid on the group’s simmering frustration over being left out of development for decades.
The tumultuous event, together with Bersih’s first march for free and fair elections, have been credited for the staggering losses suffered by the ruling coalition during the March 8, 2008, general election.
The historic polls saw BN only taking 140 seats in the 222-seat Parliament, losing its customary two-thirds majority, as well as four state governments and Kelantan, which has remained in PAS hands for 20 over years. A coalition needs 112 MPs to gain a simple majority and 148 to win two-thirds.
However since then, the now outlawed Hindraf movement has split up, with some leaders favouring the BN government while others have aligned themselves with the federal opposition or grown completely disenchanted with both coalition.