Indians and Cabinets, how many to fix a lightbulb?

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

DECEMBER 8 — My father would be 80 if he was still alive. And he would not feel out of place with the current discussion about whether one Indian is enough for a Malaysian Cabinet.

Today it is about whether DAP’s V. Sivakumar does the job — to represent, develop and champion the community in the nation’s management. He is one of 28.

Is one good enough? What is the right number to represent these people?

In 1955, when Malaya’s first Cabinet was named by the British High Commissioner Sir Donald Charles MacGillivray, one of those 14 was MIC President VT Sambanthan. Since four of them were British officers, it was effectively 10 per cent representation, somewhat a reflection of the number of Malayan Indians.

In 1964, Abdul Rahman Abdul Hamid named two MIC men into his Cabinet. V. Manickavasagam as deputy joined his MIC president. Two Malaysian Indians serving a nation or serving a people, then a nation — stop nit-picking!

This little piece of heaven went on till Sambanthan exited with the second Razak Hussein Cabinet of 1974.

For 10 years, there were two MIC ministers; two Indian ministers, Hallelujah. No, praise Krishna!

Manickavasagam died and S. Samy Vellu picked up the mantle for what seemed an eternity (1979-2008). An unexpected defeat in his parliamentary seat forced S. Subramaniam — not to be mistaken with long-serving Samy deputy S. Subramaniam though both went on to serve Segamat as MP — to be the MIC designate minister till 2018 when Barisan Nasional collapsed.

This is when it gets spicy because the new Pakatan Harapan named four Malaysian Indians — Xavier Jayakumar Arulandam of PKR, Gobind Singh Deo and M. Kulasegaran of DAP and oddly P. Waytha Moorthy of the Hindraf fame.

It was pandemonium. The Malay right could not stop emphasising not an extra Indian minister but quadruple. What is happening to Malaysia, they asked?

Of course, Mahathir Mohamad with his Indian blood was the last person to just tell the right to buzz off. He explained, as every Malaysian PM does, to appease the right.

But he did not have to give excuses too long since he resigned within two years.

What transpired after, Malaysians are painfully aware. The first Perikatan Nasional government restored historical norms by naming only M. Saravanan as minister. One Indian, just right.

And now Pakatan is back on top, in a unity government. But shock, horror and facepalm they only name one Indian minister.

Is this backward, is this wrong?

What does Sivakumar symbolise? What does Sivakumar need to symbolise?

It seemed, and still seems, that representation — in an overt way — in Cabinet adequately addresses Indian grievances. Does it?

Minister V. Sivakumar at his office in the Ministry of Human Resources in Putrajaya December 6, 2022. — Bernama pic
Minister V. Sivakumar at his office in the Ministry of Human Resources in Putrajaya December 6, 2022. — Bernama pic

Minister V. Sivakumar at his office in the Ministry of Human Resources in Putrajaya December 6, 2022. — Bernama pic

Numbers game

The curse of the old Alliance (the original Perikatan) is that it cemented in our minds that in a polarised society where community lines are firm, quotas are the best way to ensure parity and equality, of sorts.

With a diminishing Indian population, one par for course if that thinking is applied. And there is the cold reality, 90 per cent of Indians are lower caste — thus the emergence of Indian Progressive Front (IPF) in the 1980s — and MIC firmly has an unspoken caste first policy for power. Higher caste only to lead the party no matter how many low caste members. No matter.

Therefore MIC ministers — the “proper” caste — are only 0.6 per cent of the Malaysian population, as Indians are only six per cent of the population.

Therefore, cynically, the minister is a minority among a minority. How would MIC respond to its own logic that the minority needs to lead the majority out of a perceived understanding of genetic superiority? Eh, Vigneswaran?

In the present climate, Sivakumar tries to evade the representation question by pointing to the number of Indian MPs in Parliament. He can do better. He can point to the fact that all Pakatan ministers will serve all people regardless of colour, race or religion. He could do that.

Disraeli was absolutely spot on about statistics being the most dastardly of things.

A whole gamut of Malaysians is under-represented because of our adherence to race representation. Race representations should be considerations, not firm rules as Malaysia increasingly becomes multicultural.

It is 2022 and Malaysia has only evolved to have one Orang Asli MP. Let alone a minister. Women are grossly under-represented.

The problem with representation based on population it leads to demography not talent determining promotion. It is a double-edged sword.

Like the idea in a Bumiputera majority population, the prime minister has to be a Bumiputera. Why? Because of numbers? Are we all not Malaysians?

In 1955, Malaya had locals and foreigners.

Since then, Malaysian Cabinets have only been filled by Malaysians.

Whether the Razak or Najib or Anwar Cabinet, it has been filled with Malaysians. Maybe Malaysians have grown up looking at urban voting patterns but the politicians have been slow to keep up. To trust fellow Malaysians. Perhaps Pakatan can lead its other friends in this coalition to see the talents of Malaysians, not their colour.

It pains to see the prime minister or the building security explain about how the Cabinet, or a ministry or an agency is adequately represented by the races. It takes so much oxygen in our national conversations.

Race is a consideration. Sure. But no more.

For instance, should Indian-owned companies seeking to export talk to Sivakumar who runs the human resources ministry or Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz who holds the international trade portfolio? Or Sivakumar has to translate the intentions of these businessmen from Seremban because there is no possible way Zafrul and his staff can entertain or reasonably respond to these businessmen?

A race first think in government leads to compartmentalisation of delivery. It fractures and it leads this government closer to Perikatan Nasional (PN) then its own lofty ambitions.

Sivakumar is the resource minister, he should not have the fate of all Malaysian Indians on his shoulders. All his colleagues are supposed to share the load, just as he serves all of Batu Gajah as MP regardless of their race or religion.

Malaysia has grown up but the politicians have to lead from the front not wait for the country to push them to the front of multicultural leadership.

There are enough Malaysians in the Cabinet to take care of all Malaysians, even Indians. If not, they are no different from PN.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.