On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

One faction too many

THE Indian community is shrinking, that’s a fact. If the MIC remains the third biggest component party, it has more to do with history and its partnership with Umno and the MCA in fighting for independence.  

The community now stands at 1.8 million, roughly about 8% of the country’s 26 million population, down from 10% before.  

The number of registered foreign workers is two million and it wouldn’t be wrong to state that there are now more foreigners, mostly Indonesians, than Indians, and that’s not even counting the sizeable illegal workers.  

But the community has never been so split. There are many grievances in the community, with pent-up frustrations of what they perceive as marginalisation from the economy.  

The MIC, especially its president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, has been on the receiving end, with sections of Indians charging that the party has not done enough. They also want Samy Vellu to go, saying he has over-stayed.  

The party’s fate has become even more complicated with rivalry within the party, with forces aligned to former deputy president Datuk S. Subramaniam also wanting Samy Vellu out.  

To make matters worse, other smaller Indian parties are also fighting for the community’s affection.  

Although the People’s Progressive Party claims to be multi-racial, it is essentially dominated by Indians.  

PPP president Datuk M. Kayveas has made no bones of how he feels about Samy Vellu and their feuds are well known. It has been reported that the two squared it off at a recent Barisan Nasional meeting.  

Then, there is the Indian Progressive Front (IPF), which has tried for years to be accepted into the Barisan, but has been stopped by the MIC.  

It has remained loyal to the Barisan, with its ability to reach out to the poorest in the community, and its president Tan Sri M.G. Pandithan recently buried the hatchet with Samy Vellu.  

That olive branch has, however, earned the wrath of its members who felt betrayed; for years, they have fought against Samy Vellu within the pro-government mechanism despite being kept out of the coalition.  

Last week, it was reported that the IPF is now split into two factions – one led by an ailing Pandithan and the other by the former secretary-general K. Panjamurai. The latter now leads the newly formed IPF Bersatu.  

Panjamurai said his group would support the Barisan in the coming elections and would back Subramaniam and Kayveas.  

Then, there are the Hindraf leaders who have proven their ability in organising the community and getting thousands of Indians into the streets to protest.  

Their methods may be questioned – and the cost has been high as they are now in Kamunting – but no one should scoff at their ability to rally the Indians.  

But the story doesn’t end here. Businessman Datuk K.S. Nallakarupan, once an ally of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, has formed Democratic Indian United Party. He’s out to face off with Parti Keadilan Rakyat.  

Then, there are Indian leaders in the PKR and the DAP. It is no secret that they, too, are counting the number of Indian candidates to be fielded and there is already grumbling ahead of the polls. It is a time bomb.  

But the bottom line is that there are no Indian majority seats in this country. Any Indian party depends on the Malay or Chinese votes to win and that’s the reality.  

The MIC has nine parliamentary seats and 19 state seats. They hold positions because the leadership is committed to power sharing among the various ethnic groups.  

But the Hindraf issue, which has gone down badly with Malay voters, can determine the voting trend for the MIC seats. If the Indians themselves decide to be anti-establishment by voting against the Barisan, then it could be a self-inflicted wound. Or triple blow, if the Chinese join in as well.  

Some survey findings have revealed that the crucial Malay voters are angered by the street protest and call for the British royalty to intervene, and this sentiment may work against the MIC candidates.  

Unwittingly, the Indians may join in and vote against their own MIC representatives too. The findings also revealed that the Malay votes, except in certain PAS areas like Kelantan and Kedah, are safely with Umno.  

In short, the Malay votes for Umno is solid despite what the urban middle class may feel about certain issues.  

That’s the political reality. As for the Indian community, they are at a crossroads, with the elections just weeks ahead.