A: Certain sections of the Indian community are angry, not because we didn't raise or ask for solutions to their plight. Their anger is due to inadequacy: when 50 people apply for a (government) job, and if only one gets the job, it is not only they that get angry. Even I get disappointed. I have fought for this many times in the Cabinet and we have achieved some degree of success. I'm not the kind of person who represents the people (in name) but ignores their problems.
Q: You have been jeered at during some gatherings. How have you handled this?
A: I cannot be afraid of these actions. We must face them and be able to counter their allegations. Although only a certain section of people who claim to represent the Indian voice are involved in such actions, we represent all Indian Malaysians. We hear them. We act on their grievances. But they must use the right channels. We are and have been open to their views. I am sad that certain elements have made use of innocent and poor Indians for their own political game. In the end, it is the community that will suffer. Those behind their downfall will blame us (the MIC) for the Indians’ failures. But at the end of the day, the Indians can always count on the MIC.
Q: Are you worried that some MIC candidates will lose in this general election?
A: The Indians know very well that they need a strong and cohesive representation in the Government. The MIC has provided just that. They also know very well that if they don’t vote for an Indian candidate from the MIC, their voice will not or never be heard. But, the people must understand that we cannot have all our problems resolved in a matter of days or weeks or even months. The Government must be seen as being fair and equitable to all races.
Q: Some are saying that the MIC leadership should be blamed for this situation. Would you agree?
A: It is easy to point fingers. We have raised many issues pertaining to the plight of the Indians through the various platforms. Some we get and some we don’t. I can say that the MIC and I have done our best, but I feel and believe that more can and should be done. Come what may, I will fight on and nobody can stop me.
Q: Tell us the actions you raised as MIC president. Have all the matters taken up been resolved?
A: As I have said, we can ask for 10 things, but we end up getting five things. I have records on what we have got. Two years ago, I brought to the attention of the Cabinet that Indians need assistance in business and the Government then gave out RM40mil loans through BSN’s micro credit scheme to 4,000 people.
At the moment, in order to assist 2,500 people to get loans, we have been conducting seminars in all the state capitals. We are geared to create 5,000 new businessmen by the end of the 9MP. When I became the president, I realised that only by transforming the community into an educated society, would we be able to compete and be on par with the other races. I set out to make Vanto Academy the educational vehicle to uplift the socio-economic position of the Indians.
The MIC has helped create 44,000 Indian para-professionals through the later established TAFE College and now, AIMST University - which cost RM490mil - has produced 18 full-fledged medical students. In my 29 years of service as a Minister, I think there was never a day I have not fought for the community.
Q: The Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) states that Indian equity will increase from 1.2% to 3%. However, we have not seen any specific mechanism for this to be achieved.
A: When the 9MP was being drawn up, the Prime Minister gave us a copy of the draft plan . We appointed about 85 experts to scrutinise the plan. We then submitted a report to the Prime Minister detailing how to achieve it in the report. We proposed a mechanism similar to the practice of giving shares to bumiputras through government-initiated bodies like the PNB.
Q: What are the realities of the Indian community and what are the MIC's goals for them?
A: The average Indian family earns RM3,456 as indicated by EPU (Economic Planning Unit) figures. In addition, the Indian community has lower income disparity figures within the community compared to other races. The MIC also recognises that there are sizeable pockets of disadvantaged and low-income Indian families who are part of the urban poor and bottom 30% of the socio-economic ladder in Malaysia. The pressing socio-economic issues relate to lack of technical skills, lack of housing facilities, lack of educational opportunities and low level of literacy, high dependency on wage-employment and employment in low-wage occupations.
The MIC is initiating an Affirmative Action Plan to foster a dynamic, self-reliant and progressive community by 2020. The MIC has been working to secure more opportunities through government agencies and through party educational and social institutions in addressing the concerns of the bottom 30%. The next 12 years are very critical.