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High Chaparral: Turning point for the Indians

Contributed by Anonymous on Monday, August 24 @ 23:48:20 CDT

National: Politics
Comment by BARADAN KUPPUSAMYThe Kampung Buah Pala issue may well be a point the Indian community will use to ponder whether they should go on supporting Pakatan Rakyat. After all, the pact has ‘washed its hands’ of an issue it had once championed.

THE Kampung Buah Pala issue where 24 families have been issued eviction notices has come full circle with the DAP-led Penang state government “washing its hands” of the issue, saying it had done its level-best but the families were adamant about standing their ground. From statements coming from Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, the public get the impression that the families and their descendants, who have lived in the land for nearly a century, were being unreasonable. The families had an opportunity to cut a good deal with the developer but had been foolish enough to let it go and therefore, they should be blamed if they are evicted and end up with nothing. The straw that broke the camel’s back for Lim must have been when the residents met Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to urge him to help resolve the matter. “We have done our part and as far as we are concerned, the matter is over. Since they have gone to see Barisan Nasional, the matter ends there,” Lim had said, shutting the door on the residents. The village sits on 2.6ha of prime land in the heart of the rapidly developing eastern part of George Town. Demolition work is slated for Sept 1. However on the Internet, in SMS text messages and Yahoo! chat groups, Lim is under fire for much the same reason as MIC leaders were — for failing to protect, nurture and give hope to dispossessed citizens. These were the very citizens who had voted for the Pakatan in the hope they would strike a better deal with developers. While Lim is criticised for “abandoning” Buah Pala residents, the DAP’s Indian leaders are under greater fire from the Tamil intelligentsia — the same lobby groups that helped DAP’s Indian leaders beat MIC candidates in the last general election. Betrayal — this is the key word spreading like wildfire in Tamil periodicals, newspapers, on the Internet and in endless SMS text messages, accusing DAP Indian leaders of failing to “save” Kampung Buah Pala from demolition. Their emotional outburst is also sparking conflict between DAP’s Indian leaders and the party’s top leadership with some leaders privately grumbling that the issue could have been “more intelligently” handled. Penang Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy on whom the Indian poor and dispossessed had high hopes, is the one person singled out for criticism, probably because he holds high office and is more visible than other leaders. Besides, in a 25-year career as an academic, Dr Ramasamy had defended dispossessed Malaysians, especially Indians, and had argued that while they might be squatters, they had rights over the land. He had campaigned for land reform, supported the idea that squatters were actually urban pioneers and railed against absentee landlords and redevelopment of land for golf courses and luxury condominiums. For the residents, the failure of the new Penang government that they had wholeheartedly supported in the 2008 general election, comes as a shock. For others, it is sad that a newly-elected government promising fundamental reforms had washed its hand of an issue it had once championed. Here was an opportunity for the Pakatan Rakyat to be different, to show empathy, to find a permanent, holistic and workable solution for ordinary people caught on the wrong side of development and facing an uncertain future. In the Kg Buah Pala issue, the solutions Pakatan leaders offered were no different from what the Barisan government had offered. The manner the issue was handled was also typical — blame the previous government, negotiate with the developer to stall eviction, offer inferior terms and finally blame the residents themselves for rejecting a “golden opportunity.” Sungkai state assemblyman and DAP leader A. Sivanesan, expressing the DAP’s view of the issue, said: “I feel the residents are unreasonable. They should work with the state government and find an amicable solution. “Getting a free, double-storey house in Penang is a very good deal,” he said. “How can they reject it?” Residents, however, lamented that the house was small, that not all residents were getting the houses and further, the quality of the construction, material to be used and numerous other details were not spelled out. The ad hoc nature of the offer and the 24-hour deadline had forced them to reject the offer. “We want to be treated like human beings, not like cattle herded into a pen,” one of the residents said. However, DAP leaders also say “outsiders” like politicians, NGOs and others were exploiting the issue to put Pakatan in a bad light. “In the end, it was not about housing, but politics,” Sivanesan said. As ever, perception rules the political world and in the Kg Buah Pala issue, the phrases frequently thrown about in the Indian community now is “betrayal” and second: “Teach them a lesson.” Just a year-and-half ago, the same phrases were employed by the Pakatan in banners, video compact discs and speeches to rouse the Indians to vote Pakatan on the promise of security, health and wealth. The Kg Buah Pala agony, like the demolition of Shah Alam temple in November 2007, might well be the turning point for the Indian community, an incident which could be used to question whether they should continue to support Pakatan.



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