The arrogant manner in which the Malaysian Minister for Justice, Mr Nazri Aziz, asked the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi, to first put his house in order, before expressing anguish at the plight of the people of Tamil origin in Malaysia, is astonishing and irritating.
This sharp reaction came when Mr Karunanidhi appealed to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to intervene following the harsh and brutal treatment of ethnic Tamils with police blows, teargas and arrests, when they lodged a protest against the discrimination they said they faced in Malaysia. Not only did Mr Aziz ask the Chief Minister to back off in language that is rarely used in international circles by government officials, he urged Mr Karunanidhi to first solve the problems in his backyard and dismissed the whole affair with a warning: “This has got nothing to do with him… Lay off.”
Mr Karunanidhi had sought the Prime Minister’s intervention after several ethnic Tamils had been arrested and detained in Malaysia on November 25 when they took out a procession to protest against the discrimination they faced in employment policies and practices in their country of domicile. There were reports that the Minister called the protestors ‘thugs’ and refused to apologise for doing do.
The septuagenarian Tamil Nadu leader’s response to the boorish behaviour from the Malaysian minister was surprisingly dignified and muted. Saying he did not want to indulge in any ‘tit-for-tat’ games with the Malysian minister, he said he had only done his ‘duty’ as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to seek Dr Manmohan Singh’s intervention. If he had to take “punishment” for seeking to lessen the “sufferings” of Tamils outside India, so be it! He added that he had been pained at the manner in which the Malaysian police had brutally assaulted the protestors in Kuala Lampur on November 25.
A sensible and clever political response, but then Mr Karunanidhi is an old hand at this kind of stuff. And this is a much better way to represent the sentiments and express the hurt of the Tamil people when the Tamil diaspora anywhere in the world is subjected to insensitive or unfair treatment, than write poems to eulogise dead LTTE heroes who have, in fact, brought tremendous sufferings to ordinary Tamils in Sri Lanka and filled their lives with violence and hatred.
But what is galling is that, after insulting Mr Karunanidhi, a senior Indian politician both in age and political experience, the Malaysian minister reacted with more arrogance when the Indian government took up the issue through the diplomatic channel. Neither an apology nor any kind of regret was forthcoming.
True, Indians, the majority of them Tamils, had been taken to Malay peninsula by the British to work as labourers in British-owned plantations in the 19th century, and had little or no rights. When the whole issue exploded and the Indian media, particularly the television channels, ran visuals of the ethnic Indians protesting, many young Indians were puzzled by some banners that appealed to “the Queen” to save them!
In 21st Century India, which is riding the crest of the technology wave, where high-paying jobs are chasing trained and educated young Indians than vice-versa, such an appeal obviously seems outrageous. But whereas the words have a historical context — the argument obviously was that since the British took them there, the British monarch should come to their rescue — the strong-arm tactics of the Malaysian government to suppress the voices raised against discrimination obviously sent alarm bells ringing in India.
The growing influence of Islamic hardliners in Malaysia has put the ethnic Hindus there on the back-foot. While Kuala Lumpur and other Malaysian cities are attractive tourism destinations for the rich and upper middle-class Indians, the country has been making quite a fuss to give visas to Indians.
Granted, the path of development and prosperity, on which Dr Mahathir Mohamad took Malaysia over the last couple of decades, particularly in building a superb network of highways, flyovers, airports etc, leaves many Indian travellers to that country impressed and wondering why we cannot achieve a similar feat.
But India, too, has come a long, long way, particularly over the last couple of decades.
We might not yet have an airport that can be compared with that at KL, and are still stumbling our way towards putting our roads, flyovers, etc., in order. But our economy is growing at a scorching pace that has the entire world sitting up and taking notice and a country like Malaysia cannot afford to show such scant respect for the views of the Indian government.
What kind of rights or freedom of speech the minorities enjoy in Muslim Malaysia is only too well-known. The demolition of a 100-year-old temple in Kuala Lumpur in October had caused a huge stir, and there are allegations that the Malaysian government has a poor record of safeguarding the human rights of religious minorities.
When a section of persons belonging to a religious minority resorts to a peaceful protest to focus attention on its plight, and is brutally suppressed, the country of its origin will certainly take note.
And when that country is a new, resurgent and confident India, its voice cannot be stifled and its leaders cannot be asked to shut up, as Mr Aziz has done. It is the Indian government’s duty to be aware of what is happening to the entire Indian diaspora all over the world, and not only those who have become rich and prosperous in the developed world.
That is why, when horrible tales of the exploitation of Kerala workers in Dubai came to notice, people all over India saw red.
When one travels to Dubai and is awe-struck by its towering buildings, gleaming malls and pot-hole-free highways, its airport and port, one immediately thinks of the sweat, tears and back-breaking labour of thousands of Indians who have contributed to create Dubai’s magical success story.
If the rich and upper middle-class Indians, who throng Malaysia in huge numbers for tourism, go berserk in the KL malls, or gamble away at casinos in Genting Highlands, decide to shun the country as a tourist destination, it would really hurt where it matters.
So, a little more civility from the Malaysian government when it comes to addressing Indian concerns will not be too much to ask. And, a fair deal for all the people who have embraced the country as their homeland, and have surely contributed to its development. Surely, they are not slave labour anymore, and hence cannot be treated thus.