Mindraf: Does M’sia need another sectarian political party?

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Malaysia does not need another communitarian party that caters to the primary concerns of a particular ethnic or religious community, says Farish A Noor. We already forced have too many parties based on ethnic and religious loyalties, and yet another sectarian party like Mindraf will hardly bring us any closer to a Malaysia where identity is based on universal citizenship and equal rights.

As if the political landscape of Malaysia wasn’t overcrowded already, there has come into the fray yet another sectarian community-based party, Mindraf (Malaysian Indian Democratic Action Front). Ostensibly set up by ‘good samaritans’ concerned about the plight of their community, Mindraf has announced its political ambitions with the aim of representing Malaysian citizens of South Asian origin.

Now allow me to be blunt here: Malaysia does not need another communitarian party that caters to the primary concerns of a particular ethnic or religious community. We are already forced to work on a contested landscape where there are too many parties that are based on ethnic and religious loyalties, and yet another sectarian party will hardly bring us any closer to realising the notion of a Malaysia where identity is based on universal citizenship and equal rights.

If anything, the tendency of such sectarian parties is to further add to the process of divide and rule and to further entrench sedimented notions of ethnic-racial differences. This comes at a time when a younger generation of Malaysians have demonstrated their ability to transcend the ethnic divisions that once haunted the generation of their parents. So while we hope and pray for a better, more united and colour-blind Malaysia, whose idea was it to create another ethnic-based party?

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The momentum for Mindraf was quite probably generated by the Hindraf movement, which had managed to challenge the hegemony of the MIC over the Malaysian Indian community for decades. But even then, Hindraf’s appeal – as suggested by its name – was limited to Malaysians of the Hindu faith primarily. But some of us have maintained all along that the issues related to the Malaysian Indian community were issues that also affected Malaysians in general as well. The destruction of Hindu temples during the Badawi period was a loss for all Malaysians, and not Hindus only.

Over the past four years, we have see how some parties have gone out of their way to accommodate the concerns and needs of others: Pas, for instance, has stood up for the rights of non-Muslims to build temples and churches and has defended the right for non-Muslims to practice their faith. It is clear that for some leaders of Pas like Nik Aziz, it is better for Pas to be allied to PKR, PSM and DAP rather than Umno. So how much more accommodation does it take before the communitarians in our midst realise that we have to build a new non-racist Malaysia on the common platform of a universal citizenship?

The other worry is that Mindraf may yet drain support and members from the other parties of the Pakatan, notably PKR and DAP. At a time when we need to create an alternative mode of Malaysian politics that transcends the narrow, parochial and primordial sentiments of racial and religious solidarity, a party like Mindraf merely goes against the grain – and in fact confirms and further sediments the hegemony of divisive communitarian politics in Malaysia.

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It is also during times like this that I feel that all our efforts (not mine alone) to promote a new de-racialised non-communitarian politics in Malaysia have achieved so little, despite the energy and time invested. Honestly, we are not going to have a new Malaysian politics unless and until we think, live and behave like Malaysian-minded Malaysians. And that day has yet to come, my friends. Sadly.

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