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Feb 13, 2008

Makkal Sakthi drama at Penang CM’s office


Some 300 Indian Malaysians from the Makkal Sakthi (”People Power”) movement, many of them clad in their trademark orange, gathered at Komtar this morning in an attempt to meet Penang Chief Minister Koh Tsu Koon at his office. With them was five-year-old Vwaishnavi Waythamoorthy, the only daughter of one of the five detained Hindraf leaders, who brought along roses and a memorandum for Koh.

The memo was to seek Koh’s intervention to ensure the safety of the crowd - that the police would not take action against them - at the planned gathering at Parliament on 16 February. The group intend to hand over “Valentine’s Day” roses to the Prime Minister and to seek the release of the Hindraf Five.

Apparently, the group chose to see Koh because he is the “only non-bumi chief minister” in Malaysia. I feel Makkal Sakthi should not look at the world solely through ethnic lens. Lowly paid workers are often exploited by the super-rich business elite, which includes non-bumi tycoons who are very much part of the domination system. I mean, do you see any Indian Malaysian tycoons endorsing the MTUC’s call for a monthly minimum wage of RM900 and a cost of living allowance of RM300? A glance at the multi-ethnic cast of characters in the Lingam video scandal would be enough to tell us that things are pretty muhibbah up there in the elite circles of power. The sooner Makkal Sakthi sheds its ethnic worldview, the faster it can build bridges with marginalised Malaysians of all ethnic groups - and indeed non-Malaysian migrant workers.

Back to the story: One of Koh’s aides turned up to collect the memo from the crowd gathered at Komtar. He went in and signed the document to acknowledge receipt.

But the crowd expressed displeasure: “We are not anchadi (five-foot way) people to be treated this way.”

Taken aback, the aide invited five representatives from the crowd into the Penang state government’s offices. There, he apologised that the CM was unable to meet them due to other commitments, according to my source.

The crowd below was not convinced that the Chief Minister was unavailable. Armed police and riot police turned up.

Some in the crowd responded that they had come peacefully, that they were “flower people”.

“We are unarmed so why do you come with guns?” they asked.

Cries of “Makkal Sathi” pierced the air. Eventually the crowd dispersed peacefully.

The movement is not about to go away in a hurry. I must add that these Makkal Sakthi folks are pretty savvy and creative in their means of drawing public attention to their cause and in highlighting the plight of the marginalised among Indian Malaysians.

With Penang considered a front-line state in the coming general election, many Malaysians will be closely watching to see what impact the Makkal Sakthi phenomenon will have on voting patterns.


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