In what may be another attempt to court ethnic minority voters, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has declared himself a champion of development for the Indian community. He highlighted that he insisted on appointing a senior civil servant to head the Customs Department, despite objections to the candidate’s ethnicity.
Addressing the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) general assembly yesterday, the Prime Minister said: “Although my father or grandfather isn’t from Kerala, I am known as the father of Indian development.”
It was a sarcastic broadside against his mentor turned critic Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is now chairman of the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition. The former premier’s lineage includes ancestors from the southern Indian state.
Mr Najib told the 2,000 MIC delegates that the opposition is merely trying to confuse people by labelling Malaysia a failed state.
“The question is, what have they (the opposition) done for the Indians compared with what BN (Barisan Nasional) has done, more so after I took over the leadership of the country from Abdullah Badawi,” he said.
“With his (Mr Abdullah’s) permission, I initiated (a) Cabinet committee on Indian affairs to further develop the Indian community because I realised that without intervention and political will, Indians would be neglected, marginalised and left behind.” The MIC is a component party of the ruling BN coalition.
Mr Najib said he also prioritised Indians in the selection of the new director-general of Customs. “I do not mind telling you, even the appointment of the new director-general of Customs was difficult. I received petitions not to pick an Indian for the post,” he recounted.
“I said no, he (Mr T Subromaniam) deserves the post because he is the most senior. I stood my ground.”
In March, Mr Subromaniam was appointed to head the department. His appointment came despite grassroots efforts to petition for the post to go to a Malay candidate.
However, some Indian community leaders were sceptical about Mr Najib’s comments. “When he held many important posts in the government prior to becoming the prime minister, what has he done for the Indians? Basically nothing,” said Mr A Rajaretinam, president of Malaysian Indian group Rapat.
The Premier is believed to have been wooing the Chinese and Indian minorities, fuelling speculation that the general election could be held later this year.
In July, Mr Najib said the government will study a request from the Indian-Muslim community to be recognised as Bumiputera. Earlier this month, he said he wanted to see a “stronger Chinese representation in the BN government”.