Monday, January 28, 2008
According to the sources, he had severe stomach and abdominal pain. He is warded at ward 4C of Taiping Hospital.
His right hand is handcuffed to the bed. He is also tightly guarded by 4 prison security officials at all times. We are told that his potassium level is very high and has been warned that he may suffer a heart attack. He is now on drips.
Uthayakumar has urged all HINDRAF supporters to continue with their peaceful struggle and our legitimate demands for the rights of the ethnic minority Indian community.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Coca-Cola Crisis in India
Communities across India are under assault from Coca-Cola practices in the country. A pattern has emerged as a result of Coca-Cola's bottling operations in India.
- Communities across India living around Coca-Cola's bottling plants are experiencing severe water shortages, directly as a result of Coca-Cola's massive extraction of water from the common groundwater resource. The wells have run dry and the hand water pumps do not work any more. Studies, including one by the Central Ground Water Board in India, have confirmed the significant depletion of the water table.
- When the water is extracted from the common groundwater resource by digging deeper, the water smells and tastes strange. Coca-Cola has been indiscriminately discharging its waste water into the fields around its plant and sometimes into rivers, including the Ganges, in the area. The result has been that the groundwater has been polluted as well as the soil. Public health authorities have posted signs around wells and hand pumps advising the community that the water is unfit for human consumption.
- In two communities, Plachimada and Mehdiganj, Coca-Cola was distributing its solid waste to farmers in the area as "fertilizer". Tests conducted by the BBC found cadmium and lead in the waste, effectively making the waste toxic waste. Coca-Cola stopped the practice of distributing its toxic waste only when ordered to do so by the state government.
- Tests conducted by a variety of agencies, including the government of India, confirmed that Coca-Cola products contained high levels of pesticides, and as a result, the Parliament of India has banned the sale of Coca-Cola in its cafeteria. However, Coca-Cola not only continues to sell drinks laced with poisons in India (that could never be sold in the US and EU), it is also introducing new products in the Indian market. And as if selling drinks with DDT and other pesticides to Indians was not enough, one of Coca-Cola's latest bottling facilities to open in India, in Ballia, is located in an area with a severe contamination of arsenic in its groundwater.
Destroying Lives, Livelihoods and Communities
Water shortages, pollution of groundwater and soil, exposure to toxic waste and pesticides is having impacts of massive proportions in India. In a country where over 70% of the population makes a living related to agriculture, stealing the water and poisoning the water and soil is a sure recipe for disaster.
Thousands of farmers in India have been affected by Coca-Cola's practices, and Coca-Cola is guilty of destroying the livelihoods of thousands of people in India. Unfortunately, we do not even know the extent of the damage as a result from exposure to the toxic waste and pesticides as these are long term problems. Most affected are the marginalized communities such as the Adivasis (Indigenous People's) and Dalits (formerly untouchables), as well as the low-income communities, landless agricultural workers and women. Taken in its entirety, that's a lot of people in India.
Coca-Cola is destroying the food security of the people of the land, and by stealing the water and poisoning the water and soil, it is also responsible for ensuring a life of misery for future generations to come. The irony is that most of the impacted community members, who are feeling the brunt of the water shortages and pollution, are unable to afford Coca-Cola. Which may be a good thing given that the product itself is poisonous. But it also raises the larger question of development in India. As is the case with the majority of other commodities in the Indian marketplace, only a fraction of the population are the "beneficiaries" of the current development policies. And unfortunately, the majority are not only left out of the so called "development" process, but they have to pay a high price for it as well.
The arrogance of Coca-Cola in India is not going unanswered. In fact, the growing opposition to Coca-Cola- primarily from Coca-Cola affected communities- has spread so rapidly and gained so much strength that Coca-Cola is now on the defensive.
For more info visit indiaresource.org
Friday, January 25, 2008
Andrew Ong | Jan 24 08
Hindraf legal advisor P Uthayakumar has been warded at the Taiping general hospital today, apparently for dehydration due to his ongoing hunger strike at the Kamunting detention centre.
His fiancee S Indra Devi told Malaysiakini that she was informed by detention centre officials that Uthayakumar was warded at about 1pm today.
“They said he has been put on a drip. I don’t know much more, I’m on my way to Kamunting now,” said Indra Devi.
In view of the latest developments, Indra Devi had an emotional appeal to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
“I would like to appeal to the prime minister to release Uthayakumar. He is diabetic and needs proper medical care,” she said, in between sobs.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Article from malaysiakini.com, Jan 23, 08
The hunger strike is on. It is aimed at seeking the release of Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees and to demand for the draconian act to be abolished.
More than 130 people throughout the country are said to have gone on a week-long hunger strike for the purpose.
Among them are the five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) currently detained under the ISA in Kamunting, Perak.
They were joined by at least 21 people at a temple in Ipoh, while 108 others were reported to have started their hunger strike at the Sri Subramaniam temple at Port Klang, Selangor.
Latest developments, however, are rather sketchy. According to several Hindraf sources, hunger strikes have also been launched at a temple in Petaling Jaya as well as in Penang.
The strike, said one Hindraf supporter who identified herself only as ‘Suzy’, is aimed particularly at a Jan 24 hearing where the habeas corpus application of the ‘Hindraf 5' against their ISA detention would be heard.
Depending on how things turn out, however, the hunger strike may go on until Jan 28, said Suzy.
“During that time, they will only drink water every hour or so,” she told Malaysiakini when contacted. She also said many more were expected to join those already on the hunger strike.
Earlier today, Hindraf’s national coordinator RS Tharendran expressed his concern regarding the health of one of the detained Hindraf leaders - P Uthayakumar - who is a diabetic but has also gone on the hunger strike.
Appeal to Pak Lah
He appealed to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - as the Internal Security Minister he had signed the orders for the leaders’ detention - to release them.
The ISA provides for indefinite detention without trial.
Hindraf hopes Abdullah “will make the effort on humanitarian grounds to release them,” said Tharendran in Putrajaya after submitting a letter to the Prime Minister’s office written by Uthayakumar’s five-year-old niece Vwaishhnnavi.
Vwaishhnnavi is the daughter of Hindraf chairperson Waythamoorthy, who is currently in the UK to garner international support for the group’s cause.
Abdullah will be liable if anything untoward happens to Uthayakumar, said Tharendran.
Uthayakumar was placed under ISA along with Hindraf leaders M Manoharan, R Kenghadharan, V Ganabatirau and T Vasantha Kumar after the government accused them of threatening national security.
Denying the accusation, the leaders have charged the government of seeking merely to suppress their efforts for equal rights and better treatment for the Indian community.
On Nov 25 last year, Hindraf held a rally in Kuala Lumpur that saw about 30,000 Indians gathering on the streets to protest their marginalisation and discrimination.
Monday, January 21, 2008
An Interview with Artist-Activist Seelan Palay
Is it the end of protest in Singapore?
Are all Singaporeans apathetic on politics?
Don't we have to right to peaceful dissent?
Artist and activist Seelan Palay should be familiar to New Sintercom readers. He has a blog Singapore Indian Voice and recently he stood by and fasted for his beliefs outside the Malaysian High Commission. His laudable lone action was in protest of Indian marginalisation in Malaysia and the use of the draconian Internal Security Act against some members of Hindraf. Seelan is one of the latest activist to revitalise Singapore's activist scene. Previously he was involved in anti-death penalty and the 400 Frowns campaigns, and became an inspiring testimony that not all Singaporeans are deaf and dumb to the injustice around us.
We get to hear Seelan's views in this interview on his thoughts about his latest protest. Thank you Seelan for the interview, and for playing the small but important role in bringing about change in Singapore.
1. You have the honour of having the last protest for 2007 and the first for 2008. The first and last word, in a way, because of your protest of outside the Malaysian High Commission over the arrest of the Hindraf 5 under the ISA in Malaysia. It was deliberate and dramatic, and actually quite effective! What were your thoughts in the first and last 5 minutes of the protest? Apprehension, excitement etc?
Thank you for this interview. I realized that my protest was the last for 2007 and the first for 2008 only near the end of the fast when a visitor mentioned it. However, I do not take that as any kind of honour, at most, it is somewhat amusing. In the first 5 minutes of the protest I wondered how long it would take for the police to arrive and in the last 5 minutes I was glad to know that I could effectively finish my 5 day fast without the disruption of apprehension. I was not actually looking forward to eating that much.
2. Did people come by and support you? Were there people who heckled you? How was the police? In the video, they looked like they were trying to intimidate you!
About 60 Malaysians and 20 Singaporeans visited me within the 5 days. There was one occasion when a Malay motorist who claimed to be Singaporean heckled me. The police arrived at around 3pm on Monday. One of the officers mentioned that they had received a complaint regarding my presence there and advised me to leave. He also asked me for a permit under an entertainment licensing law, to which I replied that I was only fasting and that I was not there to entertain anyone.
3. But this is not your first encounter with the law. In 2006, you were arrested by the police for your 400 Frowns satire of the 4 Million Smiles PR campaign by our government. In the end the police released you right? Did they give you a warning?
Yes I did have an encounter with the law during the time of the IMF summit in Singapore, however, it was not for my 400 Frowns project but for flyers (factsheets on IMF/WB policies) that 2 friends and I were planning to distribute to the public. The police confiscated my computer and brought me to Clementi police station for questioning. I was released after hours of investigation. I had a warning issued and computer returned about 6 months later.
4. But yet you were convinced enough to stand for what you believe in recently despite an earlier incident with the police. Were there other brushes with our men in blue before that? Clearly that is very courageous and untypical of the man-on-the-street Singaporean like me who complains about this and that but doesn’t take the extra step to do something about it! How difficult or easy was it to break out of the shell and say, “I want to protest and as long as it is peaceful, I am right”?
I have had brushes with the police when I was involved in the Anti Death Penalty campaign in Singapore. I do not think that I am courageous, I am simply expressive. As an artist, I do not think it is good to censor oneself. What usually hindered me before was my Mother’s concern and worry over my safety, but I think that complication is getting better resolved now. I do not think we should harp too much over the word “protest” and put it on a pedestal of sorts. Protests happen all over the world, every single day. Perhaps it is “harder” to do in Singapore, but I think that is simply a hurdle in one’s mind.
5. Since your High Commission protest, have the police come around to harass you or they have left you alone?
They told me as they left on Monday that the matter will be investigated in any case (whether I leave or not). So far, I have not been contacted by them again. But of course we should always be prepared.
6. You also took part in the original Hindraf protest in Malaysia last year! How was the feeling like? How did you come to know of it? The Malaysian police claimed the protest was violent and arrested some of the crowd. Did the Malaysian police provoke the crowd and maybe even their police provocateurs in the crowd tried to fire up everybody to be violent? If there is a similar event there, would you go over again?
I got to know of it through Isrizal, a fellow activist. I then checked online to see if it was confirmed and got the bus up to Kuala Lumpur along with Kai Xiong, another fellow activist. It was the first time I experienced a mass street rally along with water cannons and tear gas administered by the Malaysian authorities. The fearlessness, solidarity, conviction and determination of the people gathered that day was immensely uplifting. The pain they went through for their cause was utterly tragic. The crowd was peaceful, but the 30,000 marchers were blocked by the police in their attempt to reach the British High Commission. The stand-off lasted 6 hours and ended only when the police used rubber bullets and water cannons.
I heard that the situation at the Batu Caves — the leading Hindu place of worship in Malaysia — was worse. About 1,000 people including women and children who had not been part of the rally, but were just there to pray, had been trapped in the temple compound the size of a football field. It’s not clear who had locked the only gate into the compound, but people said it was the police. A large contingent of officers had massed outside. Then rubber bullets and teargas were fired into the trapped crowd who had no other exit and who naturally broke down the gate in their attempt to escape the choking gas, leading to a melée.
Yes I would attend a similar event again.
7. This won’t be your last protest in Singapore surely and you are the new breed of politically active Singaporean. But is it realistic that the entire attitude towards peaceful protest can change overnight? Dr Chee Soon Juan has been doing it for the past decade and still the tide has not turned. Do you think change can happen fast enough by the next General Elections?
Surely the entire attitude towards peaceful protest cannot change overnight. It has in fact taken over 40 years for that that very attitude to be indoctrinated! I believe that Dr Chee Soon Juan’s efforts have had an impact. It goes to show that he is in it for the long run, and will not compromise his ideals. I do not know whether change can happen by the next General Elections, but I do know that those that believe in the universal idea of freedom will not give up, or give in.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
CHENNAI, India (Reuters) - Police arrested the head of the PETA for a breach of public peace and insulting religious feelings while protesting against a bullfighting festival in south India, officials said on Friday.
, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was held on Thursday after she blindfolded a statue of Mohandas K. Gandhi to protest against cruelty towards bulls in the ancient sport of "jallikattu."
Organized as part of the January harvest festival of "pongal," jallikattu is 's version of the running of the bulls which takes place every year in the Spanish city of .
Fighters and muscular wild bulls -- often pepped up with large amounts of homemade liquor -- dash after each other in the streets of the .
Unlike the Spanish version of the sport, the aim is not to kill the bulls but to dominate and tame them, and pluck away bundles of money or other treats tied to their specially sharpened horns.
Police said Newkirk was held on charges of breaching public peace, hurting religious sentiments and damaging statues after she entered a park in Coimbatore town and put a cloth around the eyes of Gandhi's statue.
She then hung a placard saying: "Reject cruel sport jallikattu." She was released on bail.
Newkirk told Reuters she did not mean any disrespect to Gandhi but blindfolded his statue to symbolically shield him from the cruelty of the sport.
"In the name of taming of the bull, 10, 20, 50 people torment the animal and thousands cheer," she said. "You can see fear and confusion in the eyes of the animal as it tries to flee."
India's has also criticized the festival saying men beat the animals and throw burning chilli powder in their eyes, ears and mouth to enrage them.
India's Supreme Court banned jallikattu last year, saying it was cruel and not in keeping with what it described as the country's non-violent traditions.
But that ban was watered down this month, and the court said the popular sport could be held under strict government vigil.
Fighters and spectators have been gored or trampled to death, and the number of injured fighters has often run into the hundreds. The festival has been marketed as a tourist attraction in recent years.
(Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; editing by Simon Denyer and Sanjeev Miglani)
Friday, January 18, 2008
17 Jan 08
The Minister Mentor has done it again. His victim this time? A cub reporter from Reuters by the name of Melanie Lee.
Ms Lee had asked the Minister how he expected the society to become cultivated given the restriction on civil liberties in Singapore.
Earlier at a conference at the Suntec Convention Centre, Mr Lee told the audience that Singapore could reach a level of cultural development comparable to Italy and Austria in 10 to 15 years. (An interesting choice of countries given that one was home to a fascist named Mussolini and the other the birthplace of Adolf Hitler).
Instead of getting a straightforward answer, however, the 23-year-old journalist was given an earful by the Mentor on how Singapore had made it without a free press.
This prompted Ms Lee to ask how it could be done when there is limited freedom of expression in Singapore, unlike the two European countries he had mentioned.
How dare she talk back to our Leader? According to one of the mentored ministers, Mr George Yeo, this was boh-tua-bo-suay which, according to my Chinese colleagues, was a reprimand that parents used on their children when they were disrespectful. Ms Lee didn't seem to know her place in society.
Appropriately goaded, the bull charged. "What school did you go to?"
"Why does that matter?" the Reuters reporter countered.
She did it again! The cheek! The audacity! The courage.
This was vintage Lee who, when faced with a gutsy youth refusing to just nod her head in cowardly agreement whenever the Leader launches into hyperbolic nonsense, gets personal and outright insulting.
This is not first time Mr Lee Kuan Yew has bullied local reporters who show some semblance of independent thinking. A few weeks before the general elections in 2006, another enthusiastic reporter, Mr Ken Kwek, was harangued by the Minister for saying that there is widespread fear among Singaporeans towards the authoritarian rule of the PAP.
Mr Kwek was one of a handful of carefully screened participants in a so-called televised discussion with Mr Lee as the guest on the forthcoming 2006 elections.
Refusing to answer the question, Mr Lee repeatedly asked the young Straits Times reporter to disclose the names of those in the newspaper survey who had said that "fear" was a major factor when it came to politics in Singapore.
Mr Kwek is, perhaps not surprisingly, no longer with the newspaper.
Mr Lee may revel in the fact that he has just beaten up another young reporter and put him in his place. Good for him.
But what may be a thrill for the MM, is a loss for Singapore. There are countless others who, like Mr Kwek, have found the local media culture so distasteful that they have decided its just not worth it and packed up.
I am certain that in the future there will be many more young Singaporeans who want to experience firsthand the excitement of journalism but only to realize the hard reality that there is no such thing in PAP land.
I have been told that "self-loathing" is not a scarce emotion running through the rooms and hallways of a spanking building in Toa Payoh they call the News Centre. Given the kind of stuff that goes on in there, I know because I was one of them once upon a time, one shouldn't be surprised.
How do you stand tall when the newspaper you write for is constantly questioned for its integrity? The ranking it gets from the World Press Freedom Index of 140-something must hang like a dead albatross around its neck.
Ironically, it is young people like Melanie Lee and Ken Kwek who understand why Singapore is stuck in such political and cultural backwardness. They may not say it, but the one thing that is holding back the country is the very octogenarian seated in front of them.
The truth of the matter is that a free media throws up ideas and brings into sharp focus contrary views needed to propel Singapore into a level of cultural development equal to that of Italy and Austria.
Does Mr Lee Kuan Yew know that what he's doing is hurting the country? Maybe, maybe not. Does he care? Not one iota.
Mr Ambalam is Chairman of the Singapore Democrats. He is a former journalist.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The five Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) leaders held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) will go on a hunger strike beginning Jan 20.
P Uthayakumar, R Kenghadharan, M Manoharan, V Ganabathirau and T Vasanthakumar are currently being held at the Kamunting detention centre in Perak.
Their lawyer M Kulasegaran said today the hunger strike is to protest against their unlawful detention without trial.
The strike, which will last for five days, will commence at 7.30am on Jan 20 and end at 7.00pm on Jan 25.
According to Kulasegaran, the five are also urging Malaysians to join them in the protest fast.
“They strongly urged Malaysians especially the Indian community to join them in the fast to protest the unlawful detention without just cause and fair trial which is a serious violation of fundamental human liberties.
“The five leaders informed me that they totally reject the reasons given to detain them as simplistic, frivolous and vexatious,” he said.
‘Not too bad’
On their condition, Kulasegaran said the five are doing ‘not too bad’ but Kenghadharan - who is a vegetarian - is having trouble with the food being provided.
This is not the first hunger strike held over their arbitrary arrest. Late last year, Singaporean artist Seelan Palay, 23, consumed only water for five days - one day for each detained member - outside the Malaysian High Commission.
The Hindraf leaders gained fame when they organised a protest that saw 30,000 people hit the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Nov 25 last year.
This was followed by the movement’s leaders and supporters being charged for a slew of offences including sedition, causing mischief and attending an illegal assembly.
On Dec 13 last year, the five leaders were arrested under the ISA - a move anticipated by many after the government linked the movement to overseas terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, the alleged terrorism charges against the five will be heard by the ISA advisory board on Jan 14 at the detention centre.
“The advisory board will conduct a hearing on the allegation (of terrorism activities) against them. It’s a closed door hearing but the five will be represented by their lawyers,” Kulasegaran added.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Pongal is a Southern Indian festival celebrated with much fanfare over 4 days. The festival is celebrated for four days and the celebrations on the first day of the Tamil month Thai and continues for the three days. The month of Thai is supposed to be very auspicious for every kind of activity. The Sun is worshipped for his rays are responsible for the life on earth.
In Hindu temples bells, drums, clarinets and conch shells herald the joyous occasion. To symbolise a bountiful harvest, rice is cooked in new pots until they boil over.
Sweet rice, known as "Pongal", is cooked in a new earthenware pot at the same place where puja is to be performed. Fresh turmeric and ginger are tied around this pot. Then a delicious concoction of rice, Moong Dal, jaggery and milk are boiled in the pot on an open fire. This Pongal, according to ritual, is allowed to boil and spill out of the pot. Pongal, once ready, is offered to God first, on a new banana leaf along with other traditional delicacies like Vadas, Payasam, etc. Besides this, sugarcane, grain, sweet potatoes, etc are also offered to the Sun God. Devotees then consume the offerings to exonerate themselves of past sins.
In rural India, Community meals are made from the freshly gathered harvest and enjoyed by the entire village.
The Pongal festival is also celebrated in South East Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and others.
Pongal Celebrations in South East Asia
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Veteran Singapore opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam has said he is forming a new political party, the Reform Party, "to give Singaporeans a chance again, an opportunity".
SINGAPORE AND CHANGE
"Singapore has to change. We continue on this road, with the people completely powerless, Singapore will be ruined."
"Why can't we assemble peacefully? What's wrong with that? Tell me, what is wrong with our people assembling peacefully to make known their views? Peaceful assembly is vital. Allowing people to be heard is vital to any democracy."
GIVING PEOPLE A VOICE
"All I want to do is give people a chance to live their own lives, to have their own choices and not have everything dictated to them. At the moment, they have no choice. They have no voice."
RICHER, NOT HAPPIER
"The PAP has built up Singapore - there's no denying that... And on paper Singapore is an economic miracle, the GDP growing every year. But the bottom line of all this is, are the people happier? I don't get that impression."
Quotes from Straits Times, 11 Jan 08
Photo from mjptan.blogspot.com
Video from theonlinecitizen.com
Friday, January 11, 2008
M. Ravi is now one of the international patrons of Death Watch International, a not-for-profit organization which exists to help promote the campaign against the death penalty and other groups around the world working towards the same goal. M. Ravi is one of the leading human rights lawyers in Singapore. He has defended a number of people on death row and campaigns for an end to executions in Singapore and beyond.
Visit Death Watch International
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
The “Valentine Roses Campaign” will be the first public event by the Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, since police used tear gas and water cannons to crush a Nov. 25 demonstration in Kuala Lumpur by at least 30,000 ethnic Indians.
The violence sparked fears of racial tensions in this Malay Muslim-majority nation and led to the arrest of five Hindraf officials last month under the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite imprisonment without trial.
Hindraf chairman P. Waytha Moorthy, who fled to London in December fearing arrest, said Hindraf plans to gather at least 10,000 supporters outside Parliament on Feb. 16 to hand red and yellow roses to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
A Hindraf activist in Kuala Lumpur, who declined to be identified because he is not a spokesman for the group, said that even though Valentine’s Day is Feb. 14, the event is planned for two days later, a Saturday, because it is easier to gather people during the weekend.
“Red roses would signify Hindraf’s love and peaceful struggle while yellow roses would signify the demand for justice for the five Hindraf leaders held under the draconian laws,” Moorthy said in a statement.
Moorthy stressed it would be “purely a peaceful gathering … to enlighten (Abdullah) on the predicament and cry for justice of the minority Indian community,” which claims the Malay-dominated government practices discriminatory policies in economic and religious matters.
“It is hoped by accepting the roses, the prime minister would be compassionate and understand the needs of the Indian community,” Moorthy said.
Abdullah is not scheduled to be in Parliament on Feb. 16, but Hindraf said it could change the venue to suit his convenience. Abdullah’s aides could not immediately be contacted.
The planned rally will likely face opposition from police, who have barred virtually all public demonstrations in recent months. A federal police spokesman who declined to be named, citing protocol, said he could not comment on the planned rally because police have not been informed.
The government says it does not discriminate against ethnic Indians, who form 8 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people. Malays make up about 60 percent of the population, while ethnic Chinese account for a quarter.
Many Indians allege that authorities deprive them of fair chances to get jobs and education, and that their temples are being systematically destroyed.
News by IHT
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Malaysian Indian Congress leader and Public Works Department Minister Dato Samy Vellu is in Chennai to meet Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to clarify his government’s stand on the Malaysian Tamils issue.
In an exclusive interview to NDTV the minister admits that his government has no concrete evidence to suggest that Hindraf (Hindu Rights Action Force), a coalition of 30 Hindu organisations in Malaysia, has links with the LTTE and explains his Cabinet colleague’s recent outburst against the Tamil Nadu chief minister.
Excerpts from the interview:
NDTV: Do you have any evidence to back your government’s charge that the Hindraf has links with terrorists?
D S Vellu: Hindraf said they would fight like the Tigers, the way the Tigers are fighting in Sri Lanka. It was by Vedamurthy. After he talked like that, we did an investigation and it was felt that he may have gone there for training.
NDTV: Do you have evidence of this?
D S Vellu: No. It is our suspicion.
NDTV: The Tamils were protesting with pictures of Mahatma Gandhi. It was a peaceful demonstration.
D S Vellu: I don’t think it was peaceful. They started at 4 am and broke the temple door and shops and stoned policemen and broke the heads of 4 policemen. Is that called peace?
NDTV: Do you think the statement of your colleague in the Cabinet asking the Tamil Nadu CM to lay off, could have been avoided?
D S Vellu: When two or three opposition parties got up in Parliament and said the Tamil Nadu government wants the Indian government to interfere in Malaysia’s internal affairs, my colleague had answered them, and interference is different from using diplomatic channels.
NDTV: But the Tamil Nadu CM didn’t ask the Indian government to interfere.
D S Vellu: My colleague didn’t mean any disrespect.
By Gerald Giam
The recent announcement of Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam's promotion to Finance Minister — in addition to his current Education portfolio — set many of tongues wagging as to whether he might be the successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong many moons from now. This in turn sparked a debate in the Straits Times as to whether Singaporeans (read: the Chinese-speaking majority) are ready to accept and support a non-Chinese prime minister.
This isn't the first time this issue has surfaced. Mr Lee Kuan Yew once said that former Cabinet Minister S. Dhanabalan was one of the four men he considered as his successor, but decided against him as he felt Singapore was "not ready" for a non-Chinese prime minister. That was almost 20 years ago.
Fast forward to the year 2007, and this whole mantra of "Singaporeans are not ready for a non-Chinese PM" is getting very tiresome to listen to. It seems to be most repeated among the English-educated, ethnic Chinese elites, many of whom have little regular contact with both Chinese-speaking "heartlanders" and ethnic minorities. These elites assume that they know the thinking of the Chinese ground. Yet I wonder whether they are just using this as a cover for their own primordial mindsets.
Here are some of the arguments (undoubtedly from these elites) that have been put forth against having a non-Chinese PM:
"I am a realist and am inclined to agree with Mr S. Dhanabalan that Chinese Singaporeans are not ready to accept a non-Chinese prime minister….This is the reality and fact of life that we cannot pretend that such mindset does not exist."
(Straits Times Forum, 1 Dec 07)
"If anything, the ascendency (sic) of China in this century is the very reason why Singapore CANNOT have a non-Chinese Singaporean as leader….A potential Malay candidate as leader will never do because of the region we are in. Neither is an Indian one wise since India is on a headlong fight for economic and political influence with China."
(Comment on ST Forum, 5 Dec 07)
"Let's be realistic. A majority chinese Singapore will never accept a non chinese PM. Even, i cannot accept it. I am not a racist fyi. Let me tell you why. First, we are a tiny island surrounded by hostile malay/muslim nation similar to Israel…"
(HardwareZone Forum, 30 Nov 07)
I find it hard to reconcile how a country that prides itself in meritocracy and rubbishes its neighbour up north for their racialist policies, apparently has the strongest proponents of meritocracy still harbouring this mindset. It reminds me of the oft-repeated mantra that Malay Singaporeans cannot be placed in sensitive positions in the military because their loyalty in times of war may be questionable.
The political reality in Singapore is that it is not up to the Chinese masses to choose their prime minister. Unlike in the US, the electorate does not directly elect their head of government. It is effectively the ruling party (or more specifically the PAP Central Executive Committee and its cadres) which chooses the prime minister, because the head of the ruling party is usually made the PM.
This means that if an eminently qualified minority is passed over for the prime ministership, it is because our elites do not want him there, not because "Singaporeans are not ready".
Having said that, if it is true that Mr Shanmugaratnam is being groomed to be the next prime minister based solely on the merit of his abilities and character, then I applaud PM Lee for his progressive mindset.
There are so many areas in which Singaporeans were "not ready", yet the government pushed through policies for what it deemed was in the country's best interest. National service, English medium education, the casinos, CPF rate cuts and ministerial salaries are just a few that come to mind. Isn't choosing the best qualified man or woman to lead the country, regardless of race or religion, far more important that all these policies?
This article was first published in theonlinecitizen.com
Sunday, January 6, 2008
But this is only one small chapter of the struggle, the problems at large have not yet been solved. We must stand together as one, and keep taking action.
"It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." - Mikhail Bakunin
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