A historical perspective…
The PIOs in Malaysia largely descended from those who migrated from southern India during the British colonization of Malaya. Prior to that, Tamils had been conspicuous in the archipelago, especially since the period of the Chola rulers during the 11th century. Most of them who migrated during this period, however, returned to India. Out of Malaysia’s total population of about 26 million, the PIOs constitute about 1.8 million with the Tamil component being about 1.44 million (80 per cent). The rest are made up mostly by Punjabis, Malayalees, and Telugu speaking people. About 27 per cent of the doctor’s community in entire Malaysia is made up by the PIOs. During the colonization by the British, workers were brought in to deforest the rubber estates and build roads in the nation. The Chettiar community provided banking services, but most of the non-Indian communities prospered in business. Today, most people have left the estates, only about 20 per cent are left. Those that have left, though, are unable to find regular or suitable jobs, as a result nearly a fourth of the PIO population in Malaysia is not well off. Even the share of jobs of the PIO community in the Government has come down sharply, from about 15 per cent a few decades ago to just about 5.2 per cent today. The share of the PIOs in the economy is also not very encouraging, it is just about 1.2 per cent.
How do you plan to correct the economic situation. With a population share of about 7 per cent, the economic share of 1.2 per cent is indeed of great concern…
Firstly, we at the Malaysian Indian Congress want to increase the economic share to 7 per cent. Secondly, the Government of Malaysia itself has agreed to increase the equity to 3 per cent, and, therefore, is in no way marginalizing the PIOs as has been made out in certain quarters.
Why did your party fare below expectations at the last national elections?
We lost because we did not get the PIO votes in the requisite numbers. Also, the Chinese who have supported us in the past did not do so at the last polls. The community felt that it was not getting its due from the Government. Even the Malay community did not come out to vote in full force. The voter turnout, overall, was poor. Now Indian votes, you can understand, are critical since we contest in areas with large Malay votes.
While the MIC is a political body, the GOPIO is a global non-political body meant to voice the concerns of the Indian community in your country. But the GOPIO in Malaysia is fragmented, and globally it is a split body. What needs to be done?
It is time that the Indian Government stepped in to recognize both factions. They really need to unite. MOIA can play an important role. The GOPIO’s activities should be ongoing and effective. It cannot be mired in divisive politics. The GOPIO can really help the diaspora in Malaysia. It can, for example, set up a bank and bring in diaspora money to India, and help our motherland.
How can the MIC regain lost ground in the Indian community?
The MIC has had a very large and significant role to play for a considerable period of time. It will continue to work for the PIOs, continue to safeguard their rights.
The Bhowanipore depot in Kolkata has been declared a heritage property by the Government of West Bengal. What does it mean to someone like you?
A place of heritage in our motherland will always have a great meaning. We look forward to seeing it becoming a place of visit for the diaspora. On our part, we stand by a Malay saying, “whichever land we set foot upon, there we will shoulder the sky.” Indians in Malaysia continue to work very hard, they are trustworthy and good workers.