Singapore in the Malay World


March 29, 2011

Book Review

Singapore in the Malay World


Dr. LILY ZUBAIDAH RAHIM

Singapore in the Malay World: Building and Breaching Regional Bridges

Abingdon: Routledge, 2009

230 pp. ISBN 978-0-415-48410-7

Reviewed by P.J. Thum, University of Oxford

In her first book The Singapore Dilemma: The Political and Educational  Marginality of the Malay community, Prof Lily Zubaidah Rahim explained the continuing economic, educational, and political marginalisation of the Singapore Malay community. In this book, she takes her work to the next logical step, by turning her view outwards towards Nusantara, the Malay world. She asks how Singapore’s internal relationship between the Chinese-dominated political elite and the Malay community affects its external position in the Malay world.

Rahim takes a flexible approach to her analysis, not getting tied down in any particular theoretical framework. She sets the table by looking at the role of Malays and Malay culture in Singapore’s dominant historical and political narratives. On this basis, she compares the competing nation-building paradigms of Singapore and Malaysia, detailing how the two paradigms are, in fact, mirror images of each other. This is followed by studies of the security and economic aspects of Singapore’s regional position (mainly with Malaysia). The last part of her analysis focuses on the Singapore-Indonesia relationship. Her writing throughout is well reasoned, convincing, and extremely readable. It makes clear the complex, multidimensional aspects of Singapore’s relationships with its two biggest neighbours.

Yet one is left with the feeling that the title is somewhat of a misnomer. The majority of Rahim’s work deals almost solely with Singapore’s bilateral relationship with Malaysia. In many ways, this is necessary – Singapore’s historical, economic, and cultural links with Malaysia mean that the state looms largest in Singapore’s foreign policy. Yet a work entitled ‘Singapore in the Malay world’ promises a multilateral, regional approach and this book fails to deliver on that promise. Three chapters dominated by Kuala Lumpur and one exclusively devoted to Jakarta sell the Malay world short. Rahim, in an endnote, explains Nusantara as ‘a trans-archipelagic term that corresponds historically to the Indonesian and Malay sphere of influence’. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, southern Philippines, and southern Thailand all fall in this sphere. However, south Thailand, Brunei, Borneo, eastern Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and the Philippines are absent or referred to only in passing in Rahim’s work. With few exceptions, Rahim’s work is focused on bilateral relations, leaving open the interesting question of how exactly Singapore has affected Kuala Lumpur-Jakarta relations. Exploring Singapore’s position using a multilateral approach would have produced a much more fruitful and exciting study.

Correspondingly, the chapters themselves lack any narrative unity, feeling too much like a collection of separate essays rather than a comprehensive work. In particular, the Indonesia chapter bears little link to the rest of the book, and it is left to the conclusion to draw out tentative threads in an attempt to tie the book together.

This compartmentalisation is further underlined by the difference in her approaches to Singapore-Malaysia and Singapore-Indonesia relations. Singapore-Malaysia is dealt with on cultural, political, and economic grounds, but the Singapore-Indonesia analysis is largely driven by the personal relationship between the two governments, and in particular between Lee Kuan Yew and Suharto. The lack of a strong cultural dimension to Singapore’s relations with Indonesia poses a challenge to assumptions about the Malay world  and how it is perceived by its members. However, the chapter on Indonesia is the best chapter precisely because it is much more narrowly focused on more conventional politics and in particular the relationship between Suharto and Lee Kuan Yew.

The politicisation and contestation of culture is one of the central themes of this book. Rahim’s depth of knowledge and familiarity with Malay culture, its complicated relationship with politics on both sides of the causeway, and the marginalisation and discrimination faced by the Malay community in Singapore, shine through. She marshals her facts on Malay culture and perspective well and writes confidently and convincingly. The same cannot be said about her attempts to break down the PAP’s attempt at the sinicisation of Singapore. It fails to capture the diversity of Singapore’s Chinese community, or its schizophrenic attitude towards Chinese culture and language: simultaneously proud of its heritage, frustrated by the alien tongue of mandarin, and fearful of dominance from China, an alien land to second and third generation Chinese Singaporeans. She occasionally repeats unsubstantiated stereotypes about Chinese attitudes and beliefs. She also perhaps overstates the extent to which the rest of the PAP leadership buy into Lee Kuan Yew’s beliefs on sinicisation when she predicts a new Chinese cultural elite poised to takeover leadership of the country. English educated, western oriented leaders continue to dominant the PAP’s upper echelons and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The problem is, of course, that she is unable to access the Chinese community’s worldview. Her sources, bar three interviews with Malaysian politicians, are entirely secondary, and generally in English. This no doubt reflects the paucity of work from Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese-speaking academics available in English, but it also suggests the limitations of Rahim’s skillset.

In her introduction, she sets to explore Singapore’s external relations from a historical, multidisciplinary, regional perspective. What she has achieved is an excellent study of Singapore’s bilateral relations with its two closest neighbours using a variety of political approaches, with a specific focus on the mindset of a few select leaders, and from a top-down perspective. This book will be extremely valuable to anyone seeking to better understand Singapore’s foreign policy, but we will have to wait for a work which truly embeds Singapore in Nusantara.

Catholic Bishop makes a stand on Sex Video


Kuantan, Pahang

March 29, 2011

Catholic Bishop makes a stand on the  Dato T Sex Video

Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com reports:

Catholic Bishop Dr Paul Tan Che Ing said today the state of a society’s morals was in greater danger from its leaders‘ negligence than from their ignorance.

The Bishop of the MelakaJohor diocese, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said if leaders preferred to muddy the waters rather than go for the jugular when a moral issue of magnitude flares in the national arena, they will “contribute to a situation where events will be in the saddle and will ride humankind.”

Speaking to Malaysiakini on the videotape allegedly depicting a leading politician in a compromising situation with a sex worker, Bishop Paul Tan said: “If the authorities do not take action against those responsible when laws are flagrantly flouted, then they are engendering a situation where fair is foul and foul is fair.”

“This is a dangerous pass, one in which people, especially the young, will think that there is one set of rules for a privileged few and another set of rules for the rest,” he added.

“The moral relativism that results from this disparity in rule enforcement is a quagmire from which society will find it very difficult to emerge,” opined Bishop Paul Tan.

He said Malaysian society was in “greater danger from its leaders’ negligence than from their ignorance. When you purport to sponsor and lead discussions promoting interfaith harmony and understanding and then arraign leaders who deliver learned speeches aimed at aiding that process, what is the message you are sending?” queried Bishop Paul rhetorically.

‘Unity in Plurality’

He declined to be specific but it was clear the Catholic prelate was referring to the decision by the de facto religious minister, Jamil Khir Baharom, to investigate Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim for a speech on religion and pluralism at the London School of Economics in March 2010.

“A friend afforded me the privilege of reading that speech and I could not help but be struck by the way it echoed the sentiments advanced in documents emanating from the Vatican and from recent popes, especially Pope Benedict, concerning inter-religious dialogue,” offered Bishop Paul Tan.

“The essence of those documents can be encapsulated in the phrase ‘Unity in Plurality’ and the essence of that now arraigned speech is the same: how to see infinity in a grain and divinity in wild flowers,” he said.

Bishop Paul Tan said he felt the speech was the pronouncement of a person whose stands firmly on the foundations of his religion “but his eyes survey the world.”

“Incidentally, that is a good standpoint from which to initiate interfaith harmony and understanding,” he observed.

Politics of Diversion in the Battle for Sarawak


Kuantan, Pahang

March 29, 2011

Of Blue Movies and Brown Noses –Politics of Diversion

by Mariam Mokhtar @http://www.malaysiakini.com

UMNO has served up a red herring in the shape of a sex video which was meant to make us take our eyes off the ball. They wanted us to forget about Sarawak and its chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud.

The end game of the latest sex video is not an attempt by UMNO to hide its failures or an attempt to bring down opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. The true intention of UMNO is to preoccupy us and bombard us with the details of this sex scandal so that we lose our focus – Sarawak.

UMNO’s attempts to discredit Anwar are getting clumsier and cruder by the day. It is a deliberate attempt at character assassination by people whose own reputations are themselves sullied.

Abdul Rahim Thamby Chik is one of the people behind this sex video. He was allegedly involved with an underaged girl. He is sore that in 1994, his ticket to millions was cut short by allegations of his sexual indiscretions.

Instead of being prosecuted, UMNO kept him firmly in the fold, possibly as a “sleeper” to do its dirty work in the future. Perhaps this is what that sex video is all about.

It was Lim Guan Eng, a DAP MP, who was jailed for sedition when he tried to seek justice for the girl concerned. The girl’s grandmother had pleaded with Lim to help her family. She did not go to the UMNO Malays to help her. That must say a lot about what ordinary Malays think of the political party which is supposedly theirs. UMNO Malays maintained an unhealthy silence to protect one of their own.

We do not know if Rahim was put up to this latest scandal by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. Two decades ago, Rahim is said to escaped a heavy jail sentence by doing a deal with Mahathir. Now, perhaps, it has come time to return the favour and come to the defence of UMNO.

It is quite possible that if Rahim had refused to help UMNO, new incriminating evidence of the alleged links with the then-14 year old girl in 1994 would have materialised.

Who says new material cannot be unearthed at such a late stage? They did it for Teoh Beng Hock, didn’t they? The supposed ‘suicide note’ appeared months later, when the inquest into his mysterious death was nearing its conclusion.

This plan is only one of several that surfaced in the last few months. We had Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan’s personal ‘sperm bank’ and we’ve been entertained by Ummi Hafilda Ali’s and her virginity test. Now we have this sex video.

Getting the people titillated

This red herring, the sex video, has been planned with little games in place. It has got the people titillated. Is it Anwar in the movie or is it not? Is it Anwar’s doppelgänger or is it the despicable Shazryl Eskay Abdullah? Why was the Carcosa hotel selected? Why were the police slow to act?

This is what UMNO wanted – to distract us from Sarawak. The reality is that Najib wants to hide the problems of Sarawak from us.Taib Mahmud is in trouble. He is suffering from a two-pronged attack by Clare Rewcastle Brown and her weapons of mass deliverance (WMD) – the Sarawak Report website which details all of Taib’s corrupt and crooked business dealings, and Radio Free Sarawak which broadcasts interviews with ordinary people who have suffered at the hands of Taib.

The white-haired Taib, dubbed ‘The Termite’, has attracted much criticism over his unwillingness to step down or to groom his successors. He has also been hit by successive waves of accusations of corruption and nepotism. The anti-graft body Transparency International Malaysia has added its voice in asking the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the allegations.

The problem that Najib faces in Sarawak is Taib’s reluctance to hand over the reins. There are some who believe that Taib should not contest the polls; others feel that only he is capable of holding the coalition together and delivering the resource-rich state to Putrajaya, which considers Sarawak and Sabah as its “fixed-deposit” vote bank.

UMNO-BN are afraid of Anwar and Pakatan. There is no doubt about that. One has only to see the police intervention when Anwar spoke at a gathering in Gombak last Friday. The more Najib sends the thugs to silence Anwar, the more moderate Malaysians will end up supporting Anwar.

Anwar has become a symbol of oppression – his own, and ours. He has been pilloried and punched by the police before. And yet he has managed to drag himself up from the floor and become stronger.

Anwar being preoccupied with defending himself against this sex video was so that he would not be able to concentrate on Sarawak.

Taib running scared

Taib is running scared. He has attempted to enter the cyber-world with disastrous results. One victim of his foray into this cyber-war was the proofreader at the Borneo Post.

He corrected what he thought was a spelling error and inadvertently directed online readers to the original ‘Sarawak Report’ of Clare Rewcastle Brown. He has been sacked. This is Taib’s desperation and ruthlessness at work.

The battle-lines in Sarawak are already drawn. A few days ago, Snap was exposed as a potential political frog and would have damaged Pakatan in Sarawak, just like the political frogs which damaged Pakatan in Perak three years ago.

Sarawak is causing sleepless nights in Putrajaya and for Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Even former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, who milked Malaysia dry, has now come out of the woodwork to defend UMNO-BN and Najib.

Sarawak has never experienced a more formidable opposition. In the past, Taib would have been able to intimidate, imprison or eliminate his opponents, if necessary. The sex video plan has backfired but there will be other dirty tactics up BN’s sleeves.

Anwar has galvanised Pakatan to such a degree that trying to topple him has become an impossible undertaking; a string of bounty hunters will get their shoulders to the task, to repay favours owed to Mahathir. We can expect more fireworks in the run-up to Sarawak polling day.

Video Sex Case: Rahim TC may escape prosecution


March 28, 2011

Video Sex Case: Thanks to A-G Gani Patail Rahim Thamby Chik may escape prosecution

by Clara Chooi @http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

A former senior police investigating officer said today that he did not expect Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Thamby Chik to be prosecuted over the sex video scandal because of the ultimate involvement of Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail as Attorney-General.

Former Kuala Lumpur CID chief Datuk Mat Zain Ibrahim also accused Abdul Gani of hijacking an investigation against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in 1999 in order to conceal his role in “indemnifying” the former Malacca chief minister from being prosecuted for corruption.

The investigation, he explained, had been wrested from him and given instead to former Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan, who was then an investigating officer.

Mat Zain added that the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) had already issued a recommendation for Abdul Rahim to be prosecuted for four counts of corruption — three under the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance and one for making a false Statutory Declaration, punishable under Section 193 of the Penal Code.

But according to a complaint by Anwar, then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, then Attorney-General Tan Sri Mokhtar Abdullah and Abdul Gani, who was then a senior deputy public prosecutor, had “indemnified” Abdul Rahim from prosecution in exchange for his resignation from all government and political posts.

Mat Zaid wrote in an open letter to Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar today that he expected the police to handle the ongoing investigations on the sex video case in a professional manner, but expressed concern that Abdul Gani’s participation would eventually see Abdul Rahim walking away a free man again.

“I am fully confident that the police are able to carry out their responsibilities in a professional and impartial manner and will not be influenced by outside pressures.However, this investigation will later be handled by Abdul Gani as the Attorney-General. It is at this stage where it is expected that manipulation, fraud and forgery will occur, particularly when one is aware of how Abdul Gani and Musa  Hassan handled the other cases involving Anwar and Abdul Rahim,” he told the IGP in his letter.

Mat Zain said the matter had first reached his hands when Anwar had sent him a copy of the ACA report against Abdul Rahim along with a police report on August 20, 1999. The report, he explained, was classified as “official secrets” and explained that the agency had compiled enough evidence to prove a “prima facie” case against Abdul Rahim.

“The ACA report was validated by the prosecution division of the Attorney-General’s Chambers and signed by Abdul Gani who classified the document as ‘secret’.

“The documents were said to have been given to Anwar by the Attorney-General and/or Abdul Gani while Anwar was still the deputy prime minister,” he said.

Mat Zain explained that the A-G’s Chambers had wanted to classify the case under the Official Secrets Act 1972 while the police had suggested that the case be investigated under Section 2(1) of the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance on abuse of powers.

He added that an investigation against Abdul Rahim under the Emergency Ordinance would involve the recording of statements from Dr Mahathir, the late Mokhtar, Gani and other prominent leaders.

“But on August 28, I received a letter from the A-G’s Chambers addressed personally to me, specifically stating that the report Anwar lodged against Abdul Rahim would be investigated by Musa as Abdul Gani had supposedly lodged a report against Anwar for committing an offence under the Official Secrets Act,” said Mat Zain, referring to Anwar’s exposure of the ACA report.

“To be clearer, I can say that the report involving Abdul Rahim was hijacked by Musa Hassan from the hands of the CID,” he added. Mat Zain, however, stressed that he had never seen the report purportedly lodged by Abdul Gani.

“And never before has the A-G’s Chambers ever chosen its own investigating officer to investigate a police report,” he said.

Mat Zain also attached a copy of the A-G’s Chamber’s notice to him in his letter to Ismail. “The comparison that can be drawn from here is that when it comes to handling an investigation against Anwar, Abdul Gani and Musa are willing to do whatever it takes, including forcing a government servant to prepare false reports, fabricate DNA evidence, cheat and do anything that is against the law and against all logic in order to convict Anwar,” he charged.

Mat Zain, who was the investigating officer in the infamous 1998 “black-eye” case involving Anwar, has repeatedly accused Abdul Gani of being corrupt and having committed numerous offences to protect his position.

Among others, he has claimed that Abdul Gani had falsified evidence in the probe against Anwar for his first sodomy trial, including the DNA evidence.

“Now, although Musa has retired, but Abdul Gani is still the A-G. So when this sex video investigation reaches him, it can be expect what his stand will be, especially since this video is yet another clash between Abdul Rahim and Anwar,” he said.

Mat Zain stressed that he had no personal vendetta against Abdul Rahim but was concerned that the sex video case would see the former chief minister getting off scot-free, despite his admission to his involvement in the caper.

Abdul Rahim, along with businessman Datuk Shazryl Eskay, had last week admitted to being behind the sex video allegedly featuring Anwar having sex with a foreign prostitute.Anwar has since denied being the man in the tape and has gone on a nationwide campaign to convince voters of his innocence.

Letter dated March 28, 2011 from Former Kuala Lumpur CID Chief Datuk Mat Zain Ibrahim to IGP Tan Sri Ismail Omar

(Please click on image below for a more readable copy of  the letter)

Biography of the Iconic Great Soul


March 28, 2011

Man in connection with the general life of humanity appears subject to laws which determine that life. But the same man apart from that connection appears to be free. How should the past life of nations and of humanity be regarded—as the result of the free, or as the result of the constrained, activity of man? That is a question for history“. (Epilogue 2, Ch. VIII), War and Peace, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Leo Tolstoy)

New York Times Book Review

How Gandhi became Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhiji)

By Geoffrey C. Ward*

Published: March 24, 2011

GREAT SOUL
Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India
By Joseph Lelyveld
Illustrated. 425 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $28.95.

Some years ago, the British writer Patrick French visited the Sabarmati ashram on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in the Indian state of Gujarat, the site from which Mahatma Gandhi led his salt march to the sea in 1930. French was so appalled by the noisome state of the latrines that he asked the ashram secretary whose job it was to clean them.

A sweeper woman stopped by for an hour a day, the functionary explained, but afterward things inevitably became filthy again.

But wasn’t it a central tenet of the Mahatma’s teachings that his followers clean up after themselves?

“We all clean the toilets together, on Gandhiji’s birthday,” the secretary answered, “as a symbol to show that we understand his message.”Gandhi had many messages, some ignored, some misunderstood, some as relevant today as

The Author of Great Soul

when first enunciated. Most Americans — many middle-class Indians, for that matter — know what they know about the Mahatma from Ben Kingsley’s Academy Award-winning screen portrayal. His was a mesmerizing performance, but the script barely hinted at the bewildering complexity of the real man, who was at the same time an earnest pilgrim and a wily politician, an advocate of celibacy and the architect of satyagraha (truth force), a revivalist, a revolutionary and a social reformer.

It is this last avatar that interests Joseph Lelyveld most. “Great Soul” concentrates on what he calls Gandhi’s “evolving sense of his constituency and social vision,” and his subsequent struggle to impose that vision on an India at once “worshipful and obdurate.” Lelyveld is especially qualified to write about Gandhi’s career on both sides of the Indian Ocean: he covered South Africa for The New York Times (winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for his book about apartheid, “Move Your Shadow”), and spent several years in the late 1960s reporting from India. He brings to his subject a reporter’s healthy skepticism and an old India hand’s stubborn fascination with the subcontinent and its people.

The Iconic Great Soul

This is not a full-scale biography. Nor is it for beginners. Lelyveld assumes his readers are familiar with the basic outlines of Gandhi’s life, and while the book includes a bare-bones chronology and is helpfully divided into South African and Indian sections, it moves backward and forward so often, it’s sometimes harder than it should be to follow the shifting course of Gandhi’s thought.

But “Great Soul” is a noteworthy book, nonetheless, vivid, nuanced and cleareyed. The two decades Gandhi spent in South Africa are too often seen merely as prelude. Lelyveld treats them with the seriousness they deserve. “I believe implicitly that all men are born equal,” Gandhi once wrote in the midst of one of his campaigns against untouchability. “I have fought this doctrine of superiority in South Africa inch by inch.”

It actually took a long time for the Mahatma to turn that implicit belief into explicit action, Lelyveld reminds us. When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi arrived in Durban from Bombay in 1893, he was a natty 23-year-old British-trained lawyer, hired to help represent one wealthy Muslim Indian trader in a dreary civil suit against another, and primarily interested in matters of religion and diet, not politics: in an early advertisement he proclaimed himself an “Agent for the Esoteric Christian Union and the London Vegetarian Society.” But, Lelyveld writes, “South Africa . . . challenged him from the start to explain what he thought he was doing there in his brown skin.”

Initially, Gandhi was simply affronted that discriminatory laws and bigoted custom lumped

In London to see The King

educated well-to-do Indians like him with “coolies,” the impoverished mine, plantation and railroad workers who made up the bulk of the region’s immigrant Indian population. The nonviolent campaigns he waged to bring about equality between Indians and whites over the next 20 years would lead him — slowly and unsteadily, but inexorably — to advocate equality between Indian and Indian, first across caste and religious lines and then between rich and poor. (His identification with the aspirations of black people would not come until long after he had left Africa.)

As Lelyveld shows, the outcomes of Gandhi’s campaigns in South Africa were neither clear-cut nor long-lasting: after one, his own supporters beat him bloody because they thought he’d settled too quickly for a compromise with the government. But they taught him how to move the masses — not only middle-class Hindu and Muslim immigrants but the poorest of the poor as well. He had, as he himself said, found his “vocation in life.”

Soon after returning to India in 1915, Gandhi set forth what he called the “four pillars on which the structure of swaraj” — self-rule — “would ever rest”: an unshakable alliance between Hindus and Muslims; universal acceptance of the doctrine of nonviolence, as tenet, not tactic; the transformation of India’s approximately 650,000 villages by spinning and other self-sustaining handicrafts; and an end to the evil concept of untouchability. Lelyveld shrewdly examines Gandhi’s noble but doomed battles to achieve them all.

He made a host of enemies along the way — orthodox Hindus who believed him overly sympathetic to Muslims, Muslims who saw his calls for religious unity as part of a Hindu plot, Britons who thought him a charlatan, radical revolutionaries who believed him a reactionary. But no antagonist was more implacable than Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the brilliant, quick-tempered untouchable leader — still largely unknown in the West — who saw the Mahatma’s nonviolent efforts to eradicate untouchability as a sideshow at best. He even objected to the word ­Gandhi coined for his people — “Harijans” or “children of God” — as patronizing; he preferred “Dalits,” from the Sanskrit for “crushed,” “broken.”

Sometimes, Gandhi said Indian freedom would never come until untouchability was expunged; sometimes he argued that untouchability could be eliminated only after independence was won. He was unapologetic about that kind of inconsistency. “I can’t devote myself entirely to untouchability and say, ‘Neglect Hindu-Muslim unity or swaraj,’ ” he told a friend. “All these things run into one another and are interdependent. You will find at one time in my life an emphasis on one thing, at another time on [an]other. But that is just like a pianist, now emphasizing one note and now [an]other.” It was also like the politician he said he was, always careful to balance the demands of one group of constituents against those of another.

As Lelyveld has written in “Move Your Shadow,” “Gandhi had hoped to bring about India’s freedom as the moral achievement of millions of individual Indians, as the result of a social revolution in which the collapse of alien rule would be little more than a byproduct of a struggle for self-reliance and economic equality.” Foreign rule did collapse, in the end, “but strife and inequality among Indians ­worsened.”

Gandhi is still routinely called “the father of the nation” in India, but it is hard to see what remains of him beyond what Lelyveld calls his “nimbus.” His notions about sex and spinning and simple living have long since been abandoned. Hindu-Muslim tension still smolders just beneath the uneasy surface. Untouchability survives, too, and standard-issue polychrome statues of Ambedkar in red tie and double-breasted electric-blue suit now outnumber those of the sparsely clothed Mahatma wherever Dalits are still crowded together.

Gandhi saw most of this coming and sometimes despaired. The real tragedy of his life, Lelyveld argues, was “not because he was assassinated, nor because his noblest qualities inflamed the hatred in his killer’s heart. The tragic element is that he was ultimately forced, like Lear, to see the limits of his ambition to remake his world.”

Nonetheless, Lelyveld also writes, while he may have “struggled with doubt and self until his last days,” Gandhi “made the predicament of the millions his own, whatever the tensions among them, as no other leader of modern times has.” And, for all his inconsistencies, his dream for India remained constant throughout his life. “Today,” Gandhi wrote less than three weeks before he was murdered by a member of his own faith, “we must forget that we are Hindus or Sikhs or Muslims or Parsis. . . . It is of no consequence by what name we call God in our homes.”

That was a revolutionary notion when he first urged Indians to unite against their oppressors in South Africa before the turn of the 20th century. It was revolutionary when he came home to India at the time of World War I, and still revolutionary in 1947 when India was simultaneously liberated and ripped apart by the religious hatred he had repeatedly risked his life to quell, and sadly, it remains revolutionary today — for India and, by extension, for the wider world as well.

*Geoffrey C. Ward, a biographer and a screenwriter for documentary films, spent part of his boyhood in India and is currently writing a book about partition.

More on Daim On Anwar


March 28, 2011

Kuantan, Pahang

Daim on Anwar: Unravelling Fact from Fiction

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

How to disentangle fact from fiction, how to extract the kernel of truth from the husk of musings Daim Zainuddin aired yesterday in the Utusan Malaysia, a paper that has made it its mission to destroy the main subject of the interview: Anwar Ibrahim?

First, that the usually taciturn Daim has spoken at all is in itself remarkable because of a preference for the shadowy corners of public life where he is able to defy categorisation.

Daim is a lawyer who disdains legal work, a businessman whose holdings are unlisted because of clever use of proxies, an economist who learned about the dismal science from another lawyer-cum-economist (James Puthucheary), and a political soothsayer who has been spot-on – he predicted, before the last general election that the BN would do badly in Kedah and Selangor, and was proven right.

Because of the strong nexus between business and politics forged in the last three decades of the country’s economic progress, Daim was able to inhabit the shadowy corners of politics where self-serving ambition can be hidden behind official policy.

Precisely because so many politicians have labels around them, this man of no labels is intriguing: he is respected and despised in equal measure.

His assessment of Anwar Ibrahim is vented at a time when the Sodomy II case against the opposition leader is wobbling badly and a sex video that purports to show him in a compromising situation with a sex worker is badly boomeranging on UMNO.

It would seem that try their damndest as they are wont, UMNO cannot slay the beast. So, in the prelude to a state poll in Sarawak, Daim is called upon by forces reduced to desperation by the seeming failure of their interdictory ardours, to weigh in for a late rescue of a fading cause: the resuscitation of BN by denigration of its principal tormentor, Anwar Ibrahim.

More political theater

In sum, what is Daim saying about Anwar? That Anwar’s fall in UMNO was occasioned by his own blemishes rather than through a conspiracy; that he is a political chameleon who will sacrifice principle for popularity any day; that he came up in Umno because of Dr Mahathir Mohamed‘s patronage and the party’s machinery; that he is an incompetent administrator whose party (PKR) is his stool pigeon and which is part of a coalition (Pakatan Rakyat) that is a marriage of threadbare convenience; and that the Anwar-led Pakatan have not the vision nor the skill to match BN’s proven track record of bringing progress to the Malaysian polity: and that enough of the electorate know of Anwar’s ineptitude to disbelieve that he could reform Malaysian politics and bring about development and progress.

The criticisms have to be mulled in all their scatter-shot detail to figure out if Daim has made a plausible case for the forestalling of the Anwar Ibrahim from the office of prime minister of Malaysia?

No doubt, in the next few days the public will be treated to expostulations and replies by the affected parties. These will get them no closer to the actual picture.

All the public will be witness to is another round of the cut-and-thrust of political debate, political theater that will only freeze each side in the positions they have already dug into.

A gaping void in body politic

But if you shed every jot of malice and tittle of triviality from the salvos each side fires at the other, you will arrive at a gaping void: that there is no reliable way you could come to an assessment of the truth of what each side says because of dereliction of the duty of the media to inform with fact and enlighten with insight over the years.

This was a dereliction in which UMNO was complicit, particularly in the period when it was led by the man, Mahathir, whom Daim served.

If and when Anwar becomes PM, he does rectify this gaping hole in the body politic, he will have more than compensated for the faults Daim plausibly attributes to him: his lack of administrative panache and his successful fight for the reversion of English-use as part of the medium of instruction in schools.

Of course, Anwar as PM means that Daim’s thus far remarkable occupancy of the murkier corners of Malaysian politics where reality slides around idealism would no longer be tenable. That alone is reason enough to vet what he now says about Anwar for the self-protective anxiety the hypothesis of Anwar as PM is apt to stir in him.