Malaysia of 2018 has learnt lessons from India of 1977. And, so should we


May 26, 2018

Malaysia of 2018 has learnt lessons from India of 1977. And, so should we

by Dr. Shashi Tharoor–

 

Image result for Dr. Shashi Tharoor

 

As an Indian and a democrat – and as an opposition politician also facing a seemingly unvanquishable foe in power, and looking to unity and popular support to bring about change – I can only wish the new coalition government in Malaysia well.

Visiting Malaysia this week, as I have done, is to be transported in time to the New Delhi of March and April 1977, when the invincible Congress Party, after ruling India uninterruptedly for thirty years, was ousted at the polls. There is the same heady atmosphere all around, the same giddy exuberance at the dramatically transformed political reality, the same sense that, now that this election result has happened, anything is possible.

Image result for Dr Mahathir and Anwar

“–what Morarji Desai and Jagjivan Ram were in the India of 1977, Mahathir Mohamed and Anwar Ibrahim are in the Malaysia of 2018”–Shashi Tharoor.

People spoke back then of a “Second Independence Day”, a moment of national liberation; I heard the same words in Kuala Lumpur this week. Another similarity was that the party that had won the nation its independence from the colonial overlords, and had seemed to embody the spirit of the nation, had been seen as having ruled too long. In 1977 in India as in 2018 in Malaysia, former stalwarts of the ancien regime, now turned democratic insurgents, were hailed as reborn avatars come to make up for past sins: what Morarji Desai and Jagjivan Ram were in the India of 1977, Mahathir Mohamed and Anwar Ibrahim are in the Malaysia of 2018.

Back then as well, those who were silent suddenly found their voices, and claimed to have been critics all along. Just like now, the motley opposition parties had united back then as one to defeat a hated foe. Then, too, it was impossible to find anyone prepared to say a good word for the defeated government and its tarnished leader.

The same talk of revenge is in the air, again couched as justly deserved punishment for the leader’s sins.

Image result for Pakatan Victory in GE-14 2018

There are differences, of course, but only of degree. The Congress had been in power for 30 years, the Malaysian Barisan Nasional (National Front) had ruled for 60. Both had seemed invincible, permanently destined to reign. Morarji Desai was a former Deputy Prime Minister, who had been out of national office for a decade; Mahathir was a former Prime Minister, out of power for 16 years. Jagjivan Ram’s was a last-minute defection, announced after the elections were called; Anwar had been ousted from the cabinet twenty years earlier and been jailed for the last ten. The essence of the change was, however, the same: the people had revolted, they had found credible leaders to represent their hopes, and they had brought about dramatic and transformative change, peacefully, through the ballot-box.

An Indian of my vintage can be forgiven for saying: I’ve seen this movie before.

And of course, it didn’t end the way the happy celebrants of Kuala Lumpur would like to hear. With the hated foe defeated, it took only two years for the contradictions within the victorious new Janata coalition to break it apart; in less than three, the vanquished party was back in office, the election of 1977 seen as an aberration. That’s not the movie script the winners in Malaysia want to hear.

And yet they face similar challenges. The party with the most seats in the victorious coalition, Anwar Ibrahim’s PKR, has only two Cabinet Ministers; the plum portfolios have been allocated to others by the coalition leader, Mahathir bin Mohamed, Prime Minister for 22 years (1981-2003) and now, at 92, the world’s oldest elected leader. Anwar himself, newly pardoned and eligible to run for office immediately, is widely seen as Prime Minister-in-waiting, but Mahathir speaks of running the country for two years to set it right before handing over to him. Two years, as any Indian can tell him, is a long time in coalition politics. And it was Mahathir who had first ousted and jailed his Deputy, Anwar, nearly two decades ago.

Image result for Pakatan Victory in GE-14 2018

Malaysia has many things in common with India – a multi-religious, plural society, with some rising strains of intolerance; an empowered elite, with a cosmopolitan sensibility and a global outlook, seeking to transform a society still largely rural and traditional; a democratic system that, for all its flaws and manipulability, largely works. There is genuine interest in, and awareness of, India in this country, great respect for our democratic example, and increasing concern about reports of mounting intolerance.

Two former Deputy Prime Ministers in the old Barisan Nasional governments are now members of the victorious opposition coalition. I met them both: Muhyiddin bin Yassin, now the new Home Minister, and Anwar Ibrahim, who I had known in my UN days, and who, in the midst of his triumph, release and resurrection, generously gave me 50 minutes of his time, and his undivided attention. Both are aware of the challenges confronting them; both are determined to overcome the inevitable problems and make the future work.

I was amazed to see how ten years of jail has failed to break Anwar’s spirit, how he radiates calmness and patience along with a lively energy, and how he seems prepared for the long haul. To launch into a punishing schedule, receiving visitors from around the country and the world, so soon after his release, and to do so in a relaxed and good-natured way, speaks volumes for the man and his self-belief. His associates, partners and coalition allies have not always been fair or kind to him in the past. Yet he knows that this is a time to forget old wounds, not dwell on them. He realizes how easily division can lead to defeat again: the lessons of 1977 are not lost on him. He can only hope they will be learned by his allies as well.

As an Indian and a democrat – and as an opposition politician also facing a seemingly unvanquishable foe in power, and looking to unity and popular support to bring about change – I can only wish them well.

Dr Shashi Tharoor is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied history at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 17 books, both fiction and non-fiction; his most recent book is ‘Why I am a Hindu’. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor

8 thoughts on “Malaysia of 2018 has learnt lessons from India of 1977. And, so should we

  1. /// Malaysia of 2018 has learnt lessons from India of 1977. ///

    No, don’t flatter yourself and don’t flatter Malaysians. Most Malaysians, I dare say, are not aware of what transpired in 1977 in India, let alone learn anything from it.

    There are some slight similarities in the elections, but the eventual outcomes are vastly different.

    /// An Indian of my vintage can be forgiven for saying: I’ve seen this movie before.

    And of course, it didn’t end the way the happy celebrants of Kuala Lumpur would like to hear. With the hated foe defeated, it took only two years for the contradictions within the victorious new Janata coalition to break it apart; in less than three, the vanquished party was back in office, the election of 1977 seen as an aberration. That’s not the movie script the winners in Malaysia want to hear. ///

    Again, I think not many has seen that movie.

    So, if there are lessons to be learnt from India (not has learnt), it will be over the next two years – so that Harapan will not break apart like Janata.

    • I don’t think PH will explode – but it may implode in stepwise fashion. It will not be obvious, but the grumbling, quarrels and egocentrism will manifest, once Octo relinquishes his hand. Anwar is too much a gentleman and his powers of persuasion cannot match Octo’s steely stare.. Haha..

      As a coalition – it doesn’t have a coherent or common self reinforcing ideology – except to depose that dastardly KleptoMo1/DeJeweled Monstrosity and their court jesters. Their vision of a ‘New’ Malaysia is also at odds. They will need a firm hand and lots of compromise to navigate the pitfalls and strategic errors along the way. First of all, they must see the Panoramic picture and smell the turdified mess Be-End had sown.

      As of now, we can see that PKR has been ‘cheated’ of one of the big 4 ministries, while we have those DAP Chinapek head goons groveling before YDPA – which perhaps is good?

      I wonder whether the protocols in Istana have changed? ‘Cuz, in the past, non-Malays are not required to wear the Songkok when they ‘Mengadap’. Perhaps it was just an acknowledgement of cultural dominance in DAP’s version of Malaysian Malaysia – but Gobind and Kula were absolutely right in wearing their respective headgear.

      “In Essentials, Unity. In Non-Essentials, Liberty. In All Things, Charity” Heck, and i’m not even Episcopalian..

    • In essentials, the Christians have Nicene Creed, the Muslims have 5 pillars. For Malaysia, Constitution is at odds with the two Commissions work that was written as a guide to the spirit of the Constitution. Those are not essentials. A place to eat, sleep and .. kita bersyukur. Bedfellows at odds till death do us apart.

  2. Thank you Dr. Tharoor for reminding Harapan that it only took two years for the Janata coalition in India to quarrel. And then to lose the election to Congress a year later.

  3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janata_Party
    The wikipedia entry lists out the reasons why 1977 didn’t end well.
    With a bit of humility, I guess it would indeed be difficult for Harapan to do any better than Janata, or to expect BN to fair better than NIC. Giving up all desire to seek Constitutional Equality is one way. Yet, no one politician could decide that for the 10million nonBumi. Neither could there be any politician who could decide for the 20million Bumi to give up their birth rights being the higher caste in a bangsa Malaysia. With that not settled, we all could not live with a clean conscience. How can this nation move on? How can anyone in the land handle their daily chores without feeling guilty. When we have enough to cari makan, we curi makan, simply because there is no better amusement to hide our guilt. Stucked between a proud China and a demanding India, Melayu will hilang di dunia. Not unless, Melayu memang boleh, while India and China tak boleh. These two nations could not move beyond race. Yet, for this “boleh” to become a reality, it is not for runaway pendatang like me to say. It takes the generous hearts of 20million katasayang Melayu. Modi’s BJP tak boleh. Xi’s Chinese dream tak boleh. A great again Trump America lebih lagi tak boleh. It is unfair to ask 20million katasayang Melayu to say boleh… Perhaps, Dr Tharoor is right.

  4. The writer’s parallel warning of India 1977 could happen here is, what I fear most that ordinary man-in-streets do not realize or comprehend.

    The leaders of past ( that aslo included the present top power weilding leaders of PH) BN government had never learned, since the 1982/4 “”BMF RM 2.5 b Loan Scandals” that countries (Malaysia ), like
    ” Banks don’t fail. They were robbed from inside” , Swift and severe punishments
    should instituted against those found guilty.

    The issues are not just punishment and take revenge only at the offenders, but most importantly, the management of the (banks)country.

    So the PH leaders government should quickly get down to business and address the issue, instead overly politicise and glorifying its popularity and achievement in winning the 14 Ge.

    ….and the people and leaders of divide must understand and remember the top power-weilding PH leaders, including Anwar, are there for a transitional period, for smooth transfer to the new breed of younger generation leaders who show clean and competent records.

  5. Shashi Tharoor, typical of politicians, provides half truths to push his point. He, intentionally or otherwise, has nothing to say about what happened to the Congress Party after its humiliating loss. Has the Congress Party any chance of regaining its past glory? I say, fat chance. The Congress P failed to reinvent itself and has been overtaken by a rapidly changing political and socio-economic environment. It has lost popular support. UMNO if it follows Congress’ trajectory will be in a similar situation. PAS may be the BJP of Malaysia but then again Malaysia has a very significant non-Muslim population.

  6. Nations run on the fuel of my country wright or wrong. Hence, they never profit from the experience of other nations and seldom even from their own.

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