Indian Identity Issues In Spotlight Ahead of Malaysia Elections

Malaysia Deputy PM Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former PM Mahathir Mohamad spar over comments over the latter origins, even as Bumiputra status for Indian Muslims evokes mixed reactions.


The identity of Indian Muslims is at the centre of several debates in Malaysia as general elections loom ahead in the country. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi sparked a fresh controversy this weekend when he took a dig at former PM Mahathir Mohamad’s origins, saying the veteran politician had used the Malay community to boost his political career, despite the fact that he was an Indian. Mahathir, in an interview with The Malaysian Insight on Thursday, countered the charge by saying the Malays were the ones to have used him.

Mahathir as Kutty

The fact that Zahid cited Mahathir’s identity card to say that his name is “a/l Iskandar Kutty” instead of “Mohamad” drew sharp reactions from several quarters. Political observers feel the comment will only serve to dampen the chances of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno), Malaysia’s largest political party, of which Zahid is the deputy president. The remarks have come at a time when the government is trying to draw the Indian Muslim voters, with Prime Minister Najib Razak saying recently that they would consider a proposal by an Indian Muslim organisation to recognise the community as bumiputera, which means ‘sons of the soil’.

Zahid-Mahathir Spat Continues

Mahathir, who earned a fair share of supporters during his 22 years as prime minister until 2003, lost no time to retort to Zahid’s comments. “This is good enough to show that Zahid is a big liar. A big liar because he cannot show the blue-coloured identity card,” Mahathir said on Monday in a video post on the Facebook page of his party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, that he launched last year after quitting Umno.

Photo Credit: IANS

Courtesy IANS

His daughter Marina Mahathir did not deny her Indian heritage, saying Iskandar was the name of her father’s grandfather and that the late Iskandar had married into a prominent Malay family, Straits Times reported.

Indian Muslims in Malaysia

Indian Muslims, numbering about 200,000 people in Malaysia, came out with mixed reactions over the proposal to give them the Bumiputra status. “We are a minority community, so we need government assistance,” Dhajudeen Shahul Hameed, president of the Federation of Malaysian Indian Muslim Associations, was quoted as saying by Straits Times. Many elders in the community don’t agree, the publication reported. The proposal also drew criticism from some in the Malay community.

What is bumiputera status?

The term bumiputera was introduced in 1971 by PM Razak’s father, then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, to classify those who would benefit from the New Economic Policy (NEP) that was devised with an aim to eliminate poverty among Malays and other indigenous races.

The scheme entitles the bumiputera to avail of a quota in public universities, and gives them access to housing discounts, and other government facilities like loans.

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