Article was taken from The STAR - New approach to old concerns by By DR DENISON JAYASOORIA.
Since 2008, a different style of leadership one which reaches out to the community and views its concerns as national concerns has emerged.
IN a pre-election rally at the PWTC five years ago, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak asked the Indian community to decide on their future if it would be with the Barisan Nasional or outside. The community sent a message on March 8, 2008 that it would be outside the Barisan and voted in large numbers for Pakatan Rakyat.
In spite of this rejection, Barisan which managed to retain the Federal Government, began a series of initiatives to win the hearts and minds of the Indian community over the next five years.
That day, Najib spoke about birth certificates and identification cards, Tamil school education, civil service employment opportunities, better access to scholarships, micro credit, youth training opportunities, places of worship and local training of temple priests. It was a wide range of issues and promises he highlighted and made.
It is fair to state that with regards to the Indian community, he has kept his word.
Where have they been successful?
In 2008, a Cabinet committee on Indian issues was established with Najib chairing it, starting while he was Deputy Prime Minister and later as Prime Minister. A Special Implementation Task Force was established for the first time at the PM's Department with full-time staff attached to thePemandu team. Indian concerns were now being regarded not as community concerns but as national concerns with the PM having a specific preview to them directly.
One must say that the direct approach of reaching out to various sections, including sub-ethnic and splinter political groups, reflect the inclusive nature of Najib's approach. His walk-abouts, participation at Thaipusam and cultural events as well as approachable nature won many hearts for him and his administration.
While his critics claim he was merely seeking to win votes, this approach has been sustained over five years and we are seeing the impact. No longer would a political party be an ethnic gate-keeper. Now, the ordinary people, cultural groups, sub-ethnic communities and religious groups have direct contact, access and dealings with the PM and his office.
Some say this is divide-and-rule but what has emerged is a different style of leadership one of reaching out directly and viewing community concerns as national concerns in addressing the struggles of the Indian community, especially those of displaced plantation workers who have been badly neglected in the policy and delivery process.
Over the years, three major areas have become the focus of attention.
Tamil school development: Prof N. S. Rajendran of UPSI was appointed to undertake a comprehensive study on improving the quality of teaching and learning. Huge sums of money were allocated towards improving the infrastructure of Tamil schools.
However, there are still many schools, especially in rural areas, with inadequate facilities. This is where the policies must be comprehensive and ensure that all streams of education are treated equally with adequate finances and resources. No child in whatever stream should be left behind but must be viewed as an asset of the nation with the ability to contribute to a high income society and not be a dependent of the state