KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has launched a 10- year programme to help the country's Indian community, promising to raise its members' incomes and educational levels, open up business opportunities and reserve more jobs for them in government.
Calling it the Malaysian Indian Blueprint, or MIB, Datuk Seri Najib pledged on Sunday that most of its main components will be delivered within a decade.
"This blueprint must and will be delivered. This is no election gimmick or political rhetoric," he said in a speech to Indian community and political leaders at a public hall.
"We guarantee this," he added, while shouting "Naalai namadhe", Tamil for "tomorrow is ours", several times.
Malaysia's nearly two million Indians make up 7 per cent of the 31-million population.
Key points of 10-year programme
• A RM500 million (S$159 million) government fund to allow poor Indians to buy unit trusts
• A RM500 million revolving fund to meet financing needs of Indian businesses
• Allocation of RM40 million for needy students
• To have 7 per cent Indians in the civil service in all ranks by 2026.
• Government intervention to raise enrolment of Indians in local colleges to at least 7 per cent.
• Faster clearance system to give citizenship to Indians residing or born in Malaya before 1957. Up to 25,000 Indians in Malaysia do not have citizenship, including those born in remote plantations whose births were not registered.
• Family turnaround programme to have case workers help those students with poor attendance or discipline issues.
• Create a national temple database to track all Hindu temples. This will help anticipate possible problems in relocations as landowners seek to move the temples out.
They are disadvantaged educationally and economically as they do not get extensive government aid like the Malays and bumiputeras (indigenous races including the Orang Asli and those from Sabah and Sarawak) do, and are not dominant in business like the Chinese.
The aid package includes a RM500 million (S$159 million) unit trust seed fund to be set up by government agency Permodalan Nasional to create wealth for the poorest Indians, and a RM500 million revolving fund for local Indian entrepreneurs.
Mr Najib said the government also plans to double the income of poor Indian families, reserve 7 per cent of places in public tertiary institutions and the civil service for Indians by 2026, and create jobs for the community.
To critics, the MIB is a signal that the elections are near as the government had in the past launched similar programmes for Indians just before calling for polls.
But Mr Najib, flanked by Dr S. Subramaniam, president of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), said the government had engaged Malaysian Indians at the grassroots to develop a plan for their socio-economic improvement.
"We also consulted hundreds of NGOs, community groups and civil society leaders, besides the experts. So this is not 'vetti pechi' (empty talk)," he said, referring to critics who claim that the document is aimed at wooing Malaysian Indians at the next general election. The MIC is the main ethnic Indian party in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
Mr Najib said that unlike past plans to upgrade the Indian community, the government is taking the lead with the MIB.
"In the past, MIC had proposed a plan. But this is the first time that the federal government has got involved to drive things forward. This is the most comprehensive plan ever drawn up for Malaysian Indians," he added.
Datuk Seri Subramaniam said the Indian community "will be the final judge of the blueprint".
"The voice of a critic is present in every democracy, but the eventual judges are the targeted beneficiaries of the blueprint," he said in a speech.
Traditionally staunch supporters of BN, sections of Indian voters veered towards the opposition in the last two general elections as they were turned off by racial rhetoric from some leaders of Umno, BN's lead party, and infighting among MIC leaders.
Former MIC president S. Samy Vellu said: "In my time, we had no such plan. The present government has given us a big ray of hope."
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK