Malaysia has triggered a potential diplomatic row within India, with a senior Malaysian minister asking Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to "lay off" after the DMK leader expressed concern over the harsh police action against ethnic Tamils in that country. Several MPs have also asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene in the matter.
Meanwhile, another Malaysian minister, the Minister of Works, Samy Vellu who is a Tamil himself had earlier told CNN-IBN that the government of Malaysia was looking into the problems of the ethnic Indians, but if the people were going to take to the streets, then appropriate action would have to be taken. Vellu also assured the Government of India that nothing was going wrong in his country, that everything was okay and that the situation would soon be under control.
The Tamils in Malaysia have been protesting against alleged second-class treatment meted out to them by the state, and also the destruction of their temples in that country. The ethnic Indian community staged its biggest protest in the country last Sunday.
Using tear gas and water cannons, about 5,000 armed police pushed back the protestors and over 190 people were arrested. The demonstrators were trying to march to the British High Commission to submit a memorandum for the British Queen, asking her to intervene in the matter.
The question that was being asked on CNN-IBN's Face The Nation was: Malaysian Tamils targeted: Are ethnic Indians being denied equal rights?
On the panel of experts to try and answer the question were Chairman Hindu Rights Action Force, P Waytha Moorthy; President Janta Party, Subramaniam Swamy; and DMK MP and daughter of Chief Minister Karunanidhi, Kanimozhi.
The issue reached the Indian Parlaiment on Thursday with Manmohan Singh coming under pressure of key ally DMK as well as the Oppostion BJP, to speak up against the harsh treatment. But are these people really being tortured in Malaysia?
And the question really was: Can these people actually be called Indian at all, after all, they have been staying in Malaysia for hundreds of years now.
The initial results of the SMS poll showed that 80 per cent of the people who voted in, believed that ethnic Indians were being denied equal rights while 20 per cent disagreed and said that they were being given what was due to them.
Should The Indian Government Intervene?
Out of the 1.8 million ethnic Indians who live in Malaysia, 6,000-7,000 people come out on the roads and the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister is crying foul. It seems like a pre-mature step that he is taking.
However, Karunanidhi's daughter, Kanimozhi came out in support of her father saying, "He has just written to the Prime Minister, expressing his concern over what had happened there. That's all. I don't see anything wrong in that."
She said that the Chief Minister was simply expressing the sentiment of the people of his state and all the other political parties of Tamil Nadu. "Now, it is up to the Indian Government to decide what it can do to control the situation in Malaysia, within diplomatic limits of course, and let the people and parties of Tamil Nadu know," she said.
Seeing the BJP and the DMK come together on the same platform - though for entirely different reasons - has created a strange situation in Parliament. Subramaniam Swamy was of the view that it seemed as if the parties had not really understood the problem at all. He also said that Karunanidhi should not have made such a huge issue out of the subject.
"It's not a Tamil issue. The Tamil Muslims are not participating in the agitation. It's the Tamil Hindus who are protesting and in fact the organisation which has organised the protest itself is called the Tamil Hindu Rights Action Force," Swamy said.
"The Hindus are suffering because of the unrectified effects of British imperialism. They were brought there by the Britishers as plantation workers. Also the Malaysian constitution is becoming increasingly Islamic and therefore Hindus are being targeted in that country. Hindus are targeted all over the world wherever Islamic society exists. I think it is not an ethnic Indians versus the Malaysian government problem as it is a Hindus versus Muslims problem. The Hindus there are not a votebank and they don't have a country," he added.
He said that the Government of India was full of double standards. "When it was the question of the Danish cartoonist who caricatured Prophet Mohammad, they wrote a letter to the country in question and cancelled its foreign minister's visit to India. They also made a huge hue and cry over the Haneef case in Australia. And now, here is a country where Hindus do not have a voice and this is where the Government needs to intervene."
Subramaniam Swamy however, said that it was unfortunate though that Karunanidhi had raised the topic and created an issue out of it, because the Chief Minister himself was not an ethnic Tamil and was instead, the son of Telugu immigrants.
Kanimozhi took offence to this and retorted that Subramaniam Swamy should get proof that her father was descended from Telegu immigrants before he made accusatory statements.
P Waytha Moorthy, however, disagreed completely with Subramaniam Swamy saying that it was actually a conflict between the ethnic Indians and the Malay dominated Malaysian-government.
It is a well-known fact that the Malaysian government follows the bhoomiputra policy (the sons of soil policy), so when it comes to jobs, educational facilities or basic infrastructure, the Malaysian government will first give it to the Malays and then consider the rest of the people in the country.
"This is a kind of apartheid system that is being implemented in the country, which is found from Article 153 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. The provision in this article is being used to the advantage of the Malays.
Why Are Indian Parties Interfering?
The debate may be either an ethnic Indians versus the Malaysian government matter or simply a war between two religions, the one question that most people want an answer to is: why are domestic political parties in India trying to make political hay out of the matter?
Subramaniam Swamy said, "The BJP was an Opposition party and it suits them to hit out at the Prime Minister. But Karunanidhi has always been using this who Tamil thing in a very distorted way. The Tamils are suffering because Kerala did not allow the government to raise the Mullaperiyar dam's height, but in that case, Karunanidhi is not concerned about the Tamil farmers in his own state."
"But, with this issue, it seems as if Karunanidhi is trying to position himself as the ultimate saviour of the Tamils throughout the world, but only when it seems to him that he can gain politically out of the issue," he said.
Kanimozhi responded to this saying that it was not the issue of Tamils, it was the issue of ethnic Indians who were being marginalised in another country.
"They happen to be Tamils like us and therefore we are all very concerned. It is not as if my father is trying to champion the cause of Tamils throughout the world."
But Subramaniam Swamy waved this away saying that Karunanidhi only spoke about Tamils. "As a Chief Minister of a state in India, he should be concerned about a lot of things, but that he does not do. He only speaks up when there are Tamils in question."
He said that this time it seemed as if the DMK had misread the situation and that it was not only Tamils that were being targeted, Hindus were also being mistreated, which was the Hindu Rights Action Force had jumped into the fray.
Kanimozhi interrupted angrily saying that the majority of ethnic Indians in Malaysia were Tamils, which was proved by the fact that one of the official languages of the country was Tamil. "The Chief Minister is obviously concerned and has thus raised the issue. What does Mr Swamy knows who just comes up with his accusatory statements like 'the Chief Minister is Telegu' and cannot speak even two lines of Tamil?"
Subramanian Swamy laughed this off saying he firmly believed that all the DMK Tamils were all migrants from other states.
Hindus Permanently Colonised in Malaysia?
P Waytha Moorthy came into the debate at this moment, which seemed to be dangerously veering off course, and steered it back to the plight of the ethnic Indians in Malaysia. He said that almost 70 per cent of the people were affected by the actions of the government in that country and that he did not agree with the Malaysian Minister of Works, Samy Vellu, when he said that everything was under control.
"The Hindus in Malaysia have been suffering, they have been marginalised and they have been oppressed and they remain a permanently colonised society in Malaysia till today," he said.
Kanimozhi said that the UPA Government, which has been known to celebrate the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas for NRIs, should hold similar conferences to look more minutely into some of the graver issues that affect poor Indians who have settled abroad.
"Most of the ethnic Indians in Malaysia were taken there as plantation workers and life has not been easy for them. They have suffered a lot and such forums and conferences - if they yield some good results - would be a very productive idea," she said.
Subramaniam Swamy seemed to agree with Kanimozhi for once in the debate saying that the Government of India should certainly look into the idea and keep the same standard for all Indians living abroad.
Moorthy too agreed and even went a step further saying that they wanted the Indian Government to come to their aid and advise the Malaysian government to not to suppress and oppress the ethnic population of that country.
FINAL SMS POLL RESULTS: Malaysian Tamils targeted: Are ethnic Indians being denied equal rights?
Yes: 84 per cent
No: 16 per cent
India has the right to intervene in any country on matters concerning people of Indian origin, but the speed with which the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister reacted in Malaysia must also be exhibited elsewhere.
This is not an issue, which should be used to score political points, but should be looked at to strengthen the belief that India too cares for her citizens abroad.