Perhaps you’ve seen the photos (as this one on the left which appeared on Malaysiakini) of PAS vice-president Husam Musa with family members of the 10 individuals who were detained and arrested as they ‘attempted to deliver a letter to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’ in Putrajaya.

Husam Musa, accompanied by PAS Youth chief Salahuddin Ayub, have unequivocally spoken out against the treatment meted out to those making genuine sacrifices to call attention to the plight of marginalised Indians – that is Hindraf. It is indeed a telling picture of the dynamics of Umno politics that having continually taken the Indian vote for granted for all these decades, it has also been essentially the architect of the systematic oppression of the truly disenfranchised. To its credit, this gesture by PAS to donate RM5000 to the families of the 10 who were arrested goes a long way in telling a story about how much and how fast the fault lines in Malaysian politics have changed.

Of course there is the cynical part of me that is tempted to view this gesture from PAS as a publicity stunt – one that helps PAS and the opposition score a few points with not just Indians, but all Malaysians who sympathise with the peaceful protest that Hindraf has embarked on in order to call attention to the serious grievances faced by our fellow Malaysians. Equally relevant, like others, I am not immune to the fact that PAS may also be capitalising on the image of the ‘bully’ that Umno has been publicly tagged with of late in some quarters.

But this gesture by PAS is also a reflection of just how far along PAS has come in recognising the need to broaden its appeal and transcend its parochial and sectarian priorities – and image. We all know that of late, PAS has become keen on cultivating a wider appeal among Malaysians; one that presents a ‘softer’ image of the party. Perhaps Malaysians who were always led to feel suspicious about PAS may just be inclined to recognise that it may be worth taking a chance and building some worthwhile bridges with PAS.

I strongly believe this gesture by PAS – to speak out about the plight of marginalised Indians – is as much a commentary about Umno and the BN regime as it is about PAS. As much as Umno and BN has tried to portray Hindraf as a threat to the nation, this gesture by PAS only undermines – and exposes the sheer transparency and opportunism of – BN’s own propaganda against Hindraf. Yes, the support shown by PAS for these families tells all Malaysians something most of them probably already knew: this non-violent movement has galvanised and captured the hearts of millions of Malaysians because they do have legitimate grievances that the regime has failed to acknowledge and address.

The gesture by PAS also puts Samy Vellu’s MIC to shame. This MIC, which for all practical purposes, is like an illegitimate child that is treated by Umno as if it’s inconsequential; only seeking affirmation from its patron, operates as nothing more than an extension of Umno. And the fact that the MIC cannot publicly come to the aid of the families of Hindraf is simply a refection of its precise impotence and irrelevance. It simply reveals the conundrum that the MIC is in. By being so closely married to Umno and being a political client of it, the Hindraf dilemma has literally paralysed the MIC. It has become, for all practical purposes, irrelevant to the disenfranchised and marginalised.

No, I am not blind to the fact that PAS has certainly scored some publicity points with Indians and non-Indians alike. But I am also heartened by the symbolism represented here. PAS could have opted to score points in so many other ways. The fact that it is willing to speak out about the plight of a constituency not traditionally associated with the party is, for me, an encouraging sign of progress.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand…well, in this case, 678 words.

G. Krishnan


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