The future of MITRA should not be a pawn in political chess but a beacon of hope and progress for the Malaysian Indian community. Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit
(Picture for illustration purpose only). An Indian woman looking at an array of flower garland in preparation for Deepavali at the Little India in Klang, Selangor. PIX: AFFAN FAUZI / 22 OCTOBER 2022 / MalaysiaGazette

In the ever-evolving landscape of Malaysian politics, the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit (MITRA) seems caught in a perpetual game of being kicked around again. The recent buzz surrounding the potential relocation of MITRA from the Prime Minister’s Department to the National Unity Ministry has once again stirred public discourse and raised questions about the stability and continuity of this crucial affirmative action unit.

Oxymoron move

Placing an affirmative action unit like MITRA under the jurisdiction of the Unity Ministry raises fundamental questions about the coherence of governmental strategies and the sincerity of its commitment to addressing the specific needs of the Malaysian Indian community. Affirmative action programs, by nature, are designed to rectify historical disadvantages and uplift marginalized communities. In the case of MITRA, its primary objective is to address the socio-economic challenges faced by the Malaysian Indian community. However, aligning MITRA with the Unity Ministry, which is tasked with fostering national harmony and inclusivity across all ethnicities, creates an inherent contradiction. Affirmative action demands a targeted, community-specific approach, whereas a unity-focused ministry pursues a broader, all-encompassing agenda. The juxtaposition of these two objectives is, at its core, oxymoronic—a contradiction in purpose that risks diluting the commitment and effectiveness required to uplift a specific community, in this case, the Malaysian Indian community. The move threatens to compromise MITRA’s ability to address the nuanced issues faced by the Indian community and risks rendering it ineffectual in its pursuit of genuine transformation and empowerment.

Political expediency?

As the government contemplates this latest shuffle, one can’t help but wonder whether MITRA is being moved as a pawn on a chessboard of political expediency or if it genuinely stands as a beacon for the betterment of the Malaysian Indian community. The persistent reshuffling begs the question: Is this a strategic move in the name of progress, or merely a political sleight of hand? The paradox of placing a race-based affirmative unit under the umbrella of a unity-focused ministry persists, leaving us to ponder whether unity, in this context, is a genuine pursuit or merely an oxymoron masking the continuance of political whims. In the chess game of governance, MITRA appears to be a pawn traded without regard for the community livelihood it represents—an unsettling reality that challenges the very essence of affirmative action and the government’s commitment to uplifting those in need.

Ismail Sabri restored it at the request of MIC

This rollercoaster ride for MITRA has been marked by a series of changes, each seemingly prompted by shifts in political leadership. From its inception under the 6th Prime Minister, Dato Sri Najib, to its subsequent move to the Unity Ministry in 2018 with the change of government, MITRA has undergone not only a change in location but also a name change from SEDIC to MITRA. In 2022, under the leadership of Tan Sri Vigneswaran, MITRA found its way back to its original home under the Prime Minister’s Department, thanks to the 9th Prime Minister Dato Sri Ismail Sabri, only to face another potential relocation under PMX.

One cannot ignore the leadership downgrade that accompanied MITRA’s journey, where the Director General transitioned from a Jusa B to a Grade 54 position.

These moves raise questions about the stability and commitment of the government to the objectives of MITRA, especially considering the call of civil society and community leaders who advocated for its return to the Prime Minister’s Department.

Now, as rumours circulate about MITRA’s potential shift to the National Unity Ministry, concerns arise about the compatibility of a race-based affirmative unit with the objectives of a ministry focused on national unity. It raises the question: Is it logical to park an affirmative action unit under the purview of a ministry whose goals might pull in the exact opposite direction?

Keep it under YB Ramanan

One staunch advocate for the continuity and stability of MITRA is YB Dato R. Ramanan, who has been steering the MITRA ship as its council chairman. He rightly earned being appointed as a Deputy Minister having had steered MITRA well for the last 1 year, and this emphasizes the necessity of MITRA’s placement within the Prime Minister’s Department.

Why the need for MITRA to be under the Prime Minister’s direct purview?
The privilege, clout, cross-ministerial functionality, and proximity to the Prime Minister that come with this position are crucial for MITRA to serve the Malaysian Indian community effectively.

Datuk R Ramanan, Chairman of of Malaysian politics, the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit (MITRA).PIX:  MUHD NA’IM / 25 MAY 2023 / MalaysiaGazette
Datuk R Ramanan, Chairman of of Malaysian politics, the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit (MITRA).
PIX: MUHD NA’IM / 25 MAY 2023 / MalaysiaGazette

Don’t keep the community in constant play!

In light of these considerations, the Malaysian Indian community is left to ponder whether the constant shuffling of MITRA is in the community’s best interest and its political positioning. Leaders within the government must address these concerns and clarify the future of MITRA. The Indian civil society deserves a stable and committed affirmative action unit that can effectively address the needs of the Malaysian Indian community without the spectre of constant relocation hanging over its head.
As we await the announcement from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the government must consider the sentiments of the people and recognize the importance of stability in the pursuit of affirmative action for the betterment of all communities in Malaysia.

The future of MITRA should not be a pawn in political chess but a beacon of hope and progress for the Malaysian Indian community.

Dr AT Kumararajah
Indian Consultative Council

Editorial note: The views expressed are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysia Gazette.