JOHOR Baru resident Ganesan received an unexpected gift in the post from Najib Razak last week – a wall calendar filled with photographs of the prime minister with members of the Indian community.
The message from Putrajaya behind the simple gift is unmistakable: the Indians have a friend in the highest office in the land.
The gift is just the latest move by the Najib administration to regain the community’s vote in the 14th general election.
“I never expected it. But I am amused that this year I am worthy of a calendar from the government,” said the 39-year-old technician.
The calendar’s main features are the slick photographs of Najib with Indian families, children and his administration’s various policies for the community.
MIC, which is part of the ruling coalition, denies that the gifts are an attempt to fish for votes.
Party information chief Mogan Velayatham said it is a way to remind Indians of the government’s efforts to uplift the community – one of the country’s most marginalised.
Analysts, however, said such gestures have a limited impact on voters, even on non-partisan fence-sitters as compared with actual physical programmes to uplift the standard of living.
There are an estimated two million Indian Malaysians, of whom 1.1 million are voters. For GE14, Barisan Nasional is targeting 70% of these votes, said Mogan.
In GE13 five years ago, BN got 50% of the Indian vote. Turnout among Indian voters was above 80%.
But a study by DAP claims that Indian support for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition was between 60% and 80%.
The calendar’s cover features Najib, his palms together in a traditional greeting with children dressed in Indian attire.
Another photo in January shows Najib with his deputy, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and MIC president Dr S. Subramaniam at the launch of the Malaysian Indian Blueprint (MIB).
Besides public holidays, the calendar also marks important Hindu festivals and holy days, in both Bahasa Malaysia and Tamil.
It also contains snippets on BN policies, such as the MyDeposit scheme for first-time house buyers and the Adam50 savings scheme for newborns.
Other photos and captions described the administration’s policies to increase funding for Tamil schools and aid for Hindu temples.
Not a deal-breaker
“Pictures are an extremely powerful way to remind the grassroots of what the government has done for them,” Mogan told The Malaysian Insight.
He believes the calendars are from the Socio-Economic Development of the Indian Community Unit (Sedic) – a body under the Prime Minister’s Department.
Sedic is the implementation unit for MIB, the administration’s master plan to uplift the community’s poorest members.
Academic Dr Denison Jayasooria of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) said the calendar will have some impact on the community’s B40 segment who earn less than RM3,860 a month.
This because B40 Indians have benefitted the most from the administration’s new services, Jayasooria said.
“However, it will have little effect on the middle and upper sections, who since 2008 have sought for political rights and development based on a right to services and not based on charity,” said Jayasooria of UKM’s inter-ethnic studies department (KITA).
“The call is for equal rights, opportunities and outcomes. They see political leaders from the Indian community as having abused their powers for self-gain and betrayed their trust.”
From a political marketing perspective, Ibrahim Suffian of the Merdeka Centre said printed materials are a weak way of attracting support for a political party.
“It increases brand recognition but everyone already knows who Najib is. What really sways voters is face-time with politicians, where they get to ask questions and interact with them.”
Ganesan, the Johor Baru technician, said while he was surprised to have received the gift, it won’t likely influence his vote.