Nothing could be more demeaning to the Indian community than to say that Indian intake into public universities has been increased due to the imposition of an ethnic quota.
In other words, it implies since Indians are not qualified academically to gain admission to institutions of higher learning, they need some kind of an affirmative action policy.
While Malay and Chinese students gain admission to institutions of higher learning based on their academic performance, Indian students, due to their dismal performance, need to have governmental crutches in terms of preferential treatment to ensure a sizeable intake.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, in his address at the Indian Progressive Front’s 25th AGM, said he had no choice but to abandon the meritocracy policy of admission of students into institutions of higher learning insofar as the Indians are concerned.
Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohammed introduced the meritocracy policy during his tenure as the prime minister to bring about competition amongst Malay students. Such a policy inadvertently is said to have created problems for Indians students for entry into institutions of higher learning.
According to Najib, if the government had maintained the meritocracy policy, it would mean that Indian students admitted to institutions of higher learning would be around 3.4 percent, and not 7 percent.
He said the Indian community needed assistance and this could not be brought about with the continuation of the meritocracy policy. For the long-term interest of the Indian community, he had no choice but to abandon this policy to provide for more intake of Indian students in the matriculation programme and entry into public universities.
A policy of ethnic quotas for Indians has meant that 1,500 places have been accorded for Indian students in matriculation programmes and 700 extra spots for Indians in public universities.
A policy need not be abandoned just because there is a need to make some exceptions for some reasons. On this matter, it would be wrong for Najib to say that he had discontinued Mahathir’s policy of meritocracy.
However, in his speech, he was not clear whether the meritocracy policy as a whole has been abandoned, or some exceptions have been made to accommodate the interests of the Indian community.
I think that the latter is true.
Yes, some exceptions have been made to increase Indian intake into institutions of higher learning, but the race-based policy or pro-Malay policy to advance the interests of Malays in employment and intake into institutions of higher learning continues unabated.
Meritocracy is there, but it is subordinated to Umno’s Malay agenda.
If Najib had indeed abandoned the meritocracy policy of Mahathir, it would have meant not only the slow but sure reduction of Malay employment in the public sector, but also in terms of admission into institutions of higher learning.
No such thing as meritocracy
From the time of the New Economic Policy until today, there is no such thing as a meritocracy policy that was subscribed by the government with Umno in the commanding heights. It has always been an ethnic or pro-Malay policy with different degrees of meritocracy.
Meritocracy was always there as long as such an emphasis did not interfere or disrupt the larger Malay agenda of Malay dominance.
Tampering with the Malay agenda would have rendered Umno extremely unpopular with the Malays. In fact, it would be a truism to state that the party would have lost in the elections, if the Malay agenda were abandoned.
The argument that the meritocracy policy was introduced amongst Malays but was set aside for the progress of the Indian community is complete nonsense, to say the least. By saying this, Najib is once again ridiculing the efforts of the Indian community for all its hard work and perseverance.
The whole country knows that without a race-based policy, Malays might not have attained dominance today in the public sector or in terms of intake or employment in the institutions of higher learning.
Just because extra places have been accorded for Indian students in public universities or in the matriculation programmes, it does not spell the death of race-based policies in Malaysia.
Sorry, the race-based Malay agenda is the lifeblood of Umno, without it, the party would disintegrate.
P RAMASAMY is Penang Deputy Chief Minister II and Perai assemblyperson.