Friday, February 29, 2008

Riddle of 'pure Hindu' candidate for Parti Islam

by Malaysia-Today

The story of Kumutha Rahman begins with a misspelling on a birth certificate 29 years ago.

And then – for those of us who still believe in fairytales – her destiny would be reinforced when she sat for her exams, went to the doctor's, took her driving licence, enrolled for college – and joined Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

Well, not quite joined.

Technically the daughter of Mr Raman, she is a “pure Hindu” – not the first or last time she'd confuse racial and religious terminology – and as such, is constitutionally not allowed to be a member of PAS.

Yet the pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has entered her in the Tiram state seat in her own backyard of Tebrau, Johor. How, is perhaps just as interesting as why.

“I came upon this opportunity via the PAS Supporters Club for Indians. The president is my brother and I'm the Wanita president,” she explained.

However, she is unable still to contest under a PAS ticket and under some kind of election pact, has been permitted to submit her candidacy under PKR. It would be prudent to take note, at this point, that this non-Muslim fanclub has been around for only a month.

Certainly when you put two and two together, the opinion that Kumutha is the poster child for PAS' newfound moderation would be a valid if cynical one.

First, there is the replacement of the word “Islamic” with “welfare” every time it appears before “state” in the party manifesto for the coming elections.

Featuring her – at age 29 and running alongside 13 other women in the coming elections – one could certainly say that the party is responding to one the main criticisms of their policies so far.

Then there is the obvious influence of Indian dissatisfaction which correlates with the Hindraf movement. The fact that the club was only recently established and that the Chinese arm is as yet, a minute body, certainly lends weight to this particular factor.

But perhaps the most gleefully noted by said cynic is the fact that Tiram, like much of the rest of Johor, is a BN stronghold.

Meaning, there is little chance that PAS will have to worry about dealing with the conundrum of Kumutha actually becoming an elected representative. For now, this remains an excellent PR exercise, no matter the motive.

Should she achieve the miraculous though, Kumutha the law graduate has no doubt that she will be given equitable rights in the party hierarchy.

“When the party has a meeting, both Muslims and non-Muslims come together. Everybody is treated equally. Club members can vote on issues and have a say. It's all democratic,” she insists.

Johor PAS commissioner Mahfodz Mohamed concurs and says that by breaking a 61-year-old Muslim-only policy, the party is practising what it preaches about tolerance towards other religions and races.

Yet if there is no practical distinction, why has the door not opened for non-Muslims to join the party proper? Surely this only lends weight to the common presumption that PAS' recent compromise in their hardline conservative stance is a front and they will take any encouragement to Islamise the country.

After all, it appears that they still would like to introduce Hudud law nationwide and also the death penalty for apostates, as stated under Syariah law.

“We have a slogan which goes ‘PAS for All’. The emphasis is that all races are equal,” she answered, proceeding to exhibit another example of muddling issues of race and religion: “We want to cooperate with all and everyone will benefit economically. Just because you're Hindu doesn't mean you have to convert. The goal is that everyone understands each other's religious customs – what are Malay customs, Chinese customs and Indian customs to create silaturahim.”

Well then, she's already started to learn the language of PAS. But there is an obvious question which hasn't been answered in any news article anywhere.

PAS' two main brethren in the Opposition also preach such gospels of understanding and unity. So why does a Hindu decide to go with PAS instead of the other partners? Again, there are possible cynical answers but we'll resist indulging in this exercise this time.

“You can say that the other parties say the same thing. But PAS has a proven track record. In Kelantan, there is no demolishing of Hindu or Chinese temples. But this happens elsewhere like in Klang. They've shown that when they run a state, they can be fair to everyone.”

In contrast to her faith in PAS, there was uncertainty in the party when her candidacy was announced. Too new, too young, too much burden.

Within the Indian party, MIC, they're obviously unimpressed, and the local division chief believes that PAS is destroying her political career by turning her into a publicity sideshow.

For sure, she's collected her clichéd 15 minutes of fame. Whether that extends to a happily ever after, well, we're still too early in this fairytale.

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