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REACHING OUT: Majority of the community warming up to prime minister's slew of initiatives and measures
A TAMIL song, Why This Kolaveri Di, written and sung by popular south Indian actor Dhanush, is enjoying phenomenal success far beyond the Indian state of Tamilnadu, where it was recorded and produced.
The song, built around a south Indian folk rhythm, instantly went viral on social networking sites for its quirky "Tanglish" (a mixture of Tamil and English) lyrics.
Soon the song became the most searched YouTube video in India and an Internet phenomenon across Asia. Within days of the release of the video, it received more than 3.5 million views on YouTube and more than one million likes on Facebook.
The song is also very popular among non-Tamil speakers, probably due to the Tanglish lyrics. By November last year, the song had garnered over 10.5 million YouTube views. As of today, the song has hit more than 50 million YouTube views.
When Datuk Seri Najib Razak appeared live on local Tamil radio station THR Raaga late last month, he disclosed that the song was also one of his favourites because of its catchy tune.
Even Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh likes the song, the prime minister told listeners of the station's top-rated breakfast show Kalakkal Kaalai (morning hustle and bustle).
Far from trying to promote the song, Najib's appearance on the show was obviously aimed at further reaching out to Indians, the majority of whom are warming up to his various initiatives for the community.
He even told listeners how he picked up some Tamil words following his constant engagements with the community. These include Ore Malaysia which means 1Malaysia, nambikai (trust) nam naadu (our country) and acchamillai (no fear).
Judging from the various feedback, Najib's moves to win back the minds and hearts of Indian voters, traditionally Barisan Nasional loyalists until the last general election, are bearing fruit.
A survey among voters in Peninsular Malaysia by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research between Feb 10 and Feb 23 this year showed that the prime minister's approval rating had climbed to 69 per cent from 59 per cent in August last year.
This figure comes on the back of improving public mood over the general economy and disbursement of funding (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia) to alleviate the economic burden of low-income households.
Support for the prime minister was highest among households with income lower than RM1,500 per month at 78 per cent, Indian respondents at 80 per cent and Malay respondents at 74 per cent.
The rise in support among the Indian community was very significant. In the 2008 general election, the Indian support for the BN fell to a record low of 47 per cent from 82 per cent previously.
The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), which had a track record of winning almost all the parliamentary and state seats contested, had been badly bruised in the polls. The party managed to win only three of the nine parliamentary seats and six of the 19 state seats it contested. The MIC president, deputy president, two vice-presidents, the Youth chief and Women's wing chief all lost in the elections.
A resurgence of support by Indian voters, who account for about eight per cent of total voters, since then is due to various factors. Firstly, there has been an easing of anger among Indians against the government over issues affecting the community.
Secondly, the introduction of a slew of initiatives and measures by Najib to address their grievances, such as the citizenship issue, has helped shift public opinion in favour of the government.
Thirdly, Najib's personal and direct approach in engaging with Indians without relying too much on intermediaries.
The Indian electorate may not be big in size, but it plays a critical role in ensuring the BN does well in this coming general election. There are some 15 to 20 parliamentary seats, such as Klang and Telok Kemang, with a sizeable number of Indian voters.
There has been a noticeable rise in support among Indians in rural and semi-urban areas. As expected, the BN has to work harder to woo those in urban areas where the issues of bread and butter figure most.
One comforting sign for the BN was the apparent lack of turnout by Indians in general in last weekend's Bersih rally. The Indian masses cannot really relate to Bersih co-chairman Datuk S. Ambiga on grounds that she never championed issues like Tamil education, Hindu temples, jobs and housing.
Najib can take comfort that the Indian community may no longer be a major source of headache in terms of support since the government and the BN have made much inroads to win them back.
No doubt, there are some unfinished and lingering concerns facing the community. There are still some noises among the community that the government still "discriminates" against Indians. One case in point is their demand for free-to-air TV for the Indian community.
Not unlike the Tamil singer Dhanush, who used simple colloquial words to make the song something that "people can relate to", Najib's favourite Tamil phrases could also be his winning formula in consolidating the Indian support.