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ART OF TAKING CREDIT: Last Saturday was a day of infamy for Malaysia when the pursuit of an ideal went awry
DATUK Ambiga Sreenevasan should have known, the crowd has no face, until of course you paste that of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Ambiga must be driven by some ideals but she was just another person among the thousands.
To the crowd at Dataran Merdeka last Saturday, Ambiga was just an excuse to be part of "the event". They came for different reasons (money was one, curiosity another), to test the new act on peaceful assembly or to be part of history -- for the better or for worse.
Sadly, it was a day of infamy for the nation and its people. Whatever Ambiga and her cohorts had in mind was simply overwhelmed by "politics" -- the very thing that she found "unacceptable" in her pursuit of utopia. But politics took centre stage at the last Bersih rally.
Anwar and his ever loyal sidekick, Azmin Ali, made the best of the situation, leaving Ambiga biting the dust, wondering aloud what went wrong.
Anwar the opportunist, has perfected the art of taking credit and riding on other people's hard work. Thanks to Ambiga's naivety, Anwar had hijacked almost everything -- without having to take credit for the mayhem and confusion. Anwar was there to make the grand entrance -- as always -- and thanks to his alleged "signalling" to Azmin, initiated the rush by some of the demonstrators to breach the barriers and the inevitable anarchy that ensued.
It was not an anonymous crowd last Saturday. And it wasn't an illogical nor an unreasonable one, initially. In fact, they were sensible. They followed orders and even presented flowers to the police at some points.
It could have been a peaceful rally, despite the noise initially about the venue. Kuala Lumpur was not expecting mayhem, far from it, even the police presence was kept to a minimum. The police had wised up this time, restrained for the most part. Of course, they made mistakes, there are allegations they were unable to differentiate unruly mob from media personnel doing their job.
Most of the time, the "wisdom of crowds" prevailed, everyone reminding the other to keep calm and not to break the law. But all hell broke loose when someone found an opportune moment to take charge. And to provoke the crowd to misbehave. "Misbehave" is a polite way of saying it if you watch hysterical people running amok. No one can control these people, certainly not Ambiga (which she admitted) and Anwar would not want to take credit for that.
What happened then was utter confusion. Finger-pointing and the blame game began -- the real truth shall never be ascertained for rationality will certainly take a back seat. Anger was in the air. No one is taking responsibility. One thing is sure: Malaysia's image is battered.
Watching someone stomping on a car like a madman possessed is not our idea of helping to reform the electoral process. Witnessing our young becoming thugs is not pleasant. Mob psychology is always an unpleasant thing to talk about and it leaves a bitter aftertaste about the maturity of our people. Perhaps it is true as some people have argued that we are a long way from a civil society. Further still from positing a mature democracy.
The 1960s and 1970s were decades of living dangerously for students. Student activism was redefining the campuses. Emotions too ran high. Students demonstrated at the slightest provocation. I was a student of University of Malaya at the peak of the student movements in 1974. Students of my generation learned one valuable lesson from what happened -- we don't solve problems on the streets.
The radicals of those years are now the conservatives. We were driven by idealism and the clarion call to make changes, too. But we didn't mix our agitation on the Palestinian issue with regime change. We supported the plight of the downtrodden but we never allowed ourselves to be used for political gain by others.
Anwar, a fiery and charismatic student leader of his generation, knew well. Despite the similarities of intentions, he would not allow his Persatuan Bahasa Melayu Universiti Malaya or Persatuan Mahasiswa Islam Universiti Malaya to be used by outsiders. They may not agree with the stand taken by the University Malaya Student Union or the Socialist Club, but for "The Cause", they became strange bedfellows. But they would never allow Umno, Pas or DAP or any political parties to hijack their struggle.
Anwar should have known better, using Ambiga or anyone for that matter is against his political grain (if he still has that). It is disheartening to see how low some people had stooped in the name of political expediency.
That is the worst tragedy of Bersih.