In the first six days of the clashes, the government, led by the Prime
Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and the Deputy Prime Minister,
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi were at pains to stress that the clashes
were not racial but minor disputes blown out of proportion by rumours.
There was recognition of the socio-economic factors in depressed and even
abject human settlements which were the root cause of the flare-up and there was general agreement that there was no political motivation or dimension in the clashes.
Even on 13th March 2001, the sixth day of the tragic clashes, for instance, the Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was stoutly declaring that the violence in areas along Jalan Klang Lama had not threatened national security, that they should be viewed in the right perspective and not misinterpreted as racially motivated.
"The attacks were not racial. It so happened that it began from misunderstandings which eventually grew into something more seriouis."In the past two days, however, there seemed to be a change of heart as seen by the change of tune, with top government leaders insinuating that "the clashes could have been planned by certain quarters out to create chaos in the country", and the Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Zainal Abidin Zin openly referred to the tragedy as "racial clashes" when talking to reporters in Kulim yesterday.
The Prime Minister himself set the worst example in rumour-mongering and politicising the tragic clashes at Taman Medan and the surrounding settlements when he said during his one-day visit to Pahang on Friday that there was a political agenda behind the clashes and insinuated that they were linked to Parti Keadilan Nasional youth leader, Mohd Ezam Mohd Noor in connection with his alleged intention to launch street demonstrations to topple the government.
Mahathir also said that rumours that hundreds of Malays were killed were played up "by certain groups whose background was unknown" to arouse the anger of Malays.
"I don't know, maybe such stories are being circulated among the Indians too, hoping that such riots will continue. We know if such riots are allowed to continue, as is the case in another country, there is a possibility the government can be toppled...this is the political aspiration of the opposition".Unless the government has proof that the clashes were planned by the Opposition "to create chaos" in the country, Cabinet Ministers should not be so irresponsible as to make reckless and baseless statements. If it has proof, then it should state them publicly and not hide behind the cloak of "may be" or "might".
It is most unbecoming for the Prime Minister to be purveying rumours, which was what he did when he referred to rumours circulating in the troubled areas during the clashes about hundreds of Malays and Indians being killed.
Were there such rumours in the first place, or was Mahathir spreading these rumours first-hand by claiming that there were such rumours.
I believe I am quite well-informed about the clashes at Taman Medan last week, and I had visited the victims of the clashes at the University Malaya Medical Centre (without any prior media notice) during the worst period of the clashes and I had never at any time heard about rumours that hundreds of Malays or Indians were being killed.
Mahathir's gratuitous attack on the opposition for "now focusing attention on poor citizens by instigating them to protest against the government" and allegation that "focusing on squatter areas and sympathising with them (squatters) by visiting the sick and injured in the hospital" was a "ploy by the opposition to gain political mileage without any humanitarian consideration for others", together with the comment "They are so anxious now to show sympathy for the so-called poor....as if there are a lot of poor people" are all in really bad taste.
Mahathir should have the grace and humility to publicly apologise for such irresponsible rumour-mongering about the Taman Medan clashes and I urge him and the Barisan Nasional leadership not to politicise the clashes but to enlist the support of all political parties to embark on the socio-economic development under a masterplan to transform the urban ghettos off Old Klang Road, Petaling Jaya into a modern township with all the basic infrastructures and amenities during the next five years under the Eighth Malaysia Plan.