November 29, 2018
A commentary by Zaidi Azmi
FOR someone who is tasked to foster national unity and harmony, P. Waytha Moorthy is doing one heck of a lousy job.
It took him three days, two riots, an arson and a gravely wounded firefighter to meet and tell those entangled in the Seri Maha Mariamman temple relocation controversy to calm down.
In the equally contentious ICERD furore –which he himself had triggered- Moorthy had, for days, failed to quell the tension brewing among the Malays. It was only after the Prime Minister stepped in that angst seemed to have dissipated.
Now back to the temple fiasco.
The Sri Maha Mariamman debacle started out as a typical land and relocation dispute between its caretakers and the lawful owner of the land on which the temple sits – a property developer called One City Development Sdn Bhd.
The controversy however, was laced with racial and religious undertone after DAP’s V. Ganabatirau claimed, on Facebook, that a group of Muslims – who turned out to be thugs allegedly hired by One City’s lawyers – had encroached into and trashed the temple thus birthing the riot three days ago.
And while some, particularly the devotees of the temple sighed with relief after Moorthy assured that their temple is here to stay, much of his plans to solve the controversy warrants a lot of worrying.
Especially the part where he said that he intends to enlist the help of the Attorney-General to settle the standoff despite the fact that the status of the temple and the ownership of the land were already decided through a consent judgement four years ago.
Not only that, One City had, in 2014, already given RM1.5 million to the temple’s caretakers – who are now claimed to be not the temple’s true caretakers – and had even set aside an alternative site for the temple’s relocation.
It is crystal clear this fiasco stemmed from the power tussle between the two factions within the temple’s caretakers committee and unless the government finds a way to regulate the committees of houses of worship then controversies such as this will continue to sprout.
But the government’s intention in passing a new law to forbid the building of places of worship without approval from the local authority seems to suggest it is oblivious to the whole power struggle within the temple’s committee.
In fact, the passing of such a law is actually redundant as it is already covered in Article 21 (1) and (2) of the Town and Country Planning Act, which clearly states that the development of anything must receive a go-ahead from local planning authorities.
And in the midst of this, a group of Malay youths had, on Tuesday night, attempted to march over to the temple to tell the devotees there “to not step on the Malays”. They however failed to do so after being dispersed by the police.
Their action however, was a no-brainer givenGanabatirau’s peculiarly phrased initial apology for his Facebook posting and the ethnicity of the firefighter whose lungs were punctured after being beaten up in the controversy’s second riot on Tuesday morning.
“If my apology can ease the tension, I am willing to apologise if that is what it needs but the most important matter is to solve this issue professionally,” was the “apology” from Ganabatirau.
In his second apology last night, Ganabatirau was less ambiguous, explicitly saying that he would like to apologise for the term he used in his already-deleted Facebook entry but honestly, the damage has been done.
As it is, there is no telling if tensions have been really defused, especially after the temple’s caretakers had yesterday put up a different take on what “actually happened” to Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim, the firefighter whose lung was punctured and is now fighting of his life.
According to the caretakers, Adib was not beaten up by the crowd as per to the official account from Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Mohammad Hamdan Wahid, but was instead run down by a fire engine that was reversing from the crowd.
“The fire engine reversed suddenly, with Muhammad Adib directly behind it. The crowd did not hit the fireman, but actually tried to alert the fire engine to stop and brought the injured fireman to the hospital,” said a member of the temple’s caretaker, V. K. Regu, at a conference yesterday.
So basically, it was the firefighters themselves that had injured Muhammad Adib? Such an interesting plot twist.
Why the caretakers choose to publicly air their unsavoury doubts over Muhammad Adib’s case at this particular point is anybody’s guess but as a minister in charge of maintaining harmony, Moorthy should have sternly advised them to steer clear of controversial statements.
If this was game of baseball, Moorthy is already at strike number two and everyone knows that three strikes and you’re out.