In an exclusive interview to WION editor Palki Sharma, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, who during his final years in office became aggressively anti-India in his approach, has admitted to his misplaced stance on Kashmir as being a primary reason for straining of bilateral relations between India and Malaysia. Mahathir Mohamad had taken to the United Nation’s General assembly to place his nonsensical claims of India having ‘invaded and occupied” a free Kashmir. The comments came in the backdrop of India nullifying Article 370 of its constitution, thereby fully integrating Kashmir with the country.
It was really his comments on Kashmir which turned out to become the bedrock of the rabid Prime Minister-turned Islamist being booted out of office. Having realised his folly, and how he scripted perhaps an irrecoverable downfall for himself, Mahathir Mohamad accepted on a global news network that his comments on Kashmir cost relations between the countries to be strained tremendously. “Well, it did because of my remarks on Kashmir. But other than that, the relationship was very good, even under my leadership,” Mahathir said when asked whether the relations between both countries were hit.
In the context of Prime Minister Modi, Mahathir remarked, “In many ways he has done well internationally but then of course we need to understand India better under Modi because he is different from previous prime ministers.”
Subsequent to his vicious rant against India on the subject of Kashmir, the Modi government had put heavy restrictions on the imports of Malaysian palm oil and palmolein. India’s decision to restrict palm oil imports had resulted in a lot of pain for Malaysia, as the Southeast Asian country’s exports to India had gone down drastically by 94 per cent from January to April. Being a single-sector dependent economy, Malaysia was made to pay heavily by India for its Prime Minister’s ill-informed and fallacious propaganda on Kashmir.
Mahathir Mohamad has for long been hailed as a kingmaker in the Southeast Asian country. Having served as Prime Minister for close to 25 years himself, many analysts were bewildered as to how a shrewd politician of Mahathir’s stature was forced to put in his papers earlier this year. Of course, what they had not thought of was the fact that enraging a Narendra Modi-led India could cost stalwarts overseas their seats of power as well.
Mahathir had come to be identified as a feller of politicians in Malaysia, having played a rather overt role in the downfall of at least seven Prime Minister’s in the past. How Muhyiddin Yassin was able to pull a fast one on Mahathir though, would definitely go down in the political history of Malaysia as a case study. Only in 2016, the duo had together formed a new political front to oust the then Prime Minister, and Mahathir’s predecessor, Najib Razak. Najib, meanwhile, was the same man who was installed as Prime Minister by Mahathir back in 2009. He had orchestrated a campaign to push out his immediate successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and backed Najib. He subsequently became disillusioned with Najib, particularly over a money laundering scandal involving billions of dollars allegedly siphoned from state investment firm 1MDB.
Najib Razak, who was Prime Minister prior to Mahathir taking over in 2018, had generally been perceived as a pro-China stooge. Mahathir Mohamad rode to power as an anti-China crusader and a Malay nationalist along with Muhyiddin Yassin and Anwar Ibrahim. Reportedly, Anwar Ibrahim getting on to Mahathir’s camp was preconditioned on the agreement that the two would be sharing rotatory powers as Prime Minister. After assuming office, however, Mahathir refused to leave, and did not set a timeline for Anwar to assume the role of Prime Minister. This too played a major role in Mahathir’s subsequent collapse.
Mahathir Mohamad, who projected himself to be an anti-Beijing Malayan, lay prostrate before Xi Jinping upon assuming power, though. In 2019, as Prime Minister, he said that Malaysia does not want to be confrontational with China. He minced no words in portraying his country as a regional doll which can be tossed around by China at will. “Malaysia is too small to face up to the Asian powerhouse,” Mahathir said. He further went on to shame his country, saying, “You don’t just try and do something which would fail anyway, so it is better to find some other less violent ways not to antagonise China too much, because China is beneficial for us.”
Around the same time when Mahathir took to becoming rabidly anti-India, he was also working on a plan to project Malaysia as the new leader of the Muslim world, effectively replacing countries like Saudi Arabia and others in the Gulf who have a tight hold over Muslims across the world. The Islamic Summit which was held in Malaysia last year was attended by 20 Islamic countries, mostly those who are facing worldwide alienation for their actions and policies. Mahathir propped up the said alliance as a replacement to the Saudi-led Organization of Islamic Countries or the OIC, and even praised Iran and Qatar while at it. In attendance was Turkey, which is currently led by the wannabe Khalifa – Erdogan. Pakistan did not attend the summit upon being scolded by Saudi Arabia for growing too close to a Mahathir-led Malaysia.
These factors, coupled with the fact that India had slapped Malaysia with trade hits are being attributed as the major reasons for him being booted out of office, and subsequently being sacked from his own party. Muhyiddin Yassin, the current Prime Minister of Malaysia is a much more balanced individual, who has gone out of his way to ensure that stability is restored between India and Malaysia.
Age, however, is serving as no impediment to Mahathir’s never-dying political ambitions. At 95, the man is now all set to start from scratch, and has launched a new political party, which he is calling that of ‘independents’ or Bebas. He said that he was forming the new party as other Malay-centric parties, including the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) he co-founded in 2016, had strayed from their original objectives of championing the interests of the majority Malay population.
Mahathir is now being unabashedly majoritarian in his political approach, targeting the Malay Muslim majority as his primary vote bank. Being an Islamist at heart in any case, it has taken 95 years for the man to display his true colours to the people of Malaysia. While pandering to the majority back in Malaysia, it is hilarious how he finds the temerity to lecture India on ‘secularism’ and its handling of Kashmir, which ideally, is none of the ousted Malayan Prime Minister’s business.