The politico-legal mobilisation of ethnic Indians before Malaysia’s 2018 election

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The mobilisation of Indians in Malaysia’s 2018 general election can be understood using Michael W. McCann’s politico-legal mobilisation theoretical framework. The mobilisation was largely classbased when it started in the 1990s in response to the retrenchment and eviction of Indian Tamil plantation workers. The state agencies’ mishandling of the 2001 Kampung Medan Malay–Indian neighbourhood clash then led to the construction of ‘Indians’ as a mobilising identity. Ethno-religious discontents over Hindus’ conversion to Islam and the demolition of temples subsequently produced, in 2007, the lawyers-led Hindu Action Rights Force (HINDRAF). Skilfully marrying the class-based grievances of the Indian underclass and the communal grievances of non-Muslim Indians, HINDRAF mobilised both the Indian underclass and middle class through a combination of civil disobedience, strategic litigation and electoral mobilisation. This caused the decline of the Malaysian Indian Congress beginning in 2008, and contributed to the end of Barisan Nasional’s 61-year rule in 2018. How the process was operationalised is the focus of this article.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-716
Number of pages14
JournalThe Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2018


  • Elections
  • Indian minority
  • Kampung Medan
  • Malaysia
  • Politico-legal mobilisation

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