On the 7th Apr, Tun Dr Mahathir, the chairman of Pakatan Harapan and also the unlikely candidate for the Malaysian premiership shocked the nation, especially the Indian community by using the word ‘Keling’. The word –widely regarded by the Malaysian Indians as a derogatory word.

Despite using the word for the second time, (Before this he uttered the word in another speech openly in 16 August 2016), he had the cheek to argue that his Indian friends were ok with him- using the sensitive word. Probably he was right because those Indian friends could have been well aware of what would be the consequences if they go against him, especially during his heydays.

However, on the 10th Apr, he apologized for addressing the Malaysian Indians as ‘Keling’ publicly. That’s a noble act indeed, but will the Indians from all walks of life accept his apology? A seasoned politician who is well known for his twists and turns in his statements?

The origin of the word ‘Keling’

Now let’s look at the historical aspects of the word ‘Keling’. Although many keep arguing that the word derived from Kalingga, an ancient kingdom of Indians of the Tamil origin, hence its not a disparaging word. But until today, there were no any artifacts to support this claim.

Similarly, in US, the word ‘Nigger’ considered as a contemptuous word although its strongly linked to the African Americans origin- Nigeria. On top of that, if someone addresses the Africans Americans as niggers, he or she might get a bloody nose for calling such.

Nevertheless, this culture of using the word ‘Keling’ among the non-Indians in Malaysia is still going on. Ironically, some Indians, mostly the highly educated and the professionals no more seeing the word as offensive, and turn a deaf ear to such name- callings most of the time, probably not to make unnecessary fuss out of it.

The middle class Indians’ reactions towards the use of the word ‘Keling’

On the other hand, most of the Malaysian Indians, especially those in the middle class and below, emotionally if not strongly, oppose the use of the offensive word to address them in the public. And for the detrimental of the opposition coalition, which is helmed by Tun Dr Mahathir, most of the Malaysian Indians are from the middle class categories and below.

The senior Indians from these parts of the Malaysian demography of the opinion that Tun Dr Mahathir has proven that he has no regard for Indians in Malaysia as he used to be during his strong grip on the power, despite known for his Indian ancestry. Meanwhile, the younger generations’ reactions to the former premier’s shocking act needless to say.

Therefore, the talk of the town at this moment is that these group of Indians’ support will be find its way back to BN’s fold, in the coming general election. Thanks partly to BN’s component parties who made the part of Tun Dr Mahathir’s sensitive speech viral in the social media.

Adding to this, Najib Razak, the current premier also widely regarded by the Indians- relatively more helpful to them than his predecessors. He also has shown a different approach in helping them by not only taking care of the Tamil school and their temple issues but also on their economic development more seriously than the former premiers.

Tun M’s miscalculation

On the opposition front, as its top dog, Tun Dr Mahathir might be thinking that the Indians vote won’t cost his coalition much, but less he aware that their votes actually did play a vital role in determining the marginal winners in the previous general election.

So, let’s see if Tun Dr Mahathir’s apology will convince the Indians voters to stoop low to ignore his past political blunders and contempt against them to vote him back to power or otherwise, in the upcoming GE14- touted as the mother of all the previous general elections.

Mat Ali is a Malaysian Access reader. This article is the author’s personal view and has nothing to do with Malaysian Access


  1. Based on my finding, this old man had been uttering the word since and during his premiership all the way. A well known example was during Program Semarak 1985 in Kelantan. However its premature to conclude that a single incident may erode the indians support for PH when there’ are bigger issues at stake such as GST, 1MDB etc. By the way, UMNO MPs had uttered equal if not worse remarks regards to indian ethnic in Malaysia before.


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