KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has admitted in his autobiography out today that he has Indian blood but maintained that he is still Malay “and proud of it”.
“I admit that some Indian, or more accurately South Asian, blood flows in my veins, but from which part of the Indian subcontinent my ancestors came I do not know,” he wrote in the book titled “A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad”.
“I am a Malay and am proud of it. I am a Malay not just on paper. I am also a Malay in sentiment and in spirit,” the former prime minister said in the 809-page tome which finally came out nearly eight years after his retirement.
“Some claim that my father was Malayalee and was fluent in both Tamil and Malayalam. Some have even written that he was a Hindu who converted to Islam to marry my mother. Others say they have seen documents clearly stating my ethnicity,” he wrote in the book.
“Nearly every Malay in Malaysia has some non-Malay blood. But that fact doesn’t make them any less Malay,” he said.
Dr Mahathir noted that Malays in the past did not keep track of their lineage, although most of those with Arab blood can trace their roots to Yemen and know which family they belong to.
The country’s longest-serving prime minister also said being Malay was no longer a question of descent but a legal construct.
“One is a Malay if one satisfies certain legal conditions. Constitutionally, a Malay is defined as a person who habitually speaks Malay, practises Malay customs and is a Muslim,” he wrote.
Dr Mahathir said any individual who met these conditions is a Malay and would be entitled to “certain rights that go with this legal personality”.
Malays and the native tribes of Malaysia, collectively known as Bumiputeras, have a special position under the constitution.
The provision is used by some lobby groups to justify race-based policies such as the New Economic Policy that prescribes affirmative action for Bumiputeras.
Dr Mahathir has in recent years stepped up his defence of the constitutional position of the Malays, and has been criticised for lending credibility to right-wing groups like Perkasa.
His strident tone has resulted in accusations that he was playing the race card in an attempt to shore up support for Umno.
Dr Mahathir, who ruled from 1981 to 2003, also dismissed last week claims that the Malays are immigrants just like the Chinese and Indians, arguing instead that Arabs, Indians and Indonesians had become constitutional Malays through assimilation.
He said in his book that as prime minister, every time he “made a mistake or an unpopular decision, people were ready with their ‘dim-witted Malay’ slurs”.
“But when I made good decisions, those that brought progress and prosperity to the nation, it was always because I had Indian blood,” Dr Mahathir said