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MIC elections: Clearing the decks

Contributed by Anonymous on Wednesday, April 26 @ 06:15:20 CDT

Baradan Kuppusamy
Apr 26, 06 Malaysiakini

Election fever has once again gripped the MIC after a lull of nearly 15 years during which the party enjoyed extraordinary stability and growth and maturity successfully discarding its chair- throwing image of the 1980s.

The last time the party was this roiled was in 1989 when deputy president S Subramaniam challenged president S Samy Vellu and lost. The in*****bent polled 59 percent of the 40,000 votes.

Subramaniam cried foul the next day but the Malaysian media that had always given him a sympathetic ear shifted focus to Queen Elizabeth who had just arrived to open the Commonwealth Summit in Kuala Lumpur.

As the party now prepares for elections on June 24, the upcoming contest for the deputy president's post is, in the view of veteran MIC leaders, a continuation of that great 1989 battle between the two implacable enemies. 

Some party purists even say their tussle is a continuation of their first battle in 1977 for the deputy president s post.

But more significantly, this election is intractably tied up with the succession question that is now widely and openly discussed in the MIC.

While in 1977 Samy Vellu was battling to win the presidency and set his mark on the party and community, and in 1989 he was defending his post against his traditional enemy, the election this year is a battle to protect his legacy from usurpation by his arch rival of three decades.

By fielding a credible candidate against Subramaniam, Samy Vellu is taking the first clear step to resolving the burning question of succession.

Samy Vellu is fielding his best ever candidate - vice-president G Palanivel (photo, right) - to take on and defeat Subramaniam (photo, left) and pave the way for a eventual transfer of power and responsibilities.

This is the final battle, according to MIC veteran C Krishnan, who noted that Subramaniam has never conceded defeat and that Samy Vellu has never trusted his deputy.

Exit sign

This also means it is the curtains for Samy Vellu, party veterans say. Not immediately but soon enough.

Accordingly to highly placed sources Umno - as the dominant party in the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional - has asked Samy Vellu about his retirement plans and he has given a time frame.

"Let me put in place my successor first, finish the AIMST (Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology in Kedah) and then I will call it a day," he had told Umno, according to the sources.

Although pushing 70 and signs of age are catching up, Samy Vellu can go on for another 10 years, claim his loyalists.

But the political stage on which Samy Vellu is walking is getting narrower, shakier and uncertain by the year. Umno controlls televisions stations, he has many political enemies and opposition parties are sharpening their knives as they smell blood.

Like it or not Samy Vellu sticks out in a cabinet that will inevitably only get younger even as he grows older.

In contrast, his compatriots in Umno and MCA have moved on to play new roles befitting their retired status. Even in the DAP, Lim Guan Eng is gradually taking over the political limelight from his father Kit Siang.

It would be unbecoming if Samy Vellu lingers when his time is up. That would be a recipe for disaster - for himself, for his party, his legacy and the Indian community, said a retired MIC leader.

But if anything Samy Vellu, the son of a down-and-out rubber tapper is a realist and sees the writing on the wall. Even as a youth, he had something that many Indians still lack today - a fierce will to beat poverty and succeed.

Mixed legacy

His early struggles are well known but it is worth re-telling briefly for its gumption. He worked as an office boy, cooked and washed vehicles and acted on the stage to survive.

His first break came in 1963 when he climbed up the flag pole of the Indonesian embassy during a protest at the height of the confrontation with Sukarno and brought down the flag and burned it.

Utusan Malaysia front-paged the story calling him ‘Hero of Malaysia’. A magistrate later fined him RM25, but the eyes of Malay leaders were on him.

Later he became a familiar face to Indian Malaysians when he began reading the Tamil news over RTM, and the popularity helped him up the MIC ladder.

In 1967 he became secretary of Selangor MIC on his 13th attempt , Youth chief in 1971, vice-president in 1975, deputy president in 1977 - defeating Subramaniam by 26 votes - and president in 1979.

Samy Vellu inherited a feuding, feudalistic and incoherent party that he turned into a mass-based paternalistic machine giving hope of a better life for many Indians. Under him the MIC has grown from a party of about 500 branches to over 4,000 today.

A high point of his career was when some 66,000 investors, many poor Indians, sold cows, cashed their meagre jewelry and took loans to raise RM110 million - a princely sum for a working class community - to set up MIC investment arm Maika Holdings in 1982.

Some investors even broke the glass façade of the former UAB bank in Klang in a mad scramble to subscribe. But their money and dreams are down in the drain. As a business concern Maika Holdings has failed miserably in enterprises in which they have no experience - making chopsticks, soft drinks and selling books.

Some members managed to cash their shares at par or less while others are left holdings the share certificates.

There is a deep anger and resentment in the community over Maika s failure and the damaging allegations of cheating and hijacking that followed the Telecom share scandal.

The hurt is too deep to forgive or forget and Samy Vellu is being held squarely responsible for this. It is part of his mixed legacy.



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