Baradan Kuppusamy, Malaysiakini
May 5, 06 1:11pm
Like a bumblebee MIC president S Samy Vellu has kept himself busy launching one project after another over the years to help Indians while his deputy S Subramaniam sits pretty like a Barbie doll, watching and waiting.
It is a strange political relationship, the party president running about while his deputy does nothing.
That relationship is now dead as the momentum builds up for the June 24 MIC elections when MIC vice-president G Palanivel takes on Subramaniam.
The waiting is over for both Subramaniam and many seconds liners in the party eager to climb up the party ladder. It was the bottleneck at the deputy president’s level that had stalled their progress.
Waiting patiently has been Subramanian’s political strategy after he challenged Samy Vellu for the MIC presidency in 1989, and lost.
He survived several attempts to remove him and decided that playing docile was best in a hostile environment.
He had waited for the president’s post to fall vacant as had happened in 1979 when V Manikavasagam suddenly died and the then deputy Samy Vellu became president.
This waiting-for-the-durian-to-fall strategy has become a big joke in the MIC.
The durian is only limping, falling is a long way off, one MIC veteran said. Subramaniam is waiting in vain.
Although as a deputy president Subramaniam holds the second most important post but because he just waits, he has become sanitised and politically motionless.
During the years of waiting Subramaniam went to great lengths to not invite danger to him by antagonising Samy Vellu.
He did not protest when Samy Vellu began chopping off Subramaniam’s allies, friends and grassroots supporters.
When Subramaniam had to attack, he always gets others to do it for him like the late K Pathmanaban, IPF president MG Pandithan and the late Malaysian Nanban adviser Athi Kumanan, whose powerful pen was Subramaniam’s best weapon.
They all sacrificed themselves hoping that Subramaniam would one day win the presidency by default.
Eventually Subramaniam became so isolated in the MIC that not one person in the 23 member Central Working Committee would openly speak up for him.
But still Subramaniam persisted, survived and watched the great prize. Like him, his supporters, in the MIC and outside, waited, watched and hoped.
The expelled members yearned to see the day their man take over the MIC and they could all march back into the party that they love so much.
And Samy Vellu, a past master at such games, played along with Subramaniam, blowing hot and cold depending on the flavour of the month.
Sometimes Samy Vellu would embrace Subramaniam and declare peace with him. We are brothers of the same mother MIC, he would announce putting his enemies to ease and to sleep.
When it suits him, Samy Vellu would declare Subramaniam a traitor and clip his wings further.
With his wings clipped and without substantial support in the MIC, the docile Subramaniam was the ideal deputy.
He sat pretty, never complained and Samy Vellu ensured that nobody challenges Subramaniam and that he gets re-elected without contest.
Such a scheme suited both men very well, that is, until the Asian financial crisis hit in 1998 and roiled the politics of the land with Dr Mahathir Mohamad sacking his deputy Anwar Ibrahim and sparking off the reformasi movement.
The upheavals signaled the end of one era and the start of another.
Mahathir’ s fate was sealed when he lost Malay support in the 1999 general election. He battled on but wisely threw in the towel and quit in 2003 urging other leaders to retire with him.
But there were few takers.
Three years later it has dawn on Samy Vellu that his time is up. People close to him say this is probably his last term in office. Some say he is toying with perhaps one last term.
Whatever the case he can no longer play the hot and cold game with Subramaniam. He has decided to get rid of Subramaniam, put in a successor and handover while the going is still good.
"I can’t hand over to Subramaniam because he was never loyal to the party nor worked with the leadership as one team," Samy Vellu is telling delegates now. Palanivel has worked with me, Subramaniam has worked against me.
Subramaniam will face Palanivel - a former friend turn nemesis - at the polls on June 24.
It is a do-or-die battle for Subramaniam who has been deputy for as many years as Samy Vellu has been president.
While playing the docile doll role had helped Subramaniam survive, the after taste of such a defeatist strategy has caught up with him.
A docile doll image is a disaster in a party like the MIC where emotions and sentiments hold sway.
His supporters however argued Samy Vellu has never allowed Subramaniam to shine. He would have been sacked immediately if he had outshined the president, one of his supporters said.
The truth is Subramaniam’s wait-and-do-nothing strategy has finally caught up with him. His supporters waited for that decisive battle against Samy Vellu but that day never came.
Now it is Subramaniam’s turn to bite the bullet.
Palanivel has been working very hard both as MP for Hulu Selangor constituency and as deputy minister and MIC vice-president - preparing the ground for this big battle.
It could be the biggest battle of his political career. With Samy Vellu backing him, victory is only a question of by how many votes.
Palanivel has hit the campaign trail meeting delegates at division levels all over the country.
My track record is my calling card, he tells delegates at the meetings. He explains what he has accomplished thus far, why he is standing and what more he could do for the Indian community.
Subramanian’s campaign appears to be centred on letting the Tamil newspapers aligned with him, to speak for him.
They are attacking his opponents indirectly with nasty poems, venomous editorials and skewered reports. It will only get worse as polling nears.
BARADAN KUPPUSAMY is a veteran Malaysian journalist.