BARADAN KUPPUSAMY found Subramaniam relaxing in his living room at his Section 16 bungalow in Petaling Jaya, chomping a cigar with a cup of tea on hand.
“I have an occasional cigar, I don’t want to go back to cigarettes,” Subramaniam offered apologetically.
It was 10.30am and his aides were already busy answering queries over several handphones. Callers wanted to confirm Subramaniam's campaign itinerary for the day.
Part of this interview was held in the living room and the rest while riding in Subramaniam's car to Klang where the deputy president for 25 years attended a supporter's wedding,and later hit the road knocking at the doors of delegates.
Malaysiakini: Can you tell us how you rate your chances in the battle for the deputy president's post on June 24?
Subramaniam: I am still on the campaign road. As of now, it is promising. The ground situation is good. I have been in the party for over 30 years and delegates know me and my contribution. The response is good wherever I go. If this trend continues, I am optimistic that delegates will make the right choice.
To tell you the truth, it has been made an uphill task not by the challenger but by the president's campaign against me. There are lots of curbs. The president is leading an 'official line-up.' Delegates realise this is not a simple straight forward democratic fight. But I believe whatever the pressure they will make the right choice.
As to the percentage of the 1,500 voters who are behind me, that I will keep close to my chest.
Samy Vellu is leading an 'official list' of preferred candidates and is touring the country. It also looks like you are contesting against two persons - Samy Vellu and Palanivel. How does this direct involvement of Samy Vellu in the contest affect your chances?
I am not contesting against two leaders. Samy Vellu was elected without contest in March and I also supported his re-election. In fact, I urged for his re-election. There is a ploy to try and make this contest for the deputy presidency into a Samy-Subra contest. It is not. But the plot and the scheming go on so that delegates are confused. I tell delegates that this is a democratic party. Anybody can express any opinion but ultimately it is the delegates who decide who is elected. Delegates must think of the party and community. I have done much. To deny my contribution is totally wrong.
When you are deputy you are number 2, and your job is to assist the president. I have never shirked from my duties. I have always carried out all tasks assigned to me in my capacity as deputy president. If there is an official list, so be it. Of course, it has a bearing on the election. My objective is to tell delegates - you decide who is to be the deputy but think of the party, its strength and unity when you decide.
You have been accused of just sitting and waiting for the president's post to fall vacant - in Samy Vellu's words, 'for the president to die'? Is this true?
Such a thought will not pass my mind - for anybody to die for me to gain. He has been president for 27 years; I have been his deputy for 25 years. Such a thought has not and will never cross my mind.
But it is natural for me to think and want to succeed him. God willing, I would like to be president one day. It is natural for deputies to want to succeed. There is nothing wrong in it.
I have played my role, acceptable to the party and members. There were patches of difference with the president but also long periods of working together. I have always agreed to whatever the party decides. I have followed the party line. I have never rebelled against the party.
You have also been accused of not contributing to the party and community.
I have served the party and community all my life. I have contributed to every of the projects of the party like MIED, Kop Didik, Vanto Academy, AIMST University and Maika Holdings.
I have raised millions of ringgit in contributions to these projects. I raised several millions for Maika Holdings when it was started. NESA cooperative of which I am chairman made one of the first contributions of RM500,000.
I raised RM1.6million at one function where Datuk Seri (Samy Vellu) for the AIMST University. My service is recognised by the party and members, and that is why I was re-elected every time. I have contributed immensely to the unity, growth and strength of the party When you are number 2 in the party, your main duty is to assist the number 1. This I have done.
A deputy does not function in isolation. Take Umno for instance. Every Umno deputy president has played his role to quietly and efficiently assist the president and later on when they become president carved their own mark on society. The best example is Tun Mahathir Mohamad. He was a loyal deputy to Tun Hussein Onn but later he became president and see what he has achieved!
That's how I see my own contributions in the MIC. When you are deputy, you are just deputy. Everything is done in the name of the president and the party. That is the Malaysian political culture.
Samy Vellu recently accused you of being the dalang behind all his problems in the last 27 years, i.e of using the Tamil newspapers to stab him constantly. Do you own any Tamil newspapers?
Fortunately, I don't own the whole of the media in the country. I have been associated with some newspapers. I had some shares in the Makal Osai newspaper through a nominee. But I had openly stated that later the nominee denied my interest in the paper.
The Tamil newspapers are not used by me. They have their own editorial policies, their own opinion writers. I am not the manager of their opinions. Athi Kumanan (deceased former editor of Malaysian Nanban) held me in high esteem and gave me extensive coverage. That's all there is to it.
If Mr Athi had an axe to grind with the president, the president should be able to handle that criticism. Athi is gone now. It is like malaysiakini - it published many diverse opinions, but no one leader can say the website is against him. Tamil Nesan (owned by Samy Vellu) attacks me. They publish terrible looking photographs of me. I never blame the president for it.
How would you rate your own performance as a leader?
I have been a MIC member for over 30 years. Let the delegates make their own judgement based on my contributions to the party. They know it very well.
Your challenger G Palanivel describes the upcoming contest as a succession battle. Would you agree?
No, I don't agree. To me I am only defending my position. It is not a contest for succession. This is because there is no such thing as succession in this battle. It is only for the deputy president's post. I am defending my post. It is as simple as that. Furthermore, there is no official talk of succession that I know of.
Do you think Samy Vellu would retire soon or would he stay in office for many more years?
He has just been re-elected unopposed as president. His current term expires in 2009. I don't want to comment any further on this.
It is no secret that the majority in the Indian community would like to see the back of Samy Vellu. He has been around for 27 years. Is that not long enough?
I am not sure about your conclusion but he has just been re-elected as president unopposed.
One would need something like 300 over branches to nominate a person intending to contest against Samy Vellu. That's like wrapping the Great Wall of China around the presidency?
I don't wish to comment on such matters because I am not contesting against the president or for the president's post.
Why don't you speak up on the injustices in the MIC? The lack of transparency, accountability, the one man-show?
I am the deputy in the party. I am a loyalist. I serve the party and the community as a loyalist. When it comes to the party, I support the party's interests. You are asking me question that you should rightly ask the president, not me.
Give us an assessment of your support in the MIC?
I have no enemies in MIC. I work with everybody. I have always believed in working together with everybody. The president is the leader and we all follow. I will work with him. Delegates know that I am a sincere, honest, trustworthy and diligent leader.
But delegates are so frightened to even telephone you, let alone meet or shake hands?
The delegates are smart. They are being cautious. They want to shake hands but they worry some people will misunderstood the gesture and take it out on them. I know what's in their hearts.
The president is openly touring the country with your challenger in tow but you have no such advantage.
I meet the delegates in my own way. I prefer face-to-face meetings, door-to-door and by telephoning them. My aides are all over the country meeting delegates and asking for their help. Person-to-person style of campaigning is more effective. I am not exactly a stranger to them. I am a known quality, known person. They can interact with me easily.
What you think of your opponent, Palanivel?
I don't think about him at all. He is not in my mind. I have known him for over 20 years. I have not had any problems with him, nor him with me. I wish him the best. I hope delegates who don't want to vote for me, will vote for him.
What is your response to his (Palanivel) campaign that change is necessary and contest would rid the party of the deadwood?
Who is he referring to? There are many in the party who have served for long years. The president is there for 27 years as president. I am there as deputy for 25 years. He has been around for 16 years. That is also a long time. It is not how long you are there but what is it you can deliver to the community. That is the ultimate test of leadership.
Change is the only thing that is certain but change of what? People? Attitude? Work ethics? Can we mould ourselves to meet the challenges of globalisation? That is the change we must think about.
Is this the final 'do-or-die' battle for you?
No, it is not a 'do-or-die' battle. Party members and delegates will have to decide whether they require continuity, service and the role I play in fostering party unity and strength.
Is there a political future for you if you are defeated?
I am an optimist.