The Sun, June 12 2011
AFTER three decades, the MIC welcomed a new president. Datuk G.
Palanivel tells Terence Fernandez and Mohd Azril Annuar his plans to
uplift the Indians and reform the party
AFTER three decades, the MIC welcomed a new president. Datuk G. Palanivel tells Terence Fernandez and Mohd Azril Annuar his plans to uplift the Indians and reform the party
Is the MIC still relevant?
MIC is an important party. They (Indians) have realised that they have no other party to turn to. We’re not talking relevant or irrelevant. The people by and large have realised that MIC is their party.
This is based on by-election results?
Three by-elections. They have realised that this is their mother party, they cannot run away. They must also realise there was national anger across the board, multiracial anger at the government (during the 2008 general election). It’s not only the Indians who were angry. Everybody was. If not, why did we lose seats across the country?
Maybe the MIC should stop focusing on community issues but more on national issues, like the MCA?
Our desire is for the BN to come up with rapid, radical development for the Indians, so that they will become mainstream. Several years ago when I was (Datuk Seri) Shahrizat’s (Abdul Jalil) deputy minister of family development, she told me: "Palani, Indians are a sub-stream community. You must mainstream them." I hold to this. Affirmative policies are good. We’re not objecting to any affirmative policy that the government has for the Malays. But sometimes the policies can deprive the minority communities of certain benefits. And then they become marginalised. They become deprived. Any form of deprivation eventually leads to violence. So you find a lot of social problems among Indians. And there is no large-scale policy to address these social issues.
We are not trying to solve problems as they come to us. That is what is happening at our service centres. Every day people come and ask us for money. They don’t have money to pay for electricity, to pay rental, to pay for their child-ren’s education. They have health problems.
But this is where we have to come out of the mindset of just giving handouts.
No. Initially, handouts are important. But in the short term, we have to come out with programmes to carry the Indians forward. Our hope is in the BN. We have no other party to turn to. Now we’ve got a progressive prime minister, open, supportive of all Malaysians.
But haven’t the BN’s policies resulted in Indians being in their present condition.
No, I wouldn’t say that ... There are many things that need to be looked at to answer that question. But right now, I’ll stick only to this line – that the Indians must be brought into mainstream development. Right policies must be promul-gated to bring Indians who have been deprived to mainstream development. A few Indians might be doing well, that’s not the answer to the community, you see? We need across the board mainstream development. You pump in development (and) the Indians will all vote for the government. There are no two ways about it.
So the rejection of the MIC in 2008 was solely due to the economic disparity between Indians and other races and MIC not seen as looking out for the interests of the community?
To blame just the MIC is wrong. We can take a certain amount of blame, but we cannot take all the blame.
But if things don’t go your way in the next election, will you take MCA’s cue and not seek a place in the cabinet?
I don’t want to compare the MIC with the MCA, or Indian votes with Chinese votes. The Indian votes are coming back. We have increased our voter strength. MIC is still the biggest and the only formal (Indian) representative in the government. I will not say we will leave the government and not leave the government and all that. I will look at the results of the general election before I make any decision.
Even if both MCA and MIC lose their seats, as a good coalition leader of the BN, Umno will still ensure that the welfare and interest of the minorities are taken care of?
The government at all costs will have to look after the welfare of all races in this country. There is no question of MIC losing all its seats.
You’re very confident.
I am. There is no question of MIC losing all its seats. That question will not arise any more. We are upbeat, not only the MIC but the BN.
So what is MIC or BN doing right to regain the confidence of voters?
We are working on the ground. We are listening to the grievances and maybe within the next few months we will come up with the right policies and suggest these to the government. We will suggest what they should do to regain the Indian votes and the votes of all Malaysians. We are not focusing only on Indian votes. We are doing a lot of thinking and we will give political, economic and social input to the government so that we will be able to regain the support of the people. We lost support due to deprivation policies.
So now the government should look at how it is going to address the problem of all Malay-sians – how to address deprivation. No Malay-sian should be deprived of anything. You should not be deprived of promotions in the government, jobs or opportunities. You should have access to finance and education. You should be given equal opportunities in the business sector.
Educational opportunities are still a sore topic.
Every child matters. The child who does well should be given scholarships.
Yes, but every year we see the same problem, you have to go begging ...
The child who doesn’t do well, okay they should also be supported. This country has a small population – 27 million people. People are our assets, children are our wealth. So every child is an important resource for the future of this country. The investment policies should be on every child. Why is it that not every child has access to kindergarten? Why should people pay RM300 for kindergarten? Why can’t the government open kindergartens throughout the country? These should be the right policies.
What about Kemas?
They’re doing it, but it’s not enough. It’s not only at pre-school. You should emphasise early childhood development like the prime minister’s wife is doing. But we need a massive-scale investment in education. We don’t have to invest in massive infrastructure. The investment should be in the child.
Now, a child has got 8As, 9As, 10As, 11As, 12As and all that. Some of them don’t get scholarships or good courses. A child who has got 12As applies for medicine, he is given animal husbandry. My secretary has to go throw a tantrum at the PSD (Public Service Depart-ment) and then he gets medicine. They are not following the right approaches.
There are children who do well, they get 5As, 3As, 6As, 7As. Now shouldn’t these children also be picked up? So my emphasis is every child is important. The child who gets 1A, the child who gets 10As, the child who gets 2As, the child who doesn’t get As. So it’s the job of the Education Ministry to look into the future of every child from the time he is born.
The child of a tapper in an estate who scores 5As and the child of a doctor in the city who scores 8As – the 5As have more value than the 8As, right?
Definitely. Not every child is intelligent, smart and great, okay? There are some children who don’t do well. They too should be nurtured so that we can reduce foreign labour in this country. Why should we have for the wood industry, thousands of foreign workers? It’s a skills-based industry. We are employing foreigners when we have a training centre.
But there’s no interest in reducing our dependence on foreign labour because it makes doing business in Malaysia so much cheaper.
You know why? When you employ a foreign labourer, you’re not tied to him for 25 years. You don’t have to give him pension, you don’t have to give him EPF, you don’t have to give him any kind of benefit, you just bring him here for a few years and you throw him back. But in this country, there are many people who want a job, they don’t get a job. It is the job of the government to keep increasing public awareness that we have a furniture industry, that we have hundreds of foreigners coming in to work in the industry, and that we have a training institute.
Okay, inevitably the question will come down to whether Tamil schools are a bane or boon in equipping Indian children with the skills to face the world.
First, Tamil schools have a long history, like the Chinese schools and formerly the Malay schools. You cannot do away with Tamil schools. And now you see, Tamil schools are doing well, we have children scoring As, schools have improved – it’s not like those days, there are no more shacks.
What is important is to carry forward our education further. That means we must create model schools, centres of excellence. Mother tongue education is very important – he who loses his mother tongue, loses his culture, and will lose everything. What the government needs to do is in every district, create one centre of excellence for Tamil schools. That means we put up indoor badminton courts, have a sports facility, teach other languages, we have swimming pools, we have good coaches ...
That’s all hardware, isn’t it Datuk?
Like it or not, we cannot compare Tamil schools to Chinese schools. Because Mandarin and Cantonese are international languages, business languages; Tamil is not. You want to learn your mother tongue, by all means learn your mother tongue, but if you don’t emphasise on English and Bahasa Malaysia, how are these children going to go into the mainstream once they leave school? They can’t communicate with the other races.
This is slightly off the mark on this subject. The mathematical ability of Tamil school students is very high because they’ve been taught calculations right from those days. You know, Tamil calculations are very important. We have Vedic calculations and they’re good in Science. The only area where they are not doing well is Bahasa Malaysia.
I went to a science exhibition in Malacca and the way Tamil school students were making their presentations in English was marvellous.
This is the elite! Cream of the crop?
No! Tamil schools are doing well. The only thing left to be done is that Indians who have done so well in life: graduates, doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen, they should support Tamil schools. Now, the parent-teacher associations of Tamil schools have to depend on the government, depend on the neighbourhood to collect money for sport and other activities. So if more and more educated Indians begin to visit Tamil schools, adopt a child, begin to pay RM10 towards the school, the future of Tamil schools will become better.
No one is saying get rid of Tamil schools, but reduce periods where the medium of instruction is Tamil. Improve and increase periods using English and Bahasa Malaysia.
What Tamil school students have to be taught is not to reduce Tamil lessons. Or Tamil language classes or lessons taught in Tamil in the syllabus. That is not the approach. The approach is, a good maybe 80,000 to 100,000 students begin their lives in Tamil schools. Then when they go to Form 1, they make a transition. That is where the adjustment problem is.
That’s what we are trying to say. But you have their remove classes.
Don’t forget, they are going into a different environment. Those days, when I went to school, I was in a multiracial environment. My teachers were Chinese, Indian, Malay. So when the Tamil school child makes the transition to secondary school, he faces a different environment. He has this adjustment problem in school. This is what the education authorities should address.
Yes, they have serious confidence issues.
So, we have to create cultural societies for them; put in more Indian teachers.
How does this help them assimilate into the mainstream?
They will assimilate because the Chinese sometimes from Standard 1 to Form 6 or Form 5, they are in a Chinese environment. At least the Indian child after Standard 6 goes into a multiracial environment. He learns to adjust. But then they should create more facilities for him in the secondary school so that he can adjust well. One is they need their own cultural association. There shouldn’t be a ban on language societies, on religious associations or cultural societies. So at Form 1 level the government should allow the formation of Indian religious societies ...
Even that they’re trying to control.
There should be more balance in secondary schools, more racial balance, a good composition of Malay, Chinese and Indian teachers. More Indians should be promoted as headmasters, as education officers, district education officers, state education officers. I mean, we should be given a role. Indian teachers have contributed a lot to education in this country. When an Indian teacher taught in the 50s and 60s, he did not see race.
Do you think there’s a conscious attempt to suppress the progress of minority groups in this country?
I don’ think so, under Najib. I think the 1Malaysia policy is very good. He is open, liberal, and because of that, many people are supporting him.
But at the same time he’s fighting fires from among the grassroots and ultras, like your friend Ibrahim Ali.
By and large, the Malay race is a highly cultured, civilised race. The relationship between Malays, Indians and Chinese is a long one; it runs into hundreds of years. And the culture is all intermingled. So all these kinds of attempts will not succeed.
In this second of a two-part interview, MIC president Datuk G. Palanivel talks to Terence Fernandez and Mohd Azril Annuar about his leadership style and his plans for the community and the party.
IT doesn’t help when you have noise makers and the government is seen to be condoning their rhetoric by its silence.
There will always be noise makers in society.
But it will affect you, it will affect political parties.
The large majority of people don’t take these things very seriously. When you fight for a cause, you must be genuine in the fight or struggle. You don’t fight for a cause just to make a name for yourself. Nobody receives something for free. The average Malay, Indian and Chinese mix very freely. The average Malaysian is thinking only of his own rice bowl. They will not be caught in this kind of thing.
But when it comes to the polls, isn’t this in the back of voters’ minds?
When people vote, they vote independently, they cannot be manipulated.
I agree that the PM’s policies are great. But his silence when these ultras make noise gets you to second guess him.
No, no ... you cannot say the PM is silent, or I am silent. We have all got bigger agendas to look at. We look at the big picture.
But doesn’t this have the potential to become an issue?
No, it won’t become a big issue. Malaysians on a law of averages, will not go down on small issues. They’re looking at the big picture. They’re looking at their own future, the future of their children. When they’re nice, they’ll vote for you, when they’re not nice, they’ll vote against you.
There are three groups of voters. One is our hardcore who will always support you, another is the group of voters who left us, and another group is on the fence. What does the voter on the fence look for? He looks for good policies, good governance, then he decides to vote. Then of course, there’s the opposition bloc. But people who have been loyal to the government will continue to be loyal to the government.
Do you think it’s good for Malaysia that we now have a two-party system?
Yes, it is good to have a two-party system.
It shows the electorate’s maturity?
But then the other party, the alternative party, should not come to parliament and the state assembly and just start criticising. They should come out with their own plan. They should make good suggestions, but if the government does anything wrong, they should point it out. Government parties must sit together. And their concentration should be on taking the country forward. Every opposition should be constructive, not negative. We have to always go for a win-win solution. We have to face reality. We cannot go on a protracted war as finally, it’s the people who decide. We are moving towards a mature democracy. In the last election, people decided. In the next election also, they have the power to decide. So the Barisan and the Opposition should do their best to win the hearts and minds of voters, not stir up their minds.
For such a small community, the Indians have many representatives.
The Indians have always had independent parties from before independence. But the only significant party at the moment is the MIC. It’s the mother party. So the other parties … I’m not saying they are insignificant, but look at their ...
No, not track record. They should be able to create structures like us. They should be able to have grassroots leadership. They should be able to have party elections. They must have annual reports, division reports, branch reports, state reports. All these we have. We can mobilise support across the ground. The MIC is intact.
But is the fact that there are so many Indian-based groups a reflection of dissatisfaction with the MIC?
Could be, but now you see? We are talking to the smaller base parties to get together with us. I’ve talked to MUIP’s (Malaysian Indian United Party) Datuk N. Nalakaruppan, we are getting together, you know? I am in close touch with PPP’s (People’s Progressive Party) Datuk M. Kayveas, we are getting together. We will function as a group.
What about the more radical ones like Makkal Sakti?
Makkal Sakti is not a radical party. They were radical during the 2008 general election. The MIC is a party of group strength, we’re not individuals. I mean we have working committees.
How is the IPF (Indian Progressive Front)?
IPF ahhh ... many of them are our members and supporters. We have no quarrel with the IPF.
IPF was Pandithan versus (Datuk Seri S.) Samy Vellu anyway ...
No, then Pandithan and Samy Vellu got together, they became pally.
Towards the end, just before Pandithan passed away.
Politicians are like that, today they fight, tomorrow they get together.
Is it easier to talk to these other parties without Samy Vellu?
At the moment, my main focus is to get down to the ground and work like we work during by-elections. That is now going on.
But has Samy’s departure made it easier for you to draw confidence and support back to the party.
No, when Samy was party president, he too had a lot of support. Now, I have the same support. It is the support of the MIC working hard to increase support. From the time we lost in the 2008 election, Samy Vellu worked hard to bring back support.
So it’s not right for people to say that one of the biggest problems of the MIC is Samy Vellu himself?
That kind of accusation will always be there. Now they will accept me, in five years they will say I am not a good leader (laughs). So every party leader will come under accusations and allegations. It depends on how much you can sustain yourself. A political party leader must be able to face adversity. Samy Vellu and I are two different types of people. He will face adversity in his own way, I will face it in mine.
How do you face adversity?
I’m a different type of operator lah, because I am trained differently.
You’re not the bang table, get out of the room type?
Well, if necessary I will bang, but so far I have not resorted to that.
Samy is the ‘you shut up and listen to me’ type.
No, no, Samy Vellu also listens to people. He listens to me a lot. He openly said I was his mentor. This kind of accusation will always prevail against any leader. They accused Tun Mahathir, they accused Abdullah Badawi. The strength of a political party leader is to override the allegations and just perform. Samy Vellu had the ability.
The other school of thought is that you need someone like Samy Vellu to control a party like the MIC.
Control mechanisms were right at the right time. There must also be certain periods when you liberalise the party, when you radicalise the party. I am all for radicalising the MIC. Of course I don’t announce it.
Perhaps you appeal more to the younger generation.
Maybe lah! I won’t say all these things because I’m not trying to claim credit for anything.
Perhaps people feel it’s easier to talk to you than to Samy.
People feel more relaxed with me lah.
Because you listen?
Samy Vellu had his time. He was a good leader. Now he has given me that time to lead the party forward.
So Samy’s style of leadership was appropriate for that time?
Very appropriate. Now I have to make myself appropriate to the people.
Because Samy’s style would be inappropriate now?
Not to say that. People still would accept his leadership if he wanted to continue.
The older generation?
Not necessarily. There are among the younger generation who support him. He was graceful enough in giving the party to me and going away. If he didn’t want to, there was nothing I could have done.
From what we know, there was a lot of kicking and screaming involved.
No, the important thing is, there are different periods in history. I am in a different period. I am trying to appease the Indians, I’m trying to build up the community, I’m trying to take it forward. I listen a lot, I have my brainstorming sessions, I give people a lot of freedom to express, I don’t become a judge of my own case. I allow every working committee member to say what he wants. Of course I make the decisions. The working committee has now become a committee that makes decisions.
One criticism of Samy was that he never had a clear succession plan.
What about you?
You see, I’m trying to democratise the party. My firm believe is that I’ll be a strong leader and I have a lot of support.
What are the qualities you have that make you believe you will be a strong leader?
Over the years from the time I became an MP and a parliamentary secretary, I’m the first person who gave KPI (Key Performance Indicator) reports. I’m the one who sends them reports. Once in three months, I give the reports to my party members, to the associations, to the NGOs, to everyone on what I have done.
I was the first to introduce the pottery industry training programme. And Tun Mahathir gave me a RM1 million revolving fund for the industry. I called about 20 potters and gave each of them the money. They’re supposed to pay back and it will go into a revolving fund.
Secondly, I was also the first to introduce the Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia Programme to Indians. At the time when I left the Rural Development Ministry, over 500 Indians were in business doing well, earning something like RM30, even RM100 a day. Now I hear there are 3,000.
Then I introduced the Sutra Sari Training Programme – 3,000 women were trained in 100 places. They were trained by Sabahans, and some are doing well now. Then I had my foundation – I introduced the pre-school training programme. And now through my foundation, I’m introducing the reach and teach programme for students who are not doing well.
I am also thinking of another programme, because I am told by people in the Tan Sri Manickavasagam Education Fund that when you give an Indian boy Mandarin classes, his pay is RM1,000 more. I’ve got the Community Builders Foundation, to which the prime minister has given funds. I was so impressed when Tan Sri Manickavasagam’s son came to me and said: "Since you are the new president, I’m handing the fund over to you. The prime minister has given some funds for this thing."
You see, our job is not to go and fund university students. We will look into deserving students – that means the child must be an orphan, he must come from a very poor family. The child cannot afford Form Six, he cannot afford to pay for his first year. So we will look into these kinds of cases. We will not duplicate the functions of the MIED (Maju Institute of Education Development). We will be selective in funding students, we will only fund parents who cannot support their children, who are doing very badly. And we will look into squatter areas, slum areas, low cost housing areas to help children.
So you have a plan, a plan for the community.
Oh, I have a plan.
What about the party?
The party plans are there. We want to set up a political training school to train potential leaders, candidates, councillors, senators, state assemblymen, MPs. I’ve got a working paper done up. Then we’re coming up with a paper called the MIC Times. The prime minister is going to launch it, it will come out once in two months and report in-house activities of the party. It will be in Malay and Tamil, and maybe something in English. I’ve been meeting with the prime minister for the last one year. I spoke to him about the need for a community bulletin, I told him that RTM news carries only government news.
Tell us about preparations for the AGM on July 30.
For the first time we are inviting all branch leaders. The agenda is very clear: they must get down to the ground. They’re going to put up on our website the names of the MIC branch chairmen, their branch address, house address, telephone number, email; and we’ll tell the public: got any problems, call these fellows.
The branches that Samy shut down previously – are you reopening them?
We will give branches when we go down on the ground. If there’s a request for a branch, and 60 people, 100 people see me and say they want a branch, we’ll give them a branch.
So there must be clear criteria?
Criteria is when we go down to the ground, we want the people to come ask for a branch. We don’t want a division leader or another branch chairman to come and say he wants so many branches. We don’t want that policy; we want the people to ask for branches.
What’s the minimum request before you actually consider reopening a branch?
It must be done democratically in the open in a transparent way, no secretly giving branches. I’m not trying to give branches to strengthen my leadership, but to strengthen the party. If there’s a genuine request, I can look at it. My whole idea is to democratise the party.
But how would you address ... I mean there’s a lot of fighting in the party at the branch and top level. As president, how will you consolidate the various factions.
One is by listening to them. Two is by appeasing the warring factions. Three is by telling them to remain united. Four is by asking them to concentrate on the long-term agenda: winning the elections. The focus of every MIC member, chairman, office bearer, is to bring back the Indian votes. And work with MCA, work with Umno, work with Gerakan, to bring them back – that is the whole approach. The other thing, okay, they came up with the policy to insure all the office bearers of the MIC. So far, they’re insuring only the chairman. They’re giving his family RM10,000 if he dies. So now we’re insuring the office bearers – that means the deputy chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, the treasurer. Our long-term objective is to insure every MIC member.
How far are the problems in the party due to the BN?
See, there are many ways of looking at it. The country over the last 50 years has developed. Many people have benefited. But the government’s focus and attention should also be on the people who have been left out. Economic policies are good, but when they bypass people, they become no good. Affirmative policies are good, but because of affirmative policies, sections of people become neglected, people get left out, somebody gets it, somebody doesn’t. Then you have a problem.
Then you will have Hindraf and the like.
No, everybody is unhappy, Malays are unhappy, Chinese are unhappy, Indians are unhappy. When you talk about development and economic policies, they should adopt the right approach. The ordinary man on the ground should feel the effects of development. The ordinary man should not be omitted in the process of develop-ment. The individual loses his freedom because he doesn’t get what he wants. So this is where the government must look at it both from the macro and the micro point. If only individuals become millionaires and tycoons and rich, then people on the ground don’t get it.
But is Hindraf still a factor?
They were a factor in 2008. In the last few months, it’s acknowledged by opposition leaders that there is a massive spring of support back, Indian support. But in any democracy, we need people to oppose us. If not, we will be sleeping. It is good to have people who oppose us. Provided they come up with the right ideas, then we can work on the ideas.
But you can’t deny they have opened the eyes of the Indians to be more forceful in demanding their rights.
To be very frank, 2008 created history. If we didn’t have March 8, 2008, we wouldn’t be having an Indian deputy chief minister in Penang and speaker in Perak.
You’ll never hear of this under BN previously.
No, they wouldn’t have given us deputy chief minister in Penang. But because the Perak government toppled and we had a speaker in Perak, we managed to get back the speaker. So they did manage to create history … I mean the voters.
It’s good for the people that power has come back to them.
The political landscape of the country has changed. Because of what they did, Barisan has to work five times harder, MIC has to work 10 times harder, Umno has to work harder. We all have to work hard to bring back the Indian support.
Are successful Indians doing enough to help their brethren?
Successful Indians should help with the development of Tamil schools, the develop-ment of single mothers, contribute to NGOs, make sure the money they give is used well. They should have voluntary spirit. The development of the voluntary sector in this country is important. We don’t have properly developed, focused NGOs.