The Star, Baradan Kuppusamy, Jul 28 2011
The party’s 65th general assembly and the first under the
leadership of new president Datuk G. Palanivel will be an important
occasion to regain Indian voter support.
THE 65th MIC annual
general assembly this weekend is the first as president for Datuk G.
Palanivel who has made it his mission win back Indian voter support for
the Barisan Nasional and to prepare the MIC for the upcoming general
In a society like ours where the long-term survival of any one-race party is doubtful, the MIC is going against the tide in reaching out for Indian voter support in the belief that Indians have strong ethnic identification and would vote for a party like the MIC.
The ethnic considerations are strong, as the MIC believes only an Indian party can truly represent the Indian community in all its dimensions – cultural, linguistic, political and religious.
MIC is therefore best placed to speak up for the Indian community not only because of historical reasons but also because it was the “for Indian” party since before the days of Independence.
It is also because the MIC had consistently given voice to and represented the Indian poor throughout the years since.
“Who else but the MIC has been speaking up for Indians for six decades?” Palanivel asked. “Indians want to see a party of their own, a party they can be members of and a party that speaks up for them.”
That line is the MIC’s strongest selling point in a rapidly changing political landscape which since the 2008 general election is seeing multi-racial political parties taking strong root and enjoying unprecedented support.
On the opposition side, Indians are predominantly found in the DAP, a Chinese-dominated but nominally muti-racial party and in the PKR, a Malay-dominated but also nominally multi-racial party.
PAS too has its own non-Muslim supporters club which although its members have no voting rights, nevertheless act to increase the number of non-Muslim voters for the party during general elections.
The PPP, on the other hand, is an Indian-led and nominally multi-racial party while the resurgent Kimma is for Indians who are Muslims and has financial clout, discipline although its membership is not sizable.
The MIC thus has to compete with this plethora of political parties seeking to represent the Indian community along with numerous NGOs and other organisations.
While in the time of former MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu one could say that the MIC truly represented the Indian community that is no longer the case after a series of political mishaps that led Indians to revolt in November 2007 and four months later vote for Pakatan Rakyat.
Indian voter support for Barisan has eroded over the years including the sacking of IPF president Tan Sri M. G. Pandithan but it become a torrent after the Hindraf revolt.
In the aftermath of March 8, 2008, the MIC is just one of the entities vying for Indian voters but within the time-tested Barisan formula of racial compromise and consensus that has lasted six decades.
The MIC hopes it would last even longer.
Palanivel is at the helm as the new party president after the tumultuous three-decade rule of Samy Vellu, during which dissent was silenced with an iron hand and everybody had to conform to the one voice – that of Samy Vellu – or be expelled.
But under Palanivel a new wind is blowing through the MIC and there is free speech – at a reasonable level – and dissent is allowed.
Members, delegates and leaders have closed ranks behind Palanivel and there is a rare unity in the party, something it has not seen for a long time.
Everyone is focused on the general election and the primary mission is to avert infighting, close ranks and get the Indian community’s support in the general election.
The party performed poorly in the last election, losing many of its MPs and state seats including the Sungei Siput parliamentary seat that is traditionally contested by the party president.
Palanivel too lost his lost Hulu Selangor seat which he had held for four terms but Barisan managed to win it back in a by-election last year.
Whether the MIC defends the same seats in the next general election or swaps seats with other Barisan component parties, remains to be seen but probably some would be swapped for new ones.
The general assembly this time will see Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak addressing not just delegates but all 4,500 branch chairmen to underline the importance of the occasion and the major issues the party is grappling with.
It is a fight for the relevance and survival of the MIC and the Prime Minister wants to give them a huge “oomph” in what is probably the last congress before an election.
About 40% of the MIC’s 650,000 members are not registered as voters and the first priority for Palanivel is to get them on the electoral roll.
In addition, there are thousands of Indian youth outside the party who supported Pakatan in 2008. Palanivel has to gear the party to speak for them as well.
He has instructed all party branches to check their membership rolls and ensure all party members are registered as voters.
Other matters that delegates would raise at the assembly include the Interlok literature text that has upset party members and the Indian community over the use of inappropriate words and phrases.
The delegates would want to debate the Interlok issue at length. Most Indians are unhappy with merely editing out words and phrases considered offensive and want the book taken out altogether.