FMT, B Nantha Kumar, July 29, 2011
G Palanivel will be chairing his first MIC AGM and perhaps the party's last before the next general election.
KUALA LUMPUR: Tomorrow, the curtain will rise on MIC’s 13th general assembly, the first for G Palanivel as president, and perhaps the last for the party before the next general election.
Palanivel, who took over the reins from former president S Samy Vellu last year, has the unenviable task of winning over the hearts and minds of the Indian community.
He also needs to court the support of those in MIC, especially when there are murmurs of discontent over his leadership style.
After 30 years of Samy Vellu, the hard-hitting and vociferous captain, MIC is still getting used to its new president, a deeply religious man who prefers to remain below the radar of controversies.
Even before the AGM could kick off, the meeting came under scrutiny after it was alleged that the leadership spent about RM2 million for the two-day event, which would be held in Putrajaya for the first time.
Some claimed that the cost of the China-purchased “goodie bags” itself was around RM800,000 and critics argued that the money could have been better spent to help poor Indian students.
Palanivel, who denied the allegations, was accused of attempting to bait the attending branch chairmen with fine food, five-star accommodation and expensive gifts to garner votes in the next party presidential election.
Palanivel is an untested leader, who rose up the ranks under the auspices of Samy Vellu, starting as his press secretary, later becoming his deputy and eventually succeeding him.
Pundits said that the 65th AGM was vital for MIC because of the next general election, which would be a make or break scenario for the Barisan Nasional component party.
In 2008, MIC came close to disappearing from the political map after the party only managed to retain three parliamentary seats and lost nine state seats. In the previous polls, MIC had a record of maintaining at least 90% of its seats.
Both Samy Vellu and Palanivel were also routed in their traditional strongholds of Sungai Siput and Hulu Selangor respectively. The latter was also overlooked by the BN leadership for the Hulu Selangor by-election last year where a junior MIC man P Kamalanathan was fielded instead.
However, Palanivel was later made a senator and given a deputy minister post. Ironically, his deputy, Dr S Subramaniam, one of those who survived the 2008 electoral onslaught, outranks him in the Cabinet by holding the post of human resources minister.
Avoiding the limelight
Palanivel, who was a former editor with the national news agency Bernama, had always maintained a low profile, preferring to avoid the media, unlike Samy Vellu who basked in the camera lights.
One of his media-avoiding strategies is to hold the party’s all-powerful central working committee (CWC) meetings at night.
As a former newsman, said one observer, Palanivel should understand the importance of the media, especially the alternative media in this era.
“He cannot avoid the cameras, he is the president and voice of a party. How can that voice remain silent when things are raging around him?” asked the observer, adding that Palanivel’s “silence is golden” approach even when attacked by the opposition did not bode well for his leadership and gave the impression that he was weak.
Since taking over, Palanivel’s biggest challenge was the controversy surrounding the Interlok novel.
To his credit, the president made several strong statements but was later seen as bowing to pressure from Umno.
Critics pointed out that being an “Umno-installed MIC president”, Palanivel could not cross the line and his hands were tied.
While Samy Vellu ruled with an iron fist, observers noted that his successor’s soft approach had created internal divisions and “little Napoleons”.
It was also pointed out that Palanivel had refrained from announcing new plans for the community, preferring to ride on the shoulders of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the latter’s 1Malaysia slogan.
Programmes such as the “My Daftar” and “My Skill” were BN’s brainchilds, later adopted by MIC.
Challenge for the top post
Within MIC, Palanivel was said to be facing a challenge from his deputy, and might even witness a three-cornered fight for the top post.
The third contender could be former deputy president S Subramaniam, whom Palanivel defeated twice due to Samy Vellu’s strong influence over the branch chairmen.
Although Palanivel and his deputy denied the allegation of a rift, feedback from the ground indicated otherwise.
Recently, a SMS was widely circulated condemning Dr Subramaniam.
The text message read: “Indians in this country want the ministerial post to be held by the MIC president, not the deputy. Why is the deputy president so greedy and power-hungry? If he is truly a party man, he should hand over the post to the party president immediately and swap it with the deputy minister post (Voice of MIC divisions).”
Meanwhile, Palanivel’s supporters claimed that the president was now forced to undo “three decades of damage” inflicted by his predecessor.
According to them, the new president, unlike Samy Vellu, was more diplomatic and encouraged democracy in the party.
Palanivel, they added, also wanted to unite the different factions in MIC in order to strengthen the party so that it could discharge its duties more effectively for the Indian community.
“He has just taken over the leadership and people are expecting him to perform miracles.
“Samy Vellu has left behind rubbles and now Palanivel must slowly pick up the pieces and rebuild the house,” said a supporter, adding that the new president needed more time to prove himself.
However, with public sentiments having turned against BN, time was something MIC cannot afford to waste as the general election draws closer.