Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Withering of the Malaysian Indian Congress

In a recent opinion column on Malaysiakini (, S. Murugesan, a central working committee member of MIC writes what amounts to be a response to the chorus of voices that have been critical of the MIC and its leadership. I have been one among those who make up that chorus.

I appreciate the fact that Mr. Murugesan believes in the MIC and its continued relevance. I have several bones to pick, however, with some of his arguments as they pertain to the MIC.

In defending the relevance of MIC and race-based politics, he writes: "The noblest argument, put forth by some, as to why MIC should be dissolved is that Malaysia is moving away from race-based politics." Mr. Murugesan then adds: "I agree that Malaysia should move away from such politics, but is this the reality on the ground? Are we truly above and beyond race in Malaysia?"

I will just respond to him in this way: Mr. Murugesan, Gandhi said: "become the change you would like to see in the world." If, as you say, you truly "agree that Malaysia should move away from such politics," then, Mr. Murugesan, live it. Become the change you want to see. You don't advance the cause, which as I have quoted you from your column, of a non-race-based politics by living and practicing the opposite, that is, race based politics! And to use the crutch that non-race-based politics is not "the reality on the ground" is, frankly, in my humble opinion, a cop-out from doing the right thing.

You concede in your opinion column that: "the last election have given us reason to believe [that Malaysians have a desire to doing away with race-based politics], but we must also not forget that 'a single swallow does not a summer make.'" My response to this is very simply to say that if you believe it something to be noble, then act on the principle of the matter and not worry about what others are doing or not doing. So what if there's only one swallow at the moment? The implication of what you say is that you and your party are followers - not leaders! If you believe in an idea, act upon it. Don't pretend to lead…only to think and act according to what you may find to be politically convenient at the moment. That's not leadership. That's political expedience.

You go on to say, "The next general election and the one after will provide clearer indicators. The results from the two elections will determine if 2008 has indeed ushered in a changing trend." So let me ask you: how exactly will your MIC ascertain if the next election or two has "provided [a] clearer indicator"? Will losing one of your three remaining parliamentary seats be the way you measure the fortunes of the MIC? Or will this not be convincing enough for you? Perhaps losing 2 of the remaining 3 seats your party now holds? I wonder.

You also write: "Who are those calling for the MIC's dissolution? The most vocal are non-members, people who did not vote for or support MIC to begin with." How do you know they're non-members? Your comment has not basis in fact. Does this mean in previous elections, when people in Sungai Siput voted for Samy Vellu they were members? And if they chose this time in 2008 to not vote for him they must be non-members? Could you explain this logic to us, Mr. Murugesan? By this logic, you must have lost a massive amount of members before the election in March because obviously, as you claim, only people who were members supported and voted for your MIC! You see the problem with the premise of your argument, Mr. Murugesan? It just does not hold water.

And, for the sake of discussion, if we are to go with your premise that those who did not support the MIC in the election are not members anyway, what happened then, for them to end up abandoning the MIC? Surely, if they voted in the past they are not people who did not support the MIC. Get it? Let's face it, you lost your supporters because your party lost credibility with the voters, plain and simple. And why did your party lose credibility? Take a look at your leadership. There is another saying I will invoke here, which you might be familiar with: A fish rots from the head.

Which brings me to your defense of your president Samy Vellu. You mention that in a democracy, people decide. Indeed, from where I stand, your party leader has actually made himself irrelevant to the people. Yes, many of us caught on to his game a long time ago and many others have done the same more recently. Now, the tide has truly carried the momentum so far that there is just no returning to the days of old when he and his MIC could get away with pretending to speak on behalf of Malaysian Indians. We the people know that he's only preoccupied with his own political survival. The fact that he continues to be preoccupied about his personal political survival – despite the desperate plight of Malaysian Indians and despite the continued injustice being meted out to those he purports to represent – is simply further confirmation of the widespread perception of how self absorbed your leader is.

It seems as if your MIC leader is also rather obsessed these days not just with his political survival but possibly also about his legacy as MIC president. So let me put his mind to ease. Is there any doubt that historians will document and define his time as MIC president as the most disastrous for Malaysian Indians? No. Is there any doubt that historians will note that during his reign as MIC president, we witnessed gangster-style and strong-arm tactics at the party's annual general meetings that made the MIC a laughing stock of the country? No. [So much for your 'democratically' elected leader.] Is there any doubt that history will show how his MIC led initiatives, such as Maika Holdings, was thoroughly bungled and made into a long-standing debacle? No. By the way, do you think Malaysians believed that his son, S. Vell Paari, was the best qualified person to be CEO of Maika Holdings? And what do you suppose qualified him to be CEO? Hmmm. Is this a tough question, Mr. Murugesan? I don't suppose there was a careful and thorough search done for a well-qualified candidate to be the CEO, was there? I wonder if the MIC was inundated with resumes from financial experts and experienced CEOs vying for the position, and that his son turned out to be the most capable and qualified to be CEO of Maika Holdings.

By the way, I for one am not impressed by the list of apparent accomplishments of the MIC you profile in your opinion column. While I am delighted that maybe your MIC is not altogether inept, I am struck that this is the best you can do in defense of the MIC!

Now I don't need to continue down the list of notable embarrassments and blunders associated with the MIC. Suffice it to note the following: While the MIC has for decades made itself a laughing-stock, sadly, Malaysian Indians have been left suffering in one way or another. We all know by now the strong sentiment among Indians that we have been practically rendered third-class citizens. The impact of this political marginalization has yet to be fully realized, but we see the hand-writing on the wall. Your MIC was an accomplice in the creation of a racial apartheid where Indians have been rendered lesser than other Malaysians in a land where we all are supposedly equal under the constitution. How could the system your MIC president collaborated to create and supported for decades be any less than a form of apartheid? We're denied equal access to education based on our race, discriminated in housing opportunities based on our race, denied equal access to public employment opportunities due to our race, not permitted to buy certain properties due to our race. You get the point, don't you? This is your version of democracy, Mr. Murugesan?

And you can fool yourself all you want. We know when we're not being treated as equal citizens, and we have your MIC to thank – and blame – for this disastrous reality. By now, the country also knows the various grievances of the Malaysian Indian community. It took some awakening and mobilization by Hindraf and others to bring further attention to the plight of Malaysian Indians. And what did your MIC president do? Mind you, we're aware that you all were certainly not on the sidelines. On the contrary, your president was right in the thick of it. That is, in the thick of trying to discredit the messengers who spoke the truth about the plight of Indians. Why? Were they overshadowing him in the limelight and in the process making his organization look inept? Was it a case of "how dare someone else presume to speak on behalf of Indians?"

Just for the record, here's another bit of news for your 'democratically elected' MIC president: Historians will document that not only was the MIC incompetent and bungled at addressing the concerns of Indians, the organization, under his 'leadership,' was a prominent obstacle to tackling serious issues that plagued the community.

And on the subject of Samy Vellu's immediate political survival, let me just say that many Indians across the country don't care one bit. I for one couldn't be bothered. Actually, let me explain this another way: He might as well declare himself lifetime president of MIC. After all, he's practically been so. And since all his cronies would dare not speak up to challenge him, they'll probably 'vote' (wink, wink) him as lifetime president anyway. Heck, on second thought, maybe the next AGM can be the stage to anoint him the life-time president of the party. See, that'll take care of his concern about his foreseeable political survival. Actually, for him to continue as president of MIC would be a blessing in disguise for us. Then, while he remains indefinitely as MIC president and continue to delude himself of his sense of self-importance, many more Malaysians can become even more assured of the increased irrelevance of your MIC. For me, there can be no better gift – and step - to promoting the level of awareness among all Malaysians, but especially the Indians among us, that our liberation from apartheid and our future is not with the UMNO-MIC patronage politics of the past. Actually, it has been the catalyst of our undoing. So, go on and keep your stranglehold on power in your irrelevant MIC; 're-elect' Samy Vellu as president again or hand-pick his stooge successor – either way, you won't fool us.

Despite our diminished status as Malaysians, we have our dignity. Whether it's the chendol seller, the engineer, the social worker, the school teacher, the artist, the doctor, the taxi driver, the small businessman, the student, the rojak seller, the business executive, the lorry drive, or any other Malaysian Indian who strives to make it against the odds, against the barriers your president's MIC have helped put in our way, we will persevere with a renewed sense of purpose to reclaim our place in Malaysian society with all the accompanying rights, privileges and responsibilities. No thanks to you and Samy Vellu's MIC.

G. Krishnan