Is MIC still for the Indians?

Before the MIC can seek an increase in its representation in the Cabinet, the party has to show how it has transformed to meaningfully represent a radically changed Indian community.

By P. Gunasegaram (The Star)

CLEAR indications are that the MIC was unhappy with its allocation of Cabinet and deputy ministers’ posts.

But even in that, its public and official stance is vague and nebulous: the message that it seeks to convey, as in so many others, is decidedly muted.

In all the major peninsular-based Barisan Nasional parties – except for the MIC – there have been decisive changes in leadership post the March 8 general election last year when all of them faced massive setbacks.

For Umno and the MCA, the changes were directly related to the election. Both the presidents – in the case of Umno it was the prime minister himself – agreed to step down. (For Gerakan, changes came post March 8 last year following a succession plan earlier.)

In effect, they took direct responsibility for the general election setbacks and allowed a smooth transition to another set of leaders who will now have the chance to revitalise the respective parties.

This was despite the fact that both the Umno and MCA presidents easily held their respective parliamentary seats, in contrast to MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, who lost his Sungei Siput seat even after very heavy campaigning.

Unlike his counterparts, Samy Vellu has insisted on staying on as MIC president and has vowed to re-brand the party and make it relevant to Indians. That’s rather ambitious – and ambivalent to boot.

He was leader of the MIC for 30 years. Now the MIC is in a position where its representation of Indians is under question. He can’t be the one to lead the MIC out of it when he led the MIC into it in the first place.

The only credible challenge to Samy Vellu’s leadership – and that too by an old leader – fizzled out when the challenger’s nominations were disqualified. Thus, Samy Vellu earned the dubious distinction of continuing to be the longest serving leader of a political party in Malay-sia.

None of the others in the MIC who could have been leaders dared to challenge Samy Vellu, not least because he has been known to ruthlessly use his influence, control of the party machinery and tight party rules to get rid of any opposition to him.

Thus, the MIC’s abject failure as a party representing Indians is not just Samy Vellu’s but also that of other party leaders, who did not have the gall, gumption and guts to take on the leader and to get him out when he was no longer relevant to the Indian cause and has become instead a hindrance.

Until MIC leaders get up their courage and cooperation to do that, the party is going to be sidelined by their big brothers in Barisan.

Simply put, the MIC cannot expect larger representation in the Cabinet without a major transformation from within to ensure that it is indeed a key representative of Indians in Malaysia.

And that transformation realistically cannot take place if its current leader continues to hold his position as party chief even after he has lost his parliamentary seat and after the party has lost the support of most of the Indians in the country.

The MIC’s predicament is how to get rid of the leader when the first person to lead such a move may get his head chopped off. That’s one for MIC leaders to ponder over, and if things are real bad they should be prepared for the worst and take the membership with them if need be. A weakened MIC without its members will be nothing.

Clear indications are that the MIC now represents less Indians as a proportion than it ever did since its founding in 1946, with many political pundits saying that Indian support for the MIC and Barisan has swung almost completely around from 85% previously to 85% for the Opposition instead.

Whatever the reasons for that, that represents a major failure of the party, and if the party and its leaders don’t watch it, that may also mean the demise of the party. But certainly, before the MIC can demand anything from Barisan, it’s got to clean up its own act first.

Here’s a short list of things that need attending to in a hurry.

> Standing up for Indian rights. It has not vigorously defended Indian rights. Examples: disproportionate number of Indians mistreated in police custody, loss of Indian plantation jobs to immigrants, and massive Indian social problems not addressed, among other things.

> Regaining Indian support. Nothing concrete has been proposed for this and the MIC has merely tried now to mouth Indian aspirations which have been more vociferously expressed by other Indian groups, such as the outlawed Hindraf.

> Re-branding the MIC. Just one question: How can a failed leader heading the party for three decades hope to spearhead this and succeed, notwithstanding that he has announced that his 11th three-year term will be his last?

> Attracting Indian professionals. Its performance in this area is dismal and many able Indians shun the MIC because of its gutter politics.

> Maika Holdings. This failed MIC venture which took RM100mil from Indians decades ago when RM100mil was worth much more is headed by Samy Vellu’s son now. There was lack of good professional management over the years.

> The allegations of impropriety at AIMST. Plenty of money was spent on the Asian Institute of Medicine Science and Technology and all the allegations of impropriety do the MIC’s image and standing no good.

> Indian marginalisation. There is nothing concrete that the MIC has done about this, and the relative position of the community continues to deteriorate as shown by a number of socio-economic indicators.

> Education of Indians. While the MIC advocates the maintenance of Tamil schools, its has been unable to galvanise sufficient funds and resources to make these schools good enough.

> Moving with the times. The MIC continues to be caught in a time warp with its ancient, archaic ways of doing things and handling members and leaders. It has not kept up with the aspirations and requirements of the Indian community.

Lack of representation in the Cabinet is the least of the MIC’s problems. Its most major problem is that it no longer has the reach or standing to represent the majority of Indians today.

With or without the MIC, managing editor P. Gunasegaram is very worried about the future of the Indian community in Malaysia.