Leave with dignity, not in shame

By Veera Pandiyan (The Star)

Pressure is rising from within the MIC for its feisty president to leave the stage sooner than later, especially after he has been cast as a liability to Barisan Nasional.

ENDURING verbal abuse, insults and curses is elemental to the practice of journalism. Yes, even during the good old days, long before mainstream media (MSM) became a derogatory term to some.

Working in a newspaper for close to three decades, I’ve had my share of put-downs and diatribes, mainly from politicians, both the petty and the powerful.

Most are blurred in memory but one tirade bellowed in 1983, still rings in the ear: “You have sold your community for a fistful of dollars!”

The thundering voice was that of Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, then, and still, president of the MIC, during a press conference in January 1983 to announce the launch of Maika Holdings.

The initial reaction of shock segued into amusement. In the mind, the image of the party leader who had just taken over the helm of the Indian component party of Barisan Nasional morphed into that of a cowboy – albeit more like Bud Spencer than Clint Eastwood in the old spaghetti Western movies.

The reason for Samy Vellu anger? I had asked a question that I felt was fair: How is Maika going to be any different from the party’s existing business entities like Koperasi Nesa and Koperasi Pekerja Jaya?

“You Indian reporters in The Star are always running down the MIC, you have all sold out your community for a company run by the MCA!” he said.

If I remember correctly, that was the end of the press conference.

As other bewildered reporters and I walked down the steps of the party headquarters, one of the president’s then economic advisers, who has since moved on to champion human rights and other currently politically correct causes, asked me: “Why do you all always belittle the MIC?”

But when asked to name the instances, the economist could not be specific. By then we had reached the end of the stairway and the still incensed party leader, who must have seen us arguing, came rushing forward with some of his aides.

Fortunately, the late Datuk K. Pathmanaban, then a deputy minister and party vice-president, pulled me away and cooled off the situation.

Samy Vellu’s ire lingered for a while until the current deputy president Datuk G. Palanivel (then news editor with Bernama, who also covered the political beat) arranged for us to “bury the hatchet” – to use his choice of idiom.

Those who know Samy Vellu well would agree that he can be charming and extremely generous to his friends but nasty and ruthless in anger, especially when dealing with political enemies.

And during his 30-year-long tenure – from 1979 to 1981 as acting president, and since then as president – many of his friends have turned into enemies and vice versa. A few have gone around several times in the continuing drama.

But today, his biggest worry must surely be his frenemies – those who seem to be friends but are actually enemies.

They had been too scared to invoke his wrath or to mount a challenge, even after the party’s worst loss in the March 2008 election that saw him being booted from his Sungei Siput parliamentary seat and forced out of his long-held Cabinet portfolio.

Yet he has doggedly refused to loosen his grip on the party. But for how long?

Sensing pressure from Umno, especially after former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad dubbed him as a liability to Barisan, grassroots leaders and members are now openly talking about wanting to see him leave, sooner rather than later.

At a friend’s 49th birthday bash last Saturday, a former deputy division chief and branch chairman of 16 years who used to be a die-hard Samy Vellu supporter said:

“There is no other choice. He has to go. If he stays, the party will be buried in the next general election.

“No need for succession plans or dates. A new team has been elected with fresh young professionals in important posts. Just leave and let them get on with the job.”

Another former MIC man said Samy Vellu’s decision to cling on is symptomatic of megalomania common to many political leaders.

“He is convinced that only he can do the job of running the party. The others are always not ready. To him, they will never be.”

While megalomania is a term to describe anyone who is power-hungry, clinically, it reflects a mental condition tied to narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Psychiatrists recognise NPD through a subject’s grandiose sense of self-importance, preoccupation with power, belief of being special, denial of obvious faults, need for excessive admiration, unreasonable expectations of being treated with favour and being contemptuous or arrogant.

But using such criteria, wouldn’t many politicians on both sides of the fence also qualify as NPD cases?

These people should also be regarded as drawbacks to their respective coalitions. They should be removed from positions and not be allowed to lead or contest in polls.

As for Samy Vellu, members would rather see him go with some semblance of dignity rather than be shoved out in shame.

I might be inviting a garland of slippers for this, but there is a danger of the MIC ending up as an abbreviation for Megalomaniac In Command if he chooses to stay on to the end of his 11th term.

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Lao Tzu: He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.