How do you solve the Malaysian Indian problem?

DAP has an Indian problem, even if it is too busy looking Malay-friendly. And those two are more related than senior leadership realise.

Praba Ganesan, MMO

An ex-academic campaigns against his former party and coalition.

He may be a headache that lasts longer than the current by-election in Kuala Kubu Baru.

To understand the predicament, colonial era developments must be unearthed, explaining the fate of an ethnic group then, and may inform somewhat its fate in the future.

Early and brave

For New Economic Policy children, born after 1963, the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) was arcane, enthralled by the cult of S. Samy Vellu. A party unable to make sense of itself or sense of the world — or at least Malaysia — for its members.

To regular Malaysians, party president and minister Samy Vellu was comedy gold with his Malay language faux pas like hisap dada(h) and derma dara(h).

Ironically, dysfunctional MIC through the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 00s powered the BN engine regardless of the up and down of Chinese and Malay votes.

The party’s modern-day identity crises cloud its progenitors’ ideological diligence attached at the hips with Indian nationalism.

Founder John Thivy was held in Changi Prison after the Second World War, since he was an Indian National Army (INA) member. Fellow early stalwarts like Janaki Athi Nahappan and Rasammah Bhupalan were INA too, military trained during the Japanese Occupation.

It’s important to recognise the activist roots of its formation.

Tells why MIC partnered the idealistic Independence of Malaya Party to challenge Umno-MCA during the 1952 local council elections, the nation’s first polls.

However, it did two things after that… altering its trajectory. One, relegating its ideological zeal to maximise demographical cover with MCA and Umno as the Alliance. Actual electoral wins and federal power, but no philosophy. Two, eased out Indian nationalism to make way for a Tamil core.

The Tamil fervour was inevitable since overwhelmingly Malaysian Indians were Tamils. In this climate, the rise of V.T. Sambanthan and Tamil domination bled a thick vein of Indian professionals, rendering the party to be helmed by a small educated higher caste elite. Leadership looked after rather than develop over a million Tamil constituents.

Yes, gave fish and never shared rods with common members.

The stranglehold Samy Vellu, president between 1979 and 2010, probably delayed the party’s implosion. He staved off the splinter Indian Progressive Party (IPF) formed in 1990, despite its appeal to the MIC’s low-caste majority.

After a quarter of a century in charge, he was too spent to douse the Hindraf outrage of 2007. Samy Vellu duly lost his Sungai Siput parliamentary seat in 2008 and slunk off from party politics in 2010.

The party never re-emerged.

He wore slippers

MIC is synonymous with overall Indian activism at least until 2008. For better or worse. As an extension of Indian nationalism before Sambanthan, and after a pliant BN vote-donor in the Samy Vellu years.

The early years remind us of its receptiveness to disruption.

This is not a negative. Quite contrarily, it’s a positive. Malaysian Indians are open to take new paths with high risks and are moved by ideological passions.

Which brings us to the maverick lecturer turned politician, P. Ramasamy. And why he worries Pakatan, not the least its chances in the ongoing Kuala Kubu Baru state by-election.

As a freshman in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) 30 years ago, I was corralled into a lecture hall to listen to Ramasamy of the political science department. He wore slippers, to match his untucked shirt and full beard — his passive protest at a time of political obeisance is what made a successful academic career.

Imagine teaching politics in a country which likes to micromanage every stage of political education to the point of willing institutional lobotomy of the masses.

And Ramasamy in the centre, trying to not upset too many.

Maybe he was holding it all in till he was sacked by UKM in 2005. Since then, he’s been trigger happy with his mouth.

He won in 2008, both the parliamentary seat of Batu Kawan — defeating chief minister and Gerakan president Koh Tsu Koon — and the Perai state seat. DAP chose him as Penang deputy chief minister II.

Fifteen years later after he was dropped as a candidate in 2023, Ramasamy’s open war with DAP ensues. And now, the former DAP man roams Kuala Kubu Baru to shame his ex-comrades through an electoral upset.

The dam may break

The late Lee Kee Hiong won over 14,000 votes both in 2018 and last year. However, even after more than 10,000 voters were added to the electoral roll via the Undi18 constitutional reform, the DAP assemblyman did not grow her votes. The PN candidate Teoh Kien Hong — an unknown Gerakan candidate — rustled up above 10,000 votes.

Pang Sock Tao, Pakatan’s 31-year-old hopeful, faces PN’s Khairul Azhari Saut from Bersatu. Over 20 years older, Khairul is a local Felda boy.

With nearly one in five Kuala Kubu Baru voters an Indian, Ramasamy’s campaign troubles DAP’s leadership.

But this is their own doing.

How did the relationship between Ramasamy and DAP sour so quickly? Secretary-General Anthony Loke claims the former academic is doing this out of spite over being axed as a candidate last year.

But Ramasamy has always talked about a lack of opportunities and help for Malaysian Indians throughout his 15 years as deputy chief minister. He was a lightning rod for BN parties, and then later PN, as a man unhappy with Malay leadership of the country.

Did DAP use the time with Ramasamy to turn the party more equitable, more Malaysian Malaysia, before selling the idea to the rest of the country?

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