Insiders worry that the impending explosion will wipe the party off of the face of the Silver State.
The scheming, the backstabbing, the betrayals, the sabotage and other elements of high drama are playing out towards a climax that some insiders expect would come in the form of a near-total destruction of the party, at least in the state.
According to one insider, the ultimate blame must lie with the top leadership’s inability to deal with the kind of politics that has emerged since G Palanivel replaced S Samy Vellu as party president.
Now that they are free from the iron-fisted rule of Samy Vellu, MIC members nationwide have embraced the new wave of Malaysian politics that is characterised by outspokenness and the assertion of perceived rights. Many have turned away from the practice of adulating their leaders.
Palanivel is considered a gentleman politician in comparison with Samy Vellu, but too weak to rein in dissenters within his party. And there is plenty of dissent in Perak.
In 2008, MIC lost all of its four bids for Perak state seats. It lost Hutan Melintang and Behrang to PKR, Sungkai to DAP and Pasir Panjang to PAS.
The humiliation of 2008 has encouraged Umno to demand that its candidates replace MIC’s in Pasir Panjang and Behrang for the 13th general election. Both are Malay-majority seats.
Even before Samy Vellu’s departure, Perak MIC was already split three ways. The rivalry has apparently deepened since.
The feuding factions are led by G Rajoo, R Ganesan and S Veerasingam, each of whom has enough political influence to qualify as a warlord. Rajoo is a former chairman and Ganesan a former secretary of Perak MIC. Veerasingam was Perak MIC chairman until early last year, when Palanivel took over his duties.
Rajoo is now MIC’s coordinator in Penang. He is a Samy Vellu man and insiders say Palanivel shipped him out because he was a thorn in the side of the new president’s bid to put his stamp on the state.
However, the ageing Rajoo is said to be still influential and making his voice heard in the selection of candidates for the Perak electoral contests.
When Palanivel took control in Perak, he practically booted out Veerasingam and installed Ganesan as his deputy in the state. Sources said Ganesan had by then established himself as a staunch supporter of the greenhorn president.
Many party members allege that Palanivel is Perak MIC chief in name only. They say he has not even stepped foot into the party’s office in Ipoh, much less coordinated state preparations for the coming election.
“He’s sitting cosy in his ivory tower in KL with his ill-informed advisers and not reading into the political realities at ground level,” said one insider.
Ambitious grassroots leaders are angry that Palanivel has decided to parachute outsiders into the state.
The current secretary of Perak MIC, S Jayagopi, was initially thought to be the party’s candidate for Buntong, where Indians make up 46.2% of the electorate. He is a local man and also the BN coordinator for the constituency. Insiders say he would have been the ideal candidate against DAP incumbent A Sivasubramaniam.
However, the winds of politics have apparently taken a sudden turn and Jeyagopi has been dropped like a hot potato, to be replaced by C Sivaraj of Selangor, who is MIC Youth secretary at the national level.
Jayagopi’s supporters say he has worked hard to gain the trust of Buntong voters with his community services. According to a source, about 45 NGOs in Buntong are angry over the decision to drop him and are contemplating withdrawing their support for MIC.
To add to MIC’s worries, a former party member has threatened to contest as an independent candidate in Buntong if Sivaraj is fielded there.
In a recent news report, Perak Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir was said to be crossing swords with Palanivel over the latter’s insistence on fielding “expired candidates” like Ganesan and KR Naidu.
Zambry was quoted as saying that such candidates did not qualify as “winnable” in the sense that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak uses the word.
Ganesan is slated to contest in Hutan Melintang, his hometown. He has told FMT that everything is smooth sailing there, but other party sources say a storm is brewing, with local MIC leaders up in arms over the rejection of division chief R Subramanian in favour of Ganesan.
Indians make up 32% of the Hutan Melintang electorate. The Chinese account for 57% and the Malays 50%, giving some advantage to PKR’s likely candidate, S Kesavan.
T Murugiah, who joined MIC in 2010 following his sacking from PPP, was for some time in high spirits, confident that BN would field him in either Buntong or the Sungai Siput parliamentary constituency. He has now toned down his enthusiasm because, according to sources, MIC has decided to field him for the state seat of Sungkai instead.
Sungkai is the domain of two party veterans – Naidu, who is Tanjung Malim division chief and his deputy, K Ravi. These two have reportedly positioned their artillery against Murugiah’s parachute.
Sources say Murugiah also has to face the ire of MCA hopefuls because Chinese voters make up nearly 70% of the Sungkai electorate. Indian voters account for only 14%.
Another Chinese-majority state seat that BN might give to MIC is Tronoh, the potential candidates being Kampung Baru Lahat branch chief S Mokan and Parit division chief S Mogan. The electorate is composed of 67% Chinese, 20.9% Malays and about 2% Indians.
A worried MIC insider said: “Contesting in Tronoh will be a setback for the party because the Chinese there are pro-Pakatan. We are lucky if we can get 20% of the Chinese votes.”
Trouble in Sungai Siput
There is also trouble in Sungai Siput, the seat that Samy Vellu lost to PSM’s Michael Jeyakumar. Local warlords are said to be uncomfortable with the party’s decision to parachute SK Devamany from his Cameron Highlands perch down to this lowland.
These local chiefs reportedly proposed that Samy Vellu be brought back from retirement to reclaim his seat, but the idea was apparently shot down by Najib.
Devamany is a reluctant candidate for this hot seat, where the likeable and hard-working Jeyakumar is popular even among non-Indians. He would prefer to have stayed in Cameron Highlands, where the political atmosphere is nearly as cool as the natural air.
Insiders say MIC will have a fighting chance in Sungai Siput only if its candidate is Samy Vellu. Apparently, even his son S Vell Paari is scared of facing Jeyakumar, and so are party secretary-general S Murugesan and Palanivel himself.
Meanwhile, Palanivel is hoping that the clean air he will be breathing in Cameron Highlands will give new life to his political career – if he wins.