While the Prime Minister and Umno president has averted a tussle for the top posts, a proxy war threatens to tear the party apart.
The intention of Najib, who is also BN chairman, was to avert an internal fight and ensure MIC stayed intact to win back the 1.8 million Malaysian Indian community and to use the party as a vehicle to reach out to Indian voters.
The four – president G Palanivel, deputy president Dr S Subramaniam, vice-presidents M Saravanan and SK Devamany – agreed to the deal, patting each other’s backs after the meeting with Najib, close to midnight.
Like a band of brothers, the four then adjourned to a five-star hotel for a “teh-tarik” where they ironed out details of the deal. It was all fine and dandy at this point.
When news broke of deal, supporters of at least three of the leaders were miffed, telling them that they should not have agreed to the deal and that MIC matters should be handled internally and not by the Umno president.
Till today none of the four have gone public on the contents of the deal. MIC CWC member KP Samy broke the silence, asking Palanivel to reveal details of the deal. He was brushed-off by the party chief a few days later.
However, the gist of the deal was that Dr Subramaniam, who is also Health Minister, will not take on Palanivel for the presidency at the presidential election on Sept 22.
Instead, Palanivel would hand over the top post to Dr Subramaniam in 2016. The four leaders also agreed that the No 2 post, held by Dr Subramaniam, would not be challenged. But these are just sketchy details of the deal.
Although Palanivel has ensured that he kept the MIC crown, the same cannot be said of Dr Subramaniam’s position.
Palanivel became the party’s eighth president on Sept 1 when he won the post uncontested at the presidential election nomination. Dr Subramaniam’s position as party No 2 is, however, not safe.
Anyone can mount a challenge for the No 2 post as a contender will only need one nomination to fight for the deputy presidency. And this contender could be a proxy of any leader, including Palanivel.
A real fear
Now the party, which was supposed to have become stronger after the Najib brokered peace deal, is on the brink of a proxy war that threatens to tear MIC apart.
Palanivel’s camp is already moving to ensure “the president’s men” fill up all important positions in the party. The elections for deputy president, three vice presidents and 23 CWC members – will only be held in November.
The current batch of leaders who fill these positions are all former president S Samy Vellu’s men. The party has not held an election since 2009. Party polls was scheduled for 2012 but postponed due to the 13th general election.
Palanivel’s supporters argue that since the Natural Resources and Environment Minister would be in charge of the party for the next three years, it is only right that “his people” hold important positions in the party.
Already there is a divide on who should helm the party’s Youth chief wing. Both camps have their horses ready for the race.
Palanivel’s camp is backing V Mugilan, the deputy Youth chief, while Dr Subramaniam is pushing for C Sivaraajh, a Youth leader who’s now the special officer to Perak Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir.
This is just the start, say party insiders. Both Palanivel and Dr Subramaniam are expected to come to come out with their “preferred list” respectively, closer to the polls.
The main tussle is expected to be in the election of the three vice-presidents and 23 CWC positions. Both camps would put up a list and this would tear the party apart.
Current vice presidents, Saravanan and Devamany, are expected to feature in Dr Subramaniam’s list, although the third “preferred” candidate is still a mystery.
Palanivel on the other hand may want to retain Saravanan but bring in two other leaders aligned to the president to contest the post.
Saravanan has become a prized asset for both the camps as the 45-year-old Youth and Sports deputy minister has managed to carve a following in the party due to his down to earth approach.
Saravanan has over the past five years managed to steadily increase his support base and is now a main player in MIC politics.
However, soon after the party announced that elections would be held this year, the deputy minister was quick to drop hints that he would go for the deputy president’s post in the polls.
But this was before the peace deal was brokered. He has now scaled down his ambition and is said to be hell-bent on retaining one of the three vice-president seats.
Tight CWC race
On the CWC front, more than 60 candidates are expected to fight it out for the 23 available positions. Both Palanivel and Dr Subramaniam’s camps are expected to come-up with a list on this soon.
While these lists are not expected to be announced in the open, they would be circulated internally. Both leaders are also expected to drop hints on who they want as the vice-presidents.
While Najib has averted a tussle for the top post, he cannot do much to stop contenders from taking on the incumbents for other top positions, especially when the No 1 and No 2 have their preferred list of leaders they want as vice-presidents and CWC members.
This threatens to tear the party apart. The peace deal brokered by Najib to ensure MIC is not embroiled in an internal tussle is only a temporary and this bund built by Prime Minister is just waiting to burst its banks.