The longest serving MIC President tried to help all, with or without gov’t, but failed ‘spectacularly’
One of my last stories on Tun Samy Vellu was about his intention to resign as MIC President not long after GE12 on 8 Mar 2008. It was exclusive!
We were on the phone when he suddenly asked, “Do you think that I should quit?”
He probably sensed that he had lost the moral high ground and was becoming a national embarrassment in his own way. The tables had been turned and there was no reason that anyone should listen to him.
I replied: “It’s perhaps time that you quit. Don’t make it a long goodbye like in Mahathir’s case. Keep all the socio-economic activities and educational initiatives that you started as MIC President. Don’t leave them with the party. They clutter the politics.”
In a moment of true confession, he claimed that the various activities and initiatives did not belong to MIC. I mentioned that in the Malaysiakini story on his intended resignation.
It was Samy who told the media after losing Sungai Siput parliamentary seat on 8 Mar 2008, that he had been “thwarted in his efforts by the civil service”. Interestingly, based on personal testimonies, it was Samy and Daim Zainuddin who were the architects of the Privatisation and Malaysia Incorporated policies.
Samy may have been party to illegalities when Mahathir announced several initiatives expressed in slogan-mongering on huge billboards such as “Clean, Efficient and Trustworthy Government”, “Leadership By Example”, “Buy British Last”, “Look East Policy”, Continuation of the New Economic Policy (1970 to 1990), Bangsa Malaysia and Vision 2020.
Three days before GE12, Mahathir Mohamad told the media, “In all his years in the cabinet, Samy Vellu never opened his mouth and mentioned the word Indian”. It was Mahathir, to cite an example, who withdrew the recognition of medical degrees awarded by the Crimea State Medical University (CSMU), formerly in Ukraine, now in Russia. Ninety per cent of the Malaysian students in CSMU were Indians.
The MIC chief told the media, “I don’t want to say anything. Mahathir is a great man. He will always be my leader.”
Interestingly, Samy thrived on bad news and probably never corrected the media on anything. No one can remember him suing anyone for defamation. Mahathir, until he decided to sue Umno President Zahid Hamidi recently, was noted for taking the same approach.
Samy called in great alarm after Malaysiakini carried the resignation story. He wanted it withdrawn. “The phone has been ringing off the hook,” he said. “People are abusing me because the activities and initiatives won’t be with the party.”
I advised him that Malaysiakini would not withdraw the story. If there were inaccuracies, I said, the online news portal would run a correction below the story.
Malaysiakini Editor-in-Chief Steven Gan gave Samy and his press secretary the same message.
Shortly thereafter, Samy may have been involved in the ouster of G. Palanivel, his successor. Palanivel demanded publicly that Samy hand over all the socio-economic activities and educational initiatives to the party.
It was a grave strategic error when MIC became involved in so many ventures, outside politics, and degenerated into a welfare body. It should not be doing the government’s work. Indians, based on personal testimonies, were told to take up their complaints with MIC whenever they approached the government for assistance.
There are many jokes about Samy making the rounds. However, he was unique for a Tamil, Hindu and Indian.
He was unusually honest, punctual, brimming with confidence, and had incredible energy. I don’t know about the politics. I believe, to the best of my knowledge, that the longest-serving MIC President did try to help all, with or without government, but failed “spectacularly”.
After Samy became MIC President, I can still remember the number of times that we met. I may still have fingers to spare.
There was a breakfast meeting at the Holiday Inn in Kuching, a chance meeting at KL Plaza after he had scalp surgery in Australia, followed by an open house for Deepavali, twice at his office, a brief encounter at the Shangri La Tanjung Resort in Kota Kinabalu and at the VIP Lounge of the Airport — KKIA — and Magellan Sutera Harbour Resort in KK.
It was at Shangri La that I raised the issue of Indians in Malaya not having even one ethnic seat in any legislature. In law, that was tantamount to disenfranchisement. I suggested that the number of Indian voters in seats, whether parliamentary or state, be capped at 20 per cent. At that time, there were many seats with 40 per cent Indian voters. “40 per cent is a waste of votes,” I argued. “20 per cent is enough to make Indian the kingmakers in as many seats as possible.”
Samy saw the light. “The time has come for the idea,” he said. “We will work on it.”
It was a double-edged sword based on issues and no longer dictated by race, language and religion. If the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition did not adhere to its concept — power sharing and not majoritarian decision-making — the Opposition would benefit.
We know about Samy’s last moments where his son, Vell Paari, gave some glimpses and revealed snippets.
We don’t know the cause of death. The doctor-patient relationship, confidential under the Hippocratic Oath, may not include cause of death. The cause of death remains privileged communication between the doctor and the patient’s family. They have not revealed anything.
Conflicting reports say that post-mortem or autopsy results may not reveal the cause of death but only toxicity (poisoning) levels in the body. Toxicity beyond a certain level, deemed unsafe, can cause death. It’s known that constipation, health supplements — read multivitamins and mineral salts — taken over 15 years, and herbal preparations can all increase toxicity and cause death. The truth is stranger than fiction.
Medical literature shows that nocturnal deaths, usually around 3 am, are common. The deceased might wake up at around that time to take a leak. Life is fragile. One minute here, the next minute they are gone.
Of course, there may be contributory causes, secondary, like fibrosis (hardening of cells) of the lungs or cardiac muscles. It was reported at one time that Samy used to visit temples in India, seeking a cure for his asthmatic condition. If Samy went peacefully, he could not have had an asthmatic attack.
If Samy, 86 years old on Mar 8 this year, had not gone back to bed at around 3.15 am or 3.20 am, probably he would still be around. Samy, who skipped office for three days, reported feeling tired the night before at 10 pm. Therein might lie problems with cardiac issues. They are incurable but a pacemaker might help if there’s no fibrosis. I stand corrected. It appears that his demise was confirmed after 6 am. The media reports said 7 am and even 7.30 am.
The former MIC President woke up at around 2.45 am on Thurs 15 Sept 2020 to visit the gents. It’s known that many people go if they suddenly wake up from bed or suddenly lie down. The blood pressure drops, the oxygen level comes down and deprives the brain, and the pulse rate may be at a bare minimum. Doctors advise turning to one side slowly, rising up gradually after a few minutes and sitting on the bed for a while. Then, get up on the feet again but slowly, to avoid triggering low blood pressure. The advice remains the same for getting back to bed. R.I.P. Samy Vellu.
The last time that I met the ex-MIC President was also by chance as usual, at the entrance of Mid-Valley in Kuala Lumpur from the Gardens side. It was just after GE14 on Wed 9 May 2018. He recognised me immediately although our chance encounters over the years were few and far between. After that chance encounter, to digress a little, I had another chance encounter. Lim Kok Wing, LimKokWing University of Creative Technology Founder, was outside the Robinsons Store. I hadn’t seen him since the Wings Creative days. LKW said, “Come write for us” and dashed off. I told him about running into Samy. “Oh Tun,” he said. “How is he?”
Samy felt reassured when I said that Prime Minister Mahathir would probably allow him to remain as Malaysia’s Special Envoy on Infrastructure to India and South Asia for at least six months if not longer. The PM was noted for being loyal if those he knew stayed true to him.
Mahathir had told other envoys, politically appointed by the previous BN government, to resign within two weeks.
Bernard Dompok for example, Ambassador to the Vatican, appealed against the directive. He wanted to remain in his post for much longer “as he had some unfinished work with the Vatican”. Mahathir, taking offence, demanded that Dompok step down immediately. The PM, unlike Samy who had an elephant’s memory, didn’t appear to remember that Dompok had helped to bring down the Pairin government in 1994.
It’s said that a man’s life is over when he can’t remember. Mahathir was one of those forgetful persons in the nation’s politics but yet somehow manages to cling on for dear life. It’s true that he suffers from periodic bouts of amnesia driven by delusions and paranoia. Luckily, he could fall back on Samy and Daim Zainuddin on politics and the economy. Mahathir was only close to the duo. Mustapha Harun in Sabah — Governor and later Chief Minister — confided that Mahathir has no friends “because he’s not a human being”.
Apparently, as related by Samy, he gained Mahathir’s confidence by being among the very few people who visited him when he was detained, for a time after 13 May 1969, under the draconian Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) which provided for incarceration without trial. Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak repealed the ISA in 2011.
Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam publicly complained in 1986 that Samy was more powerful than him. Samy reportedly told him that he had no power as DPM and literally advised him to take a hike. Musa resigned as DPM and Umno Deputy President. He was persuaded by the Umno Supreme Council to return as Deputy President.
It was Asean Review Publisher, Khairuddin, who suggested that I interview newly-elected MIC Deputy President Samy. At that time, in 1977, the English language media almost never reported on local Indian politics except for election results. We may have been the first to cover local Indian politics beyond election results. The New Straits Times soon followed. I didn’t know Samy but soon gathered some information from Tamil journalists and the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) — Printer V. Krishnan formerly of the Tamil Murasu and Kanniah Arumugam who was the Press Officer at NUPW. He contributes to the Tamil Press.
We met at Samy’s office at Wong Kin Men Associates, an architectural practice, in Wisma Central, along Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur. The walls were plastered with perspectives of temples. Samy was in the thick of things, trying to wrest control of temples in Malaya. The temples were a rich source of political donations.
Apparently, the interview in Asean Review upset MIC President V. Manickavasagam. Samy gave the details over lunch at the Bangles, along Jalan T.A.R. in Kuala Lumpur. The Bangles was owned by the family of the late Athi Nahappan, who was Samy’s predecessor as MIC Deputy President. Samy said that he doesn’t plan to fight back. “Manicka does not have much time left,” whispered Samy.
After Manicka’s passage, Samy confirmed rumours that the MIC Chief had gone “while doing it with his mistress, his former secretary”. There were also rumours, probably true, that Manicka had converted. It’s said that we should not talk ill of the dead. Yet, here we are, confirming open secrets for the sake of posterity. — NMH
About the writer: Longtime Borneo watcher Joe Fernandez keeps a keen eye on Malaysia as a legal scholar (jurist). He was formerly Chief Editor of Sabah Times. He is not to be mistaken for a namesake previously with Daily Express. References to his blog articles can be found here.
The points expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the NMH.