It’s an old story, and it’s a new story. Two brothers, one an opposition man to the last and one who made the decision to join hands and work with the government. How will it unfold?
THERE’S this story of two Malaysian Indian brothers in politics. Both are lawyers. One is a fierce orator, a powerful leader of men – and an opposition man to the bitter end.
The other is the soft-spoken one, the planner who joins Barisan Nasional, is vilified for it, becomes a senator, holds public office, and gets bestowed with a Datuk Seri title as well.
Am I peering into the future? No, it’s actually a tale from the past.
It’s the tale of the Seenivasagam brothers – Sri Padhmaraja and Darma Raja, more popularly known simply as SP and DR.
DR was the younger brother but he was the leader of the Perak Progressive Party which became what is now the People Progressive Party (PPP).
The older SP was the soft-spoken one. Together, they founded the PPP.
DR was every inch the opposition man, marshalling the forces with his fiery oratory. He is known even to have taken on first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman in a name-calling match.
A week or so after their quarrel, DR and the Tunku, it is said, were spotted having a drink and joking with each other. Such was the gentlemanly nature of politics then.
Sadly, DR died on March 15, 1969, two weeks before parliament was dissolved.
The older brother then led PPP and its allies to their success in the 1969 polls. He was the first – and only – elected president of the Ipoh Municipal Council, now the Ipoh City Hall.
Even as an opposition leader, SP was given a Datukship in 1964.
He was made a senator in 1975 and was conferred his Datuk Seri title in 1972. He also took PPP into the Barisan Nasional before the 1974 general election.
It is said he was heartbroken by the events after the 1969 elections and did not want a repeat of such bloodshed, so he decided to join Tun Razak Hussein’s coalition.
Just 10 days short of the 44th anniversary of DR’s death, the 13th general election was called in Malaysia.
And the tale seems to repeat itself. Another electoral pact has handed the ruling coalition its worst result since Independence.
There are again two Malaysian Indians – the Ponnusamy brothers – in the news. Both are lawyers, too. And they are on the opposite sides of the political divide.
I first heard Uthayakumar speak in Kulim during Deepavali of 2007. He was rallying the troops for the huge Hindraf march, an event that probably sparked great political change in the country.
He was a fierce orator, listing out a litany of woes that he said the Indian community faced. He wanted them to come out in numbers and fight for their rights. The hall was packed. And the crowd cheered even as sombre-faced policemen looked on.
He led the march on Nov 25, 2007. Waythamoorthy was there. And so was I, as a journalist covering the event.
I met Waythamoorthy just before the elections, He was on his hunger fast in a small village, Kampung Benggali, on the outskirts of Rawang. The village was little more than a handful of houses and at least two temples.
Waythamoorthy seemed so frail in his dhoti, and had difficulty walking, even speaking. I asked him why he was carrying out his fast miles from anywhere.
A place like Klang, or Brickfields, I felt, would bring the media circus to his couch and the politicians would come running.
He pointed to the run-down houses around him. Many were made of corrugated iron and some were leaning over.
“It’s these people who need my help. So I am holding my protest among my people,” he said. In a strange way, that made sense.
But his critics did not believe him. On the same day, one critic pointed to an SMS Waythamoorthy had sent out to his supporters.
It called for a boycott of DAP and PKR ceramah but made no mention of Barisan or even PAS. That, claimed the critic, meant he was ready to join Barisan.
Well, he did not join Barisan, technically. But he signed a pact with the coalition and has been embraced by the Government. Sadly, he dropped a line about custodial deaths in his pact. And it is custodial deaths that have come back to bite him.
On June 5, Waythamoorthy, the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Dept was sworn in as senator.
Hours later, big brother Uthayakumar, the opposition man, was sent to the Kajang Prison for the letter he wrote before that fateful march of 2007.
Two brothers, one march, two different journeys.
How will these two brothers change the face of Malaysian politics? Or will they even make a mark?
DORAIRAJ NADASON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org hopes Senator Waythamoorthy remembers the village in Rawang and the people who live there. And that he spares a thought for his big brother. The STAR Online Opinion 14/06/2013