By R Mutharasan
COMMENT When MIC president S Samy Vellu recently attended the opening of a textile shop in Klang, the photographs of the event splashed in the Tamil dailies the next day told quite a story.
Most would have given the photographs a glance and moved on. But to the keen eye trained on MIC politics, a picture speaks more than a thousand words.
And one photograph indicated that a new alignment is taking shape, albeit slowly, in MIC — a photograph that showed former vice-president S Sothinathan standing next to Samy Vellu.
Yes, the same Sothinathan ripped to shreds by the president when Sothinathan went against his word and contested the deputy presidency in last year's party elections.
That photograph meant that Samy Vellu and his one-time protege have buried the hatchet and forged a new alliance — or rather a marriage of convenience.
However, the event at the saree shop, owned by a party division chief, was not the first sign that the two have patched up.
At the Bagan Pinang by-election in Negeri Sembilan last year, there was some form of coordination between the campaign ceramah by Samy Vellu and those by Sothinathan, who is a former MP for Teluk Kemang, in which the state constituency lies.
Apart from this, there was also speculation that the president, his son Vell Paari and Sothinathan met in Chennai in December to thrash out their differences.
Recently, the Samy Vellu family-owned Tamil Nesan newspaper highlighted a speech delivered by Sothinathan to a group of Indian students at a local university.
Sothinathan had defended the MIC president, saying: “Samy Vellu should not be blamed for all the problems in the Indian community. He was not the prime minister but only a minister. He did his best for the Indian community.”
In January this year, Sothinathan, to the surprise of many, attended the annual meeting of Maju Institute Education Development (for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008) and voted in favour of the accounts and reports submitted. It sent the signal to Samy Vellu that Sothinathan is once again prepared to work with him on party affairs.
There is also speculation that Samy Vellu might decide to nominate his former blue-eyed boy for a senatorship. One senate appointment set aside for MIC has been vacant since January 2010: so far, no name has been announced. Another senate seat reserved for MIC falls vacant in April.
Appointed secretary-general once again?
The talk is that Sothinathan could be appointed MIC secretary-general again, allowing him to re-establish his network with the branch and divisional leaders. In the past, he had held that post for six years.
At MIED's forthcoming 2009 AGM scheduled for March 31, Sothinathan is expected to be appointed to the board and to play a key role in the administration of the MIC-owned Aimst University.
Bringing Sothinathan into MIED would strengthen Samy Vellu in facing mounting problems with the MIC education arm in the wake of allegations of corruption.
Numerous reports have been filed with the authorities by former MIED chief executive officer P Chitirakala Vasu and former MIC Youth chief SA Vigneswaran.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission conducted several raids on the MIED offices and questioned some key officials.
It must be pointed out that Sothinathan was the first to lodge reports against Chitirakala about missing files and alleged misappropriation of funds.
In the coming legal tussles between Samy Vellu and Chitirakala, Sothinathan’s evidence could alter the course of the case, in the president's favour.
Sothinathan vs Palanivel
On the political front, rebuilding the bridges with Sothinathan also gives Samy Vellu, a trained architect, the upper hand in party matters.
Many in MIC believe that Samy Vellu is priming Sothinathan to be the next deputy president, or to use him to keep the current number two G Palanivel in check.
It is no secret that ties between Samy Vellu and Palanivel have soured since their brief heated exchange during MIED's annual meeting in January, which was widely reported in the Tamil media.
Party insiders believe that Samy Vellu's olive branch to Sothinathan will allow the president to use him as a shield should Palanivel decide to move in for the kill.
Why the choice of Sothinathan and not Dr S Subramaniam, a party vice-president and cabinet minister?
Subramaniam is generally perceived to be the “good guy” of MIC, lacking the political determination and mettle required to take on senior politicians like Palanivel.
His close associates also point out that the medical doctor has often indicated that he does not wish to be the president's stooge.
On the other hand, Sothinathan has a long-running political enmity with Palanivel, one of the main reasons he contested the number two post. He would play the game exactly as Samy Vellu would want him to, and being able to unseat Palanivel would be sweet revenge.
Sothinathan's credibility may take a beating from this sudden change of heart, and his decision to once again work with his mentor — but in politics, realignment of forces is just part of the game.
R Mutharasan is an observer and writer on Malaysian politics and Indian issues. He is the web-master of www.indiantoday.net and has also authored the book ‘Winning Strategies of Anwar Ibrahim’.