DATUK S Ganesan likes to tout two things during his interviews: his past links with some Hindu Rights Action Front (Hindraf) leaders, and his belief that he can bring positive change à la US President Barack Obama.
Ganesan meeting a breakfast crowd on 27 Mar. When asked if he is campaigning, he says, “No, that’s only from 29 Mar.
Today I am introducing myself.”
The Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate for the Bukit Selambau by-election appears confident, even slick, during his interviews and press conferences.
“I can be the Obama of Malaysia,” says Ganesan. “I can bring change here,” he says, with a smile.
In his many interviews, the 49-year old lawyer is quick to point out his past links with some of the current Hindraf leaders when they were students in London in the 1980s. “When I was London MIC deputy treasurer, (Kota Alam Shah, Selangor, state assemblyperson) M Manoharan was the secretary,” he says. “We were coursemates.”
But, he says, the difference between him and his former compatriots lies in the question of political approach. The Obama quip, therefore, is part of his larger rhetoric — that the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government in Kedah has failed to deliver any positive changes to the people.
“It’s true, during the March 2008 general election, there was widespread anti-BN sentiment,” he concedes. But, he says, confidence in the BN has since been restored. He says many voters have told him they regretted voting for V Arumugam, the independent candidate who won the seat in 2008, joined PKR, and then resigned as assemblyperson in February.
And this is where the former Lunas state assemblyperson (2004-2008) then marshals his arguments to back his candidacy. He is a local boy, born and brought up in an estate in Bukit Selambau. He went to a Tamil-medium primary school here. His law practice is now based in Bukit Selambau. His wife speaks fluent Hokkien, the dialect predominantly spoken by Chinese Malaysians in Kedah.
“And I’m friendly by nature,” he says.
And so, he sees the current by-election in Bukit Selambau as his destiny. “I never thought it would happen, and I never thought I’d be fielded,” he says.
But Ganesan’s campaign continues to be dogged by speculation that Indian Malaysians here will still vote against him because of one overwhelming factor — MIC president Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu’s colossal unpopularity.
It all adds up
It is the night of 30 March, and there is a cultural event here at Taman Desa Budiman’s Sri Kaliamman Temple. Ganesan is scheduled to appear with Samy Vellu at any moment. And yet the night of song and dance has only attracted a crowd of 60 to 70 residents out of the potential hundreds of Indian Malaysians residing here.
MIC deputy president Datuk G Palanivel, who has showed up before Ganesan, does not attempt to cover up the low attendance.
“Small crowds are good, too. Sometimes enthusiasm from big crowds fizzles out very quickly,” he says.
He tells The Nut Graph, “We will meet crowds from between a few hundred to a few thousand each day, so no matter how small the crowds, these numbers eventually add up.”
When Ganesan finally shows up, a small but loud group of BN-flag-waving Indian Malaysian youths crowds him, shouting, “Hidup Barisan!” Their energy is manic, and the rest of the crowd watches in amusement. The loudest chants of “Hidup Barisan” come from the flag-waving youths, not the crowd at large.
Part of the night’s performances
Ganesan comes, greets the crowd, makes a short speech, and goes. By 11pm, Samy Vellu has not showed up. The crowd doesn’t really care. They’ve come to watch the largely entertaining, albeit amateur, performances. The MIC president is in some other part of town, meeting Chinese Malaysian constituents.
It is still early days, however, during the campaigning period and anything can happen. The fact that Ganesan and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s S Manikumar have to also contend with 13 independent candidates suggests that there are still many layers to be peeled before political sentiments in this constituency become clearer.
The Nut Graph spoke to Ganesan exclusively over the phone to get his response on some obvious, but necessary, questions.
TNG: Some quarters are saying that a split Indian vote here would actually be more damaging to you as an MIC candidate than it would be to Manikumar. What do you think?
Ganesan: I don’t think this is going to be an issue, because we have our core, strong supporters who have been regularly supporting the BN. The issue now is really the fence-sitters. It is these fence-sitters who swung the vote in March 2008 and delivered victory to Arumugam. I am confident this time that we can pull the support of these fence-sitters.
Small crowd in attendance at MIC’s function
What is your assessment of the BN election machinery this time? Are you getting the support you need from the component parties?
I’m comparing Bukit Selambau with past by-elections in Teluk Kemang and Ijok where MIC candidates were fielded. I myself was in Ijok during the by-election there.
This time, the component parties are all better prepared. Every party — Umno, MCA, MIC, Gerakan, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) — everyone is behind me. The component party spirit of the BN is very much there this time.
One of the independent candidates, L Sarala, is actually a former Kedah PPP wanita leader. Her campaign manager, MG Raja, told The Nut Graph that the Kedah BN in the past made the mistake of giving so many seats to the MIC. He says the MIC representatives — including you — never actually did anything to serve the people. Do you want to respond to this?
How does he know this? They are from PPP Jerai, not Merbok, not Bukit Selambau, and not even Lunas. They do not have the facts to support these claims.
The fact is, Sarala has a lot of work to do. She does not have any machinery on her side, unlike us. The federal government is still under the BN, and any development that needs to be brought here would require the support of the BN machinery.
How is she, or any of the other independent candidates, going to solve her constituents’ problems without any machinery to support her, without backing from anywhere? How are they going to serve the people? You see, serving people is of the utmost importance, not standing for elections.
Many say Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu continues to be very unpopular among the Indian Malaysian community. And so, Indian Malaysians here might vote against you because they don’t like Samy Vellu.
I don’t know where these people are getting all this. People have been begging for Samy Vellu to come to their functions. Everywhere I go, people are begging me, “Please call Samy Vellu to come with you to our functions.”
If they didn’t want him here, then I don’t think they would be so welcoming and accepting of him.
See, voters have matured now. They just want someone to represent them. And you see, I represent the BN, of which MIC is just a component party.
What does the Pakatan Rakyat have? The candidate is contesting under the PKR banner. How can PAS or DAP support him?
We, on the other hand, have a common agreement and common machinery. The fact that the BN has given this seat to the MIC means that mutual respect among the component parties is alive in the BN.