THE late Datuk Dr S Vijayaratnam was a man who touched many hearts. The Gerakan vice-president was known to be a down-to-earth leader who provided guidance to the grassroots.
(Pic courtesy of Gerakan)To his friends outside the party, the 58-year-old will be remembered as someone who was always helpful and reliable. But to reporters, Vijayaratnam was someone special: he was a jovial and friendly politician who always made himself available to the press corps when they needed feedback on current issues.
Which is why his death on 3 Nov shocked many, including yours truly. I was a rookie reporter covering Parliament when I first met Vijayaratnam in 2006. At the time, he was a senator and parliamentary secretary for the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.
Vijayaratnam was one of the first few executive members I made friends with. He immediately struck me as a friendly politician as he was always smiling. The soft-spoken doctor was not known to have had any tiffs with backbenchers or opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) when replying to questions about his ministry
Politics in his blood
Vijayaratnam hailed from a family of politicians. His father, Dr S Seeveratnam, was DAP MP for Seremban Barat for a term in 1969, while his uncle S Rajaratnam was the former Singapore deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
He entered politics in 1985 when he joined Gerakan, a party whose multiracial approach and principles appealed to him. He rose up the ranks in the party, winning the vice-presidency in 1999. He was recently re-elected for a fourth term during the Gerakan party elections on 11 Oct 2008.
Vijayaratnam, who was into his second term as senator having first been appointed in 2002, had served as parliamentary secretary for the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities for four years until the 8 March general election.
He was one of the more hardworking parliamentary secretaries, always attending Parliament proceedings and hardly ever leaving early for his lunch break.
Although he was not one of those who often called for press conferences in Parliament, he was a familiar face among reporters stationed there. Vijayaratnam always took the effort to greet and talk to reporters whenever he walked through the Parliament lobby. If he was door-stopped for comments about an issue, the patient doctor was not one to avoid journalists.
Once, I wanted to write a story about the tobacco industry in Malaysia, and asked him for an exclusive interview. He immediately agreed, and spent almost an hour patiently explaining the issue to me. He even elaborated on the progress of the replacement crop programme, Kenaf, and the ministry’s plan to encourage farmers to switch to this crop.
During one of our chats, he said he loved travelling and did not mind driving back to Seremban every day after Parliament. “After all, it is only a 45-minute drive,” he said.
The three new Gerakan vice-presidents (from left) Huang Cheng
Guan, Mah Siew Keong and Vijayaratnam Vijayaratnam was not one of those politicians who only wanted to build relationships with reporters for the sake of publicity. I realised this when I met him at the Gerakan headquarters in Cheras during one of the party’s events. I had not seen him in a while, but he remembered me and asked me how I was.
A sense of humour
Besides being friendly, Vijayaratnam will definitely be remembered for his great sense of humour.
I once casually asked him how he was doing, and he laughingly replied out loud: “Good! My ministry’s making money, palm oil prices are increasing!”
To reporter V Vasudevan from the New Straits Times, Vijayaratnam “had a wicked sense of humour.”
“We chatted a lot in the lobby. He complained about my teetotaller ways, and we often joked about the Ceylonese community, which we both are from,” recalls Vasudevan, who has been covering Parliament for a decade.
“He was a gregarious fellow. He did what he could for the media. [He was a] good man. Sad ending, though.”
Vijayaratnam, who died of multiple head injuries after falling from the third floor of his shop lot in Seremban, is survived by his wife T Anucia and four children. He will always be cherished in the thoughts of his family, party members, friends and reporters.