Sixth term Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) Vice-President Datuk M Saravanan has been in the news frequently since speculation arose earlier this year that he was eyeing the party’s top posts following the Registrar of Societies decision to cancel the 2013 party election results.
From receiving death threats to stirring media controversy being pictured with a concealed weapon, Datuk M Saravanan is not a man afraid of confrontation.
A viral photo had circulated on Facebook in January this year showing the MIC deputy minister carrying a gun in his waistband to which he had publicly stated that he is licensed to carry the weapon.
This comes a few days after he received a death threat during a ‘tell-all’ press conference on January 28 where he claimed MIC president G Palanivel had violated the party constitution in replacing him as state chairman, which he blamed as the catalyst that plunged the party into turmoil.
His upfront approach in addressing tricky political issues has earned him the respect and support of many of his party members.
Saravanan, who has been MIC vice-president since 2009 has popular grassroot support to vie for the party deputy president post with the Penang MIC publicly stating their support for him in September, even before he officially announced his candidacy.
The fight for the MIC deputy president post has gained the most media spotlight given the heavyweight contenders vying for the post.
Considered a seasoned party veteran and a familiar face in the Indian political scene, the Deputy Youth and Sports Minister is seen as a leading contender by political pundits and among the Indian community.
He even has the support of the former president of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who famously endorsed Saravanan as “a gift to the Malaysian Indian Community” in a televised speech earlier.
However his opponent is equally well-qualified in the form of the current Perak State Assembly Speaker, Datuk Seri S K Devamany who had highlighted his strong position by virtue of him polling the second highest votes after current party president Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam during the party’s 2009 elections, in view of the Registrar of Societies decision to cancel the 2013 election results due to irregularities.
On the eve of the party’s 68th Annual General Meeting on November 6 which will be officiated by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in Serdang tomorrow, Malaysian Digest managed to sit down for a chat with Saravanan during the eleventh hour of his busy election campaign trail.
As all of us are aware of the turmoil that has engulfed MIC, many Indians have lost their trust in the party. How are you going to regain their trust?
Saravanan: MIC have been the representative of the community for decades, nevertheless, lately there were some issues as a result of poor leadership. But now the situation is much better with Datuk Subramaniam as the president.
Definitely we can overcome this because perceptions can be changed, there is no such thing as permanent perception as it can be changed by the services we offer the community.
MIC is not only a political party, it is more community-oriented. We were initially facing problems as the government was helping us at large but it did not come with the support system, it is not because of MIC itself.
During Samy Velu’s leadership, he did bring these issues to the government, back then ruled by Tun Mahathir, followed by Pak Lah but the assistance was not sufficient and there were no holistic support from the programmes.
Ever since the government was helmed by our current prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, a lot of things have been done for the Indian community in areas like temples, Tamil schools and economic empowerment with job and business opportunities.
Sadly, when the government started to give more assistance, we were facing an internal leadership crisis within MIC. Therefore we were unable to cope with the rapid development pace. The past five years the government and government agencies have been helping us a lot.
As Datuk Subramaniam is in place as the president, we’ve have actually been working as a team for the past two years to do as much as we can for the community.
It is not about just stating a list of what I am going to do if I win, it is the team that works together towards changes that the community wants to see and be able to accept MIC as their representative to voice out their needs.
Looking back, what has been the highlights of your six terms as a vice-president of MIC?
Saravanan: As the whole Malaysia is aware of, MIC went through a major crisis, even after that we’re able to stand strong because of our cordial relationship with the members, guiding, leading and motivating them to hold on to the spirit to work as a team.
I’ve been continuously travelling around the country to communicate the importance of MIC to the Indian community to keep the party intact despite many of them disappearing after election.
Apart from that, I’ve created the Malaysian Indian Football Association (MIFA).
Years back it was very rare to find an Indian in the team, but now, I have played a significant role to make sure a team of Indian footballers are trained to play for the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).
Under NAAM (New Affirmative Action Movement), we have also created almost 3000 young entrepreneurs and provided skills training for about 1000 single mothers.
NAAM, which was launched in November 2013, aims to empower the economic status of 100,000 Indian youths in a four years time frame (2013-2017).
Saravanan had previously spoken to Malaysian Digest about his efforts to empower Indian youth in at risk communities and those in the lower income groups through NAAM in another feature article which you can refer to here.
Even during the crisis, the party was almost deregistered but I stood still with Datuk Subramaniam to make sure the party is saved.
What are you planning to achieve if you’re elected as the next deputy president of MIC?
Saravanan: Definitely much more than what I’m doing now.
Since the government is now ready to help the party, we need proper planning to enrich the community.
We have around 881 000 youths from the age of 15 – 40, basically almost 50% of the Indian population.
So we need someone to engage with them and hold them close to the party.
So I am ready to deliver that, being a mediator or bridge between the party and youths. Any party that fails to attract youngsters will not sustain long.
What are the major issues faced by the Indian community and how are you going to help them overcome it?
Saravanan: The major problem affecting the Indian community is the well-being of those under B40, below 40% with a mean monthly household income of RM2,537.
As the country is moving towards a high-income nation, it will be difficult for the B40 group to cope with the cost of living.
10 years back, the B40 group survived by doing odd jobs and manual labour but unfortunately all this have been taken over by foreign workers. So those who are unable to continue their studies, they are suffering because there is no job opportunities and the cost of living is high.
With this in mind, I’ve started programs on skills training for them under oil & gas, agriculture, mechatronics and so on. This should be able to tackle the problems faced by the B40.
I think if this issue is solved, then everything will fall in place as the other issues like education – Tamil schools are taken care and the quota for Indians to enter public universities is increased.
Looking at job opportunities – the current party president is doing a good job lobbying for placement of Indians in the government sector.
Your view on the 2016 Budget and how do you think it will impact the Indian community?
Saravanan: For sure it is not going to solve the entire community’s problem, but the bottom line is, budget 2016 will reduce the burden of the community.
As there is economic crisis affecting many nations around the world combined with the high cost of living, we’re all doing our best to cope with the current turmoil.
So, all we need is a plan to reduce the burden as much as possible and we can see that in the 2016 budget as every aspect is taken into consideration and that is why there is not much real objection to it.
Saravanan who has a motto of life which says “Success is the best revenge”, enthusiastically expressed his passion and hard-work to build the right team to be the voice of the entire Indian community and fulfil their needs.
Tomorrow, about 1,500 MIC delegates will decide on the key positions of the party during the party’s 68th AGM to be held at the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park in Serdang.
Besides the keen battle for the party no. 2 post which fell vacant after Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam moved up the rank to replace Datuk Seri G. Palanivel as party president, there will also be a four-cornered fight for the post of three vice-presidents, from former MIC Youth chiefs Datuk T. Mohan, Datuk S.A. Vigneswaran, MIC Information chief Datuk V.S. Mogan and former treasurer-general Datuk Jaspal Singh.
There are also 44 candidates vying for the 23 central working committee (CWC) members.
Among the candidates for the CWC are incumbent P. Kamalanathan, former president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu’s son Datuk Seri S. Vell Paari and secretary-general A. Sakthivel.
Hopefully, may the best man win the position for us to witness the change that we expect to see.