The late VT Sambanthan was last elected as the president of MIC in December 1968 and his term of office lapsed on Dec 31, 1970. Unfortunately, party elections could not be held before December 1970 owing to the state of emergency that was declared after the May 13 riots.
When parliamentary rule was reinstated Feb 28,1971, a postmortem was conducted on the poor performance by the Alliance Party in the 1969 general elections. As a result the MCA and MIC were criticised for their unwillingness to change. Consequently, many of the MIC leaders, especially those in Selangor, began to agitate for a change in the national leadership of MIC.
Hence, NS Maniam, S Samy Vellu, S Govindaraj, Gurdial Singh and others wanted Athi Nahappan to contest the forthcoming election for the post of president of MIC. However, Athi Nahappan suggested that V Manickavasagam would be a better candidate but promised to contest if Manickavasagam refused to stand.
Athi Nahappan then led all his supporters to see Manickavasagam and urged Manickavasagam to contest the election. Athi Nahappan told Manickavasagam that he would contest the election if Manickavasagam refused to do so. After some initial reluctance, Manickavasagam finally agreed to contest the election.
On May 18, 1971, nominations were held for the post of president of MIC and there were five nominations initially. However, three of them including Athi Nahappan withdrew their nominations to allow Sambanthan and Manickavasagam to fight it out.
Soon thereafter, the MIC CWC met on Aug 12, 1971 to fix the polling date for the election. On this historic occasion, Sambanthan asked the CWC to postpone the polling date for six months and promised to withdraw his nomination to enable Manickavasagam to be declared as president without a contest. Manickavasagam vehemently opposed this proposal and stated that Sambanthan could not be trusted.
However, NTS Arumugam Pillai, Ponnusamy Pillai, KK Nair, and others assured that they would ensure Sambanthan honoured his promise. Finally, after prolonged arguments, a comprise was reached and the CWC postponed the polling date as requested by Sambanthan.
In the meantime, Sambanthan induced the chairperson of the Batu Caves Branch, V Subramaniam to convene an extraordinary general meeting of the branch congress to suspend Samy Vellu and V Govindarajoo from the Batu Caves branch. Thereupon,.Govindarajoo and Samy Vellu filed KL High Court Civil Suit No. 118 of 1972 and obtained an injunction on Feb 19, 1972 to restrain Subramaniam from proceeding with the meeting.
Apart from attempting to remove Samy Vellu, Sambanthan completely failed to honour his promise to withdraw his nomination in six month’s time. He instead sought the assistance of the then prime minister, Razak, and pleaded with him to intervene in the matter. Sambanthan complained to Razak that Manickavasagam was the one pressuring him to leave. When Manickavasagam explained to the PM that the promise was made at the CWC meeting held on Aug 12, 1971, Razak requested the CWC members to meet him at his house on March 15, 1972.
At the said meeting, Razak persuaded the CWC members to grant a further extension of time until June 1973 and assured the CWC members that he would personally ensure that Sambanthan would withdraw his nomination in June 1973. Thus, the crisis was finally resolved by the goodwill of Razak in his capacity as the president of the Alliance Party.
Under the circumstances, at no time did Samy Vellu demand the resignation of Sambanthan as alleged by S Murugesan and others. In any case, there was no need to call for the resignation of Sambanthan as he was merely a candidate and a caretaker entrusted with the task of preserving the status quo until a new MIC president was duly elected. Furthermore, when Sambanthan tried to increase his majority in the CWC by appointing SV Veloo of Negeri Sembilan and R Govindasamy of Selangor as additional members of the CWC, another CWC meeting was held on Match 18, 1972.
At this meeting, Manickavasagam and his faction challenged his right to appoint and Athi Nahappan said, ‘then let us have the presidential election’. After lengthy arguments, another compromise was reached on that day whereby two additional members, namely SOK Ubaidullah and Nadeson Chettiar were appointed as CWC members to maintain the status quo.
On that day, Sambanthan and Manickavasagam promised to work together and Manickavasagam was appointed as chairperson of the organisation committee with powers over membership matters.
Samy Vellu together Athi Nahappan, NS Maniam, S Govindaraj and others merely supported the candidature of Manickavasagam and, of course, Samy Vellu played a leading role in the election campaign. He was one of the outstanding speakers during the campaign.
It is public knowledge that apart from the fact that Umno expelled Dr Mahathir Mohamad on July 12, 1969 for demanding the resignation of Tunku and for his open opposition to Tunku, on Sept 2, 1969 the National Operations Council banned any demonstration or utterance calling for the resignation of Tunku.
In fact, a thousand-strong demonstration at the Universiti Malaya had to be tear-gassed by the riot police. The policy was ‘no coup in the country and no coup in the party’.