Finally, Dr M abandons Samy Vellu

Opinion  |  Terence Netto
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Pakatan Harapan supremo Dr Mahathir Mohamad is known to have a long memory for slights – some just stick in his craw – as for the observe – acts of ingratiation, especially gratuitous ones.

One of the latter kind is the letter of solicitude S Samy Vellu wrote Mahathir after the latter was sacked from Umno for penning a missive to Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, bitterly indicting him for neglect of the Malays.

The letter to Tunku was sent in the aftermath of the May 13, 1969 race riots which saw the founding PM reeling from the incineration of his hopes of leaving a peaceful legacy and under pressure from Umno's Young Turks to hand power over to his deputy, Abdul Razak Hussain.

It was a tumultuous time for the country and the Tunku.

Mahathir's letter was seen as a twisting of the knife in the Tunku's back that the riots and its implied indictment of the Tunku's stewardship of the country had wrought.

In his letter of sympathy, Samy said he nursed kindred sympathy for the way Mahathir must be feeling about the thwarting of his ambitions to help the Malays progress because of his expulsion from Umno, the party of Malay advancement.

He said he was no stranger to the frustration because of MIC president V Manicakavasagam's perceived obstruction of Samy's potential within MIC for advancing the cause of Indian Malaysians.

Further, Samy in his letter encouraged Mahathir to persist in his struggle. He said he was confident the Umno rebel would one day succeed in his goals.

As epistolary messages go, this one must have occupied a special niche in Mahathir's catalogue of memorable deeds, presumably to be recompensed when time and opportunity availed.

When Mahathir became PM in July 1981, Samy was already works minister but not yet the effervescent presence in the ministry and in the MIC that he would become shortly after Mahathir's ascent to the top post in the country.

The highways and other big-ticket transport infrastructure during Mahathir's 23-year tenure as PM enabled Samy to vault to a high standing in the national political landscape.

The praises that Samy heaped on Mahathir on Samy's 50th birthday celebration (a 'do' that was held more than a year after the works minister had turned 50 in 1986) reflected the way the younger man regarded the older one.

The celebration was held shortly after Mahathir narrowly beat back Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah's challenge for the Umno presidency in April 1987.

“Leader of leaders” and “King of kings” were some of the terms that Samy lavished on Mahathir – hyperbolic but not exactly fawning descriptions, given the way Mahathir had pulled off an improbable win from the jaws of...

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