By Baradan Kuppusamy and G. Manimaran
KUALA LUMPUR, April 13 — The Umno campaign to install V. Mugilan in place of Datuk G. Palanivel as the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate for the Hulu Selangor by-election has hit a raw nerve with the MIC, whose grassroots members are now “going-slow” on the campaign in protest.Top MIC leaders are also beginning to react, not just by lashing out at Mugilan but also at his backers in Umno and BN.
The Malaysian Insider understands that MIC president, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, spoke out for his deputy, Palanivel, at a BN management committee meeting yesterday.
There, Samy Vellu lashed out at BN leaders who argued for Mugilan.
Palanivel had been nominated by Samy Vellu to be BN’s candidate for the by-election, but Mugilan’s name has surfaced in recent days as a replacement because the MIC No. 2 was apparently unpopular with Umno and voters in the constituency.
Mugilan had told The Malaysian Insider on Sunday that he was not behind the speculation that he would be chosen as BN’s candidate.
“I have already denied it... what more can I do?” Mugilan said.However, top MIC leaders, who were huddled in several meetings yesterday and today, were not convinced by Mugilan’s denial.
It is understood the senior party leadership was also blaming Umno Hulu Selangor divisional leaders for orchestrating the anti-Palanivel movement, by feeding the media and blogs with such speculation.
MIC sources say the party machinery in Hulu Selangor that has been on overdrive since PKR incumbent Datuk Zainal Abdin Ahmad died of cancer last month, has slowed down dramatically because of the Mugilan-Palanivel issue.
“We are going slow and cancelling many functions. We want to see how they are going to get the Indian voters without our support. We are very unhappy... that they are telling us what to do, who is our candidate,” said one MIC grassroots leader on condition of anonymity.
“If Palanivel is not selected, we will boycott the election,” said another MIC grassroots campaigner.
An MIC central working committee member, who went to Bukit Beruntong yesterday to take part in campaigning by delivering hampers to families, was surprised to find the activity had been cancelled.
“Nobody was there... they had closed shop and left,” said the CWC member. “Only today I learnt the campaign has slowed down over the candidate dispute.”
MIC sources further say some party members were planning to organise a protest tomorrow over the alleged “interference” by Umno.
“We want Malaysians to know we cannot be trampled upon,” said a local MIC leader involved in organising the proposed protest.
“Mugilan is an inexperienced boy compared to the veteran Palanivel.”
The Mugilan-Palanivel issue, if not resolved, will serve as a major boost for Pakatan Rakyat (PR), which is preparing to field heavyweight Datuk Zaid Ibrahim as its candidate.
“Mugilan is no match to the heavyweight Zaid,” said a Palanivel aide today.
Despite the controversy over the candidate, sources close to Palanivel said the former MP is “still confident” of being fielded as the BN candidate.
They said BN’s infatuation with Mugilan was temporary.
“He (Palanivel) is also confident of winning against Datuk Zaid but by a small majority,” the sources told The Malaysian Insider.
The PR coalition will officially announce its candidate tonight while BN is expected to do so on Thursday.
The bad blood among BN parties over the candidacy is likely to weaken BN’s chances in the contest.
PR is also throwing everything it has into the battle to retain the seat.
Its chance of keeping the seat will be bright if the MIC continues to drag its feet or boycotts the BN campaign entirely should Palanivel not be fielded.
BN risks alienating about 6,000 hardcore MIC voters in the constituency if it leaves Palanivel out in the cold, MIC sources said.
“Indian votes will scatter if Umno is seen as interfering in the candidate issue,” said another MIC leader. “We will walk out.”
A local leader from another BN party said, however, that he believed Samy Vellu was bluffing and would not dare to walk out if Mugilan was fielded. Instead, he said, Samy Vellu would close ranks and fight for Mugilan’s victory.
“There is too much at stake for him personally to go against Barisan/Umno,” the leader said. “He knows who is the boss of the situation.”