PKR's Vasantha looks beyond championing Indian interests


Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) co-founder K. Vasantha Kumar believes PKR needs a prominent representative from the Indian community who can champion the rights of all races. If chosen as among the four party vice-presidents, Vasantha told NSTP journalist FAHMY AZRIL ROSLI in an interview that he would carry out his responsibilities fairly in the interests of all party members regardless of race or religion.Q: You have been labeled as the underdog in the upcoming party polls. A: I feel I am ready. I am the second youngest candidate running for the vice-presidency after Nurul Izzah Anwar. I am 45. I have a degree. As an activist, I was detained under the (now-repealed) Internal Security Act. I have 10 years of political experience in PKR. I ran for a seat in the last general election (Tapah parliamentary seat).

I’ve worked with Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim. I also understand the plight of grassroots members, especially among the Indians whose problems were not effectively raised to be given attention among the party leadership, including Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. As a grassroots leader, it is my duty to air their problems. This is why I am running for the vice-presidency.Q: What advantage do you have over the other candidates? A: I have been successful in extending the Indian community’s support to Anwar. He is a leader who defended the rights of all races. We have a dilemma, in the sense that we had been regarding MIC as the sole party looking after Indian interests. We saw through MIC, they are not fighting for Indians. They (MIC) take advantage of the Indians to gain riches.

However, we managed to convince the Indians that their fate, in a multiracial country, does not depend on those from the same community. They need to believe in Anwar. They need to believe in a leader who can fight for all.

At the same time, the Indians believe that I have reached a stage from which I can go further for the interests of all. There are 222 party divisions in the country, among which 75 of them, especially in Kedah, Perak, Selangor, Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Pahang, have many Indian members who were formerly Hindraf members like me.

In the 13th general election, the Indian vote swing was positive, but not enough to win Putrajaya. During GE14, louder calls for Anwar’s release from jail, and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s willingness to assist the Indians have led to 80 per cent of Indians supporting Pakatan Harapan.Q: You seem to be relying on votes from just the Indian community. A: No. Since 10 years ago, my ceramah has been to Malay, Chinese and Indian audiences. I am more popular in Kedah and Penang. In Selangor, the Malays know me well because of my talks with them. But not so much in other states, where maybe the top leadership there knows me better. I did programmes in Tapah too. I made contributions for Hari Raya Aidiladha, Hari Raya Aidilfitri and many more.

I am not depending solely on Indian votes. I’m taking a stand in fighting for all races. But the Indians know me well. That is my advantage. If we look at the other Malay candidates (vying for the same post) the Malay members are not familiar with them as well. For example, Terengganu PKR chairman Azan Ismail, many of those from Kedah do not know him. The same goes for Dr A. Xavier Jayakumar. My grassroots supporters are in Kedah. I am also popular in Perlis and Penang. Those (states) are my strongholds.Q: Your decision to contest this time around, is it to gain positions after PKR captured Putrajaya? A: I was 37 years old in 2010. I did not run in the party polls because I was too young. I made way for the seniors. In 2014, when I turned 41, I continue to give way to the seniors. I made way for them twice, including for Dr Xavier. But now, I see him as being “too senior”. Now it is time for me to do this.

Xavier, for example, was appointed as vice-president due to an Indian quota reserved for the post. It is time for me to fill the post so that we can play a better role with the Malays and Chinese. The grassroots want aggressive leaders with a loud voice.Q: Is there a need for an Indian quota for the top leadership in the first place? A: Firstly, we need a place among the top leadership so that our voices and basic needs can be relayed effectively. So yes, we need Indian representatives up there. Otherwise, there will be issues over finding the right solutions to the problems raised. We do not want the grassroots to say that we do not prioritise them. We are there (among the leadership) to give our input.Q: Can you describe your campaign approach? A: I do not like to use the slogan “lawan tetap lawan” (the fight must go on) which is used by Anwar and the party against Barisan Nasional. We are talking about the party polls here. It is not a battle. It’s about having experienced party members of caliber, knowledge and capabilities to be at the top with Anwar.

But it is like a battle to the death for some of my friends at the party. To me, we are still friends even after the contest, which is not a platform to lob accusations and slander. That can lead to disunity. Just like Anwar said, a poll is an event for us to make friends and for the party leadership to go to the ground and meet the grassroots.Q: How would you manage differences of opinions in the party? A: There may be differences in opinions, but we need to use the right channels to air them. We cannot use forums, ceramah or the media to hit (criticise) left right and centre. We must remember that PKR has more than 800,000 members and millions of people who are depending on PH to save the country from an economic downturn.

We must be careful in our words and approach, or risk creating problems for the party in the future. If a culture of slander is spread throughout the party, it will only lead to negative perceptions of party leaders by the people and the opposition.

With that said, we should not give room for the opposition to attack. PKR won 51 seats and that reflects our dominance in PH. It means the people have put their faith in PKR. We need to defend our stand and standards.

We do not want to be embroiled in slanders to a point that the people become disillusioned with us. Such a situation has dire repercussions in the next general election.Q: Are you rooting for Azmin, or Rafizi, in the race for deputy presidency?A: I support Azmin because he is not the type to commit slander. He prefers to compromise. I will defend Azmin to the death.

Anwar and Azmin have been close together for 34 years. (In terms of experience) firstly, Azmin held positions of as a special officer and political secretary for 14 years when Anwar was the education minister, finance minister and the deputy prime minister. Azmin knows Anwar well. After Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister, Azmin resigned from his position and became one of the former’s strongest supporters.

If Azmin had wanted to topple Anwar, he would have done so during the formation of PKR back in 1998, because there was an issue on who would be the party president. At that time, I felt Azmin was the most suitable person, although he did not want to hold the post.

Azmin remained with Anwar through thick and thin, when the latter was humiliated and his family was slandered. Who was the one who put efforts to release Anwar from jail? It was Azmin. He is not there to topple Anwar.

I feel sad at knowing that several leaders had slandered Azmin. This does not bode well.

Azmin is the economic affairs minister now. The portfolio is so important, that it can be considered the cabinet’s “pulse”. That, and coupled with his focus on meeting his pledges to the people.Q: Is the perceived power struggle in the party caused by Azmin and Rafizi? A: This is a party election involving more than 800,000 party members. Not just Azmin and Rafizi. Many of them are in a dilemma. Are they siding with Rafizi or Azmin? But in the end, of course, one of them will be chosen to lead us. We need to think about the other positions too. At the division level, the leadership there will play important roles too. So do not let your minds confined to the two men. But it is still better to pair Anwar with Azmin at the top. Q: Why not Rafizi? A: I do not see the advantages that would lead me to support Rafizi. We do not needed him to act as a check-and-balance in PKR or PH. We can see balance through Anwar and Azmin’s leadership.Q: Is it wrong to use Anwar’s name to attract votes? A: There are individuals like (Kapar member of Parliament) Datuk Abdullah Sani and several others, who are among the pioneer members of the party. They have knowledge and experience of reformasi (early days of PKR). If they commit slander, then I will consider them as shallow.

When Dr Mahathir first joined PH, we accepted him because it was allowed by Anwar, who was the PH (de facto) leader at that time. But we must understand that when Anwar was in jail, we did not have a leader to guide us in the coalition.

We were rudderless and each of us subscribed to different ideas. We became weak.

But we were grateful to Dr Mahathir. He has vast experience in leadership in politics to guide us.

He understands the country’s racial structure. Hence, he was the best leader for PH at that time. We did not deliberately take him into the fold; it was something demanded by the people. PH needed a captain and the people want Dr Mahathir to lead PH.

We then made a consensus that if we win Putrajaya, Dr Mahathir will be the prime minister for a period of time. It was consensus agreed by PH leaders and not Azmin alone. Azmin did not moot the idea for Dr Mahathir to be the next prime minister.

Azmin is not playing ‘puppet master’, but is just another leader in the coalition.

In the consensus, Anwar will be released from jail, granted a royal pardon and make a return to the political arena.

Subsequently, Dr Mahathir will give way to Anwar as the eighth prime minister.

So there is no question about toppling Anwar or defending Dr Mahathir’s position. If there are those who do not understand the consensus, they are being shallow.

Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) co-founder K. Vasantha Kumar. - NSTP FILE PIC

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