Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Two speeches. Two reactions.

September 14, 2009 Monday, 02:15 PM
Teo Cheng Wee looks closely at the opening speeches of the MIC general assembly.


IN MIC president Samy Vellu's speech to party delegates at its annual general meeting last Saturday, he asked for more aid for the community and schools, and more job opportunities in the civil service.

It was a routine speech, and he got polite applause.

It was a stark contrast to Prime Minister Najib Razak's address, which came next. He was frequently rewarded with cheers and loud applause, and the crowd was hanging on to his every word.

Datuk Seri Najib touched on winning back support for the Barisan Nasional (BN) and tasked MIC with winning back Indians hearts, which had deserted the party and ruling coalition in droves during the last general elections (GE).

That will be your KPI (key performance index), he said.

He also threw in some light humour. He reminded them of his efforts to connect with Indians. He said he loved to interact with people, and recalled his walkabout among the Indian community in Brickfields, where he ended up at a restaurant called Dewi's Corner.

It is now called Najib's Corner, after the Prime Minister had a meal there. Now a picture of him hangs on the wall, showing the entrepreneurial spirit of the Indians, Mr Najib said.

"I'm going to charge royalties," he quipped, to laughter from the crowd.

But then he moved into what seemed like sensitive ground, telling the delegates that they had to be humble, to do their work seriously and to serve the people.

He even threw in a veiled criticism of Mr Samy Vellu, saying that being popular in a party didn't mean that one would be popular with the people.

Mr Samy Vellu has been leading MIC for 30 years and refused to relinquish power, even after MIC's heavy defeats in the last GE and many signs that he is unpopular in the Indian community.

As a result, observers note that Mr Najib has been bypassing MIC, and choosing to engage Indians directly with walkabouts and visits.

Yet the delegates embraced his message, cheering and clapping even louder, and responding "yes" emphatically when Mr Najib asked them if they could do what he asked of them.

He worked them up into a frenzy, and they eventually gave him a standing ovation when his speech was over.

One of the last people to stand up - he finally did so near the end of the ovation - was an unhappy-looking Samy Vellu.

Why, Mr Najib looked more like the MIC president than the MIC president himself, one reporter said.

The delegates may have still decided to sweep Mr Samy Vellu back into power, along with his allies in the polling later that day.

But judging from their reactions that Saturday morning, it seemed clear who they liked better.

The fight for the Indian vote is far from over for the ruling coalition. Recent incidents like the Section 23 temple row, in which Malay residents stepped on a cow's head in a provocative protest, will not make things easier for BN.

Mr Najib will be relieved that, through his direct engagements, he seems to have made some headway with the community.

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