KUALA LUMPUR: On Sunday night, two MIC state assemblymen from Negri Sembilan, T. Rajagopalu and E. M. Yohevel were sitting at the same table and holding a lively conversation.
Looking at them, no one would have thought that they were rivals competing for the votes of the 93 delegates from Federal Territory MIC during the campaign dinner at Corrus Hotel.
Jeram Padang state assemblyman Rajagopalu, also state MIC chairman and state executive councillor, is among the “Group of 23” endorsed by the party leadership as candidates for the central working committee (CWC) posts.
His colleague, who is Si Rusa state assemblyman, is in the rival camp comprising 10 independents attempting to topple the incumbents for a seat in the CWC.
The cordial mood was also seen at other tables where the rest of the independents were seated with some of the “official” candidates and other delegates.
This healthy camaraderie between contestants is quite unusual compared to other parties where rivals often barely talk to each other in the run-up to elections.
In MIC, those in the two camps have discussions and even crack jokes, showing that they are merely running for party posts and they bear no ill feelings towards each other.
Party officials said that such an open display of friendliness in the campaign period is evidence of the maturity and unity in the party.
MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu has introduced the official candidates, saying that they have been selected based on several considerations, including their qualifications, positions and contributions to the party.
However, he has also made it a point to invite the 10 independents to join the various campaign dinners.
“I don't think such friendly campaigns can be seen in any other political party in the country. The credit goes to Samy Vellu,” said Sepang division chairman Datuk C. Krishnan.
MIC secretary-general S. Sothinathan said campaigning had been smooth without any complaints from contestants.
“All the 33 candidates have been conducting their campaigns in a peaceful manner. This augurs well for the future of the party,” he said, adding that campaigns had been completed in all states except Negri Sembilan.
Yohevel, who garnered 404 votes when he unsuccessfully contested for the vice-president's post in 1997, has an advantage as he is known among the MIC fraternity.
“Wherever I went, the delegates know me because I had contested before and they told me not to worry,” he said.
Six people from Negri Sembilan are contesting for places in the CWC.
Yohevel, a Tamil school student who had worked his way up to become a lawyer, said he understood the hardship and problems faced by the grassroots.
“I come from a poor background and feel that the MIC could be used as a vehicle to develop and contribute towards the betterment of the Indian community,” he said.
The officially endorsed group includes 21 incumbents, among whom are several state chairmen, state assemblymen and professionals and two new faces - lawyer and Kedah information chief S. Ganesan and FT secretary M. Saravanan.
Those in the independent camp include James Selvaraja, a former cop turned law and psychology graduate, and trader S. Paramasivam.
Vice-president Datuk S. Veerasingam, chief campaigner for the official group, said the forming of the team was natural as the 23 members had worked together for the past three years.
“They have been retained or handpicked by the leadership for their qualities and capabilities. They will be able to complement each other in carrying out projects and programmes of the party for another three years,” he said.
Veerasingam said the team had candidates from all states to ensure fair representation.
“If we were to allow an open contest, then the smaller states could be sidelined by states which have a large number of delegates,” he said, adding that ultimately it would be the 1,497 delegates who would decide on the 23 CWC members for the next three years.