April 18, 2014
The Faithful Aide: Michael Cornelius Selvam Vellu
The name Michael Cornelius Selvam Vellu may not be as famous as the man he was serving – renowned lawyer Karpal Singh – but his sacrifice will remain in the annals of Malaysian history for his devotion to his boss.
It would be suffice to say that Michael was literally the man behind Karpal, since the 39-year-old, would push his boss around in his wheelchair wherever he went, including to Parliament.
Bukit Gelugor MP and former DAP chairman Karpal Singh, 73, died in a car accident on the North-South Expressway this morning near Gua Tempurung, Kampar together with his long-serving personal assistant Michael.
Karpal’s daughter Sangeet Kaur Deo said Michael was a “faithful servant to his master” and stayed with him even in death.
Hailing from Vellore, Tamil Nadu in southern India, Michael leaves behind a wife, a son and a daughter while his body is expected to be flown back to India for burial. – Bernama, April 17, 2014.
OBITUARY by Steve Oh
The Tiger of Jelutong will roar no more as a sombre silence falls upon Malaysia at the death of a loved son.
News of the sudden tragic death of veteran DAP leader, parliamentarian and litigation lawyer Karpal Singh has sent shockwaves across the country and fans of the affable Karpal around the world into a state of mourning.
His admirers are found everywhere, those who respected and loved this rare individual and irreplaceable man, the true ‘people’s politician’ and a lawyer for those with lost hope and a last resort for justice, who defended the underdogs and victims of injustice. They all, friends and strangers alike, will be in silent grief and like I feel, a sense of loss and grieve with Karpal’s family.
Who would have imagined a man who has saved so many lives from the gallows, from convicted drug offenders to a condemned 14-year-old Chinese boy convicted for possession of a firearm, who survived a car accident that confined him to a wheelchair since 2005, would succumb to a horrific vehicle collision on the North-South Expresswayway at 1.30am while all of us were safe and sound asleep.
The man who took seven years to finish his law studies because he was ‘playful’ by his own admission, who showed early signs of political prowess while a student leader at the University of Singapore, leaves behind a gap that no one can fill.
Though dead, Karpal will still speak through the legacy he left behind. We all die some day but it is what we live for that we will be best remembered, unless you are Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection remembered this Easter weekend is the rare exception.
Karpal, the man of struggle for justice, lived a life of struggle for others. His was not a life in vain pursuit and personal aggrandisement but for the social justice he believed in and fought for others in a country that denied basic justice to all that fell foul of those in power and dysfunctional and corrupt public institutions and politicians. The political ideals of justice he stood for will be the nation’s living inheritance.
Defender of the defenceless
Karpal’s tenacity to see justice done was evident when he laboured on to clear Australian Kevin Barlow of his drug trafficking conviction even after his execution.
This defender of the defenceless, often ‘the little man’, and ‘a friend to the oppressed and marginalised’ as he was renown, lived for the country he loved and at a time when someone of his age should have been in bed at home and asleep, he was instead on his way to Penang to attend court, presumably, to defend someone and was killed in the course of duty.
He died as he lived – striving for someone regardless of race, religion or rank. He lived out his convictions and proved he was no mere talker but doer. To my mind, Karpal is a national icon and a national hero, a paradigm of national character – the ultimate and unrivalled battler for all Malaysians and a better country.
He has not lived to see his vision realised and hope deferred makes the heart sick. Those who loved him must do more for without him the load becomes heavier, the hill steeper and the challenge more formidable.
But if Malaysians have his heart for justice, nothing will stand in their way and they will triumph as overcomers of evil and corruption, and Karpal would have been happy and proud.
Malaysia would have been a worse place without Karpal and those drunk with power would have succeeded in their excessive ways and got away unchallenged with their abuses of power if he had not been there to check them by his intrepid acts of political and personal bravery.
His parliamentary life was colourful and controversial and when you have many parliamentarians suffering from ‘foot in mouth’ disease, it was not surprising he once aptly called an offensive fellow parliamentarian, “the bigfoot from Kinabatangan”. He received as much as he gave.
His life and career should be studied by all aspiring Malaysians and even my father who once in siding with the late Penang chief minister Dr Lim Chong Eu, as his political party stalwart and friend, had expressed a moment of disdain for Karpal in the 70s but was immediately saddened when I broke the news to him.
Like many of us, he had been won over by Karpal’s acts of selfless service to the people over the ensuing years. Undaunted, Karpal laboured and remained true to the same cause and far be it for us to desert him in his death. We must put our hands to the cart that Karpal and all civic-minded Malaysians had pushed all these years.
He was a “capable and clever man”, my father lamented. And I know who he would have voted for had Karpal stood in his electorate. Our sense of justice should outweigh the affiliation to any group or anyone who is unjust. We betray ourselves when we dampen our conscience to injustice.
But more than the activist he was, Karpal was a man who stood up for principles however unpopular and did not capitulate to political expediency or compromised his convictions. This he proved consistently in his stand against his country being turned unconstitutionally into Mahathir Mohamad’s queer idea of a political Islamic state in flagrant contempt of the country’s secular constitution.
That was classic Karpal. And above all, he never sold himself to the highest bidder in a country ruined by the corruption he often lambasted. He was the honest fighter, he fought in the open ring of political combat with no holds barred, unlike those who claim to fight the fight in the arms of the powers-that-be ‘from within’ and be seduced by their courts of pleasure and become virtually ineffective.
How can we honour his memory?
What is Karpal’s legacy to us all? How can we honour his memory as he would have liked? What is the best way to vindicate all that Karpal stood and lived for? How do we keep it going for the man who started it all, who made opposition politics the crucial preparation for government?
We all individually and collectively must focus on what matters most – the deliverance of justice – the heartbeat of Karpal’s life and labour – to all Malaysians and deliver the country from its bondage to corruption and abuse of power.
In a nutshell we all, whoever or wherever we are, regardless of our backgrounds, must strive for the political and social change that Karpal gave his life to seeing when he went into politics to save his country.
Anything short of a change in a government that Karpal gave his life to achieve would be seen by him as a betrayal to the vision of a just and free Malaysia. Karpal saw his country in this pernicious grip.
A corrupt government is bad governance and bad governance means suffering and strife for the country. Bad governance is anathema to all citizens and corrupt politicians are the collective public enemy and bane of the nation. Karpal did not say those exact words but better still he lived out his life to destroy the malaise described.
Karpal started life in Penang and began his double vocation in law and politics with an innate sense of justice. His passion saw him get into trouble with those who had become the people’s enemies by their immoral and unjust conduct.
The son of a humble Punjabi watchman and part-time herdsman, whose father emigrated to Penang from India in 1920, he believed there will be no justice until Malaysia is a country where everyone is treated equally under the law.
He believed in the DAP’s ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ political dogma and extolled the country’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman for promoting racial unity. He criticised the special impunity of the hereditary rulers under the original constitution that were subsequently removed.
He put conviction into action by throwing himself into politics in 1970 after the May 13, 1969 riots. I had the privilege of meeting Karpal at the state funeral of the late Dr Lim Chong Eu. It was a fleeting moment, he gave me a smile, and I shook his hand, as he was pushed past by in his wheelchair, and in that passing moment I was able to intuitively see what a kind and generous person he was, as first impressions can sometimes prove true and lasting.
There was none of the air of self-importance that I find in other dignitaries and politicians I have met and as with the late Irene Fernandez, I regret not having made the effort to learn more about a fellow Penangite and great human being and to spend time to get to know more of such a rare personage.
Who would not have benefitted from meeting someone of Karpal’s stature, to learn from his struggles and achievements? I hope someone will do a story of his life in documentary as a public service to all Malaysians.
No one can do him harm
In the ensuing days, the accolades and obituaries will flow and none will do justice to a true son of the nation who was unfairly and cruelly imprisoned under the notorious now repealed ISA, charged for sedition several times, and even threatened with a silver bullet in a death threat.
The vicissitudes in the life of Karpal who has dared to sue a Malaysian king, a sultan and just about anyone in the public interest has resulted in a man we can salute with utter pride and admiration. Without fear or favour is a phrase reserved for a man like him.
Karpal is no more in the political arena. He leaves a couple of sons in politics to soldier on. But he leaves his nation the priceless legacy of a true patriot, a true son of the nation, and a true lawyer beyond the call of the written law and elusive justice.
Indeed Karpal to many of us will be the missing ‘towering Malaysian’ that cannot be found in the government that coined the phrase.
His incomparable life in law and politics has no equal in Malaysia and indeed there ought to be a Hall of Fame for the sons and daughters of the country like him.
He may be known as the ‘Tiger of Jelutong’ having served that constituency for five terms but his life and achievements are larger than such a parochial title, given him after he told MIC’s S Samy Vellu, “he could be the lion, and I could be the tiger, because there are no lions in Malaysia.”
No lions indeed except in the zoo.
Karpal is the ‘Tiger of Justice’ and his life given to seek justice for his clients and his country has earned him a place in history that will stay with us forever.
The nation weeps with Karpal’s family but we are comforted that his enemies can do him no more to harm or spuriously charge him in court and send him to prison unjustly. Karpal Singh lived for Malaysia.
Let Malaysians remember him and honour him by making justice flow like a river and deliver the country from its bondage to corruption and injustice. That must be his living legacy – the passion to seek justice for the nation and something for all Malaysians to emulate.
STEVE OH is author and composer of the novel and musical ‘Tiger King of the Golden Jungle’.