By Baradan Kuppusamy
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak may have been basking in the limelight in Chennai after meeting the revered Tamil Nadu Chief Minister “Kalaignar” M. Karunanidhi yesterday, but the benefits for him are here at home, among voters from the Indian community, the vast majority of whom are Tamils.
The landmark visit to Tamil Nadu is a major change in the itineraries of Malaysian prime ministers in their official visits to India.
Najib is the first national leader to visit Chennai and shake hands with Karunanidhi, who is dubbed the Tamil Lion.
During their meeting, Karunanidhi extended a personal invitation to Najib to participate in the World Classical Tamil Conference, which will held in Coimbatore in June.
Meeting Karunanidhi is one of the most cherished ambition of Tamils the world over not just because of his political stamina but also for his command of the Tamil language, his poetry, his writings and his deep knowledge of Tamil literature and history.
Meeting the Tamil Lion face to face is a strategic move to win the hearts of the Tamils in the country, whose support he needs to stay in power in the next general election.
Barisan Nasional has determined that, besides its inherent support from Malay voters and others, it needs a five per cent swing among Indian voters to stay in power.
Najib has been wooing Indian voters in a focused and determined manner even though the BN’s traditional Indian partners — the MIC and PPP — are weakened by one leadership crisis after another.
“Even if the MIC and PPP fails to deliver, Najib believes he can carry the Indian voter on his own charisma and standing as a national leader,” a senior Barisan Nasional leader said.
Najib has been courting the Indian community directly — from offering RM1 billion in unit trust funds, to cash for Tamil school upgrading and ending other endemic woes like the issuance of birth certificates and identity cards.
The visit to Chennai and meeting Kalaignar (poet) is a small step in that direction… to touch base with the Tamils.
Najib can return and brag about it and milk the episode for its high symbolic value — as the first Malaysian prime minister to officially visit the Tamil state and personally meet the Tamil Lion.
Potentially, the Chennai visit can win for him favours from Tamils similar to what his father’s historic 1974 visit to China did for Tun Abdul Razak with the Chinese community — a strong emotional endorsement.
“It is quite a big bragging right… to meet the Kalaignar,” said MIC CWC member KP Samy. “His status among Tamils would be very much enhanced.”
Pakatan Rakyat leaders have also been trying hard to meet Karunanidhi for the same reasons Najib is meeting him — its symbolic value among Tamils in Malaysia and elsewhere.
But they have failed to meet him yet or invite him over to Malaysia.
Attempts are underway by PR’s Indian leaders to also invite Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin or Vaiko, another popular Tamil politician, but these plans have yet to make it off the drawing board.