Happy 100th Birthday To Tun Sambanthan!

  • 17 Jun 2019

The name VT Sambanthan is not only synonymous among Indians in the country, but Malaysians in general. 

The politician, whose full name is Tirunyanasambanthan Veerasamy, was one of the Founding Fathers of Malaysia and would have turned 100 yesterday (June 16, 2019), if he were still alive. 

But who is this man, who is one of those primarily responsible for the Malaysia we have today?

Sambanthan was born in Sungai Siput, Perak, in the year 1919, to MS Veerasamy, a pioneer rubber planter who arrived in then Malaya in 1896, and later owned several rubber plantations. 

He received his early education at the Clifford High School in Kuala Kangsar, Perak, and was interested in creating a united Indian community.

In 1953, Sambanthan was elected Perak MIC chairman, the same year he organised the Perak United Indian Council. 

Two years later, Sambanthan was elected the fifth president of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), and in the same year, he was also elected member of the legislative council for the Kinta Utara constituency. The constituency was renamed as Sungai Siput in 1959. 

Sambanthan was also the first "Tamil" president of MIC, which was then dominated by North Indians and Malayalees, which formed the minority of Indians, while the majority of Indians in Malaya then (90 percent), were Tamils. 

Under his leadership, the party became predominantly Tamil - emphasising on Indian culture, religion and language, from its previous active political outlook. 

To strengthen MIC's economic standing, Sambanthan sold off about half of his father's 2.4km square rubber estate. He also resolved internal splits within the party and strengthened the party's position in the Alliance coalition (which later became Barisan Nasional).

He won the Sungai Siput seat comfortably in the first federal election in 1955, by the British colonial administration and was sworn in as Labour minister in the Alliance government.

Sambanthan later played a key role in the independence movement in Malaya, alongside Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tan Cheng Lock. 

He was one of the signatories to the Merdeka Agreement, which paved way for the country's independence from the British on 31 August, 1957. 

Close to Tunku

Sambanthan is said to have enjoyed a cordial relationship with Tunku. 

He was tasked with leading the MIC delegation in the negotiations between the Alliance parties in drawing up a memorandum to the Reid Commission, which was as an independent commission responsible for drafting the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya prior to Malayan independenc. 

He is said to have taken the middle path, with the interests of the Indian community, and the broader interests of other members of the Alliance coalition, at heart, during negotiations. 

Sambanthan was very close to Tunku, who was the reason behind Sambanthan's change of dressing style. 

While in London for constitutional talks in May 1957, Tunku reportedly took Sambanthan to a men's store to have a suit made. 

This was a total change from Sambanthan's choice of shirt and dothi, which was his attire of choice prior. 

Although he protested at first, Sambanthan eventually relented, and later even had more suits tailored. 

After Tunku's reign ended, Sambanthan also worked with the Tun Abdul Razak administration. 

He ceased being MIC president in June 1973, to pave the way for V Manickavasagam. 

Apart from his labour portfolio, Sambanthan had also served in several other ministries, namely health; works, post and telecommunications; and national unity, before retiring from the government in 1974. 

Sambanthan also served as the acting prime minister for one day in August 1973, when then prime minister Abdul Razak and his deputy were both out of the country at the same time. 

Sambanthan's legacies include lobbying for education for Indian plantation workers, and the establishment of the National Land and Finance Co-operative Society (NLFCS) - a social co-operative to help plantation workers.

Jalan Tun Sambanthan, a major road in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, is also named after him.

Sambanthan is survived by his wife Umasundari Sambanthan, who served as chairman and director of the NLFCS from 1980 to 1995 and its president in 1995 and 1996, and daughter Deva Kunjari, a lawyer. 

Source: Wikipedia, Free Malaysia Today