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Friday, January 2, 2009

> New Anwar ally emerges

by Baradan Kuppusamy

When the bushfire of Indian dissatisfaction in the PKR threatened to turn into an inferno, party supremo Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, holidaying in the Middle East, called from Dubai and urged a man he trusted to investigate what was really going on, how big it was and why it was happening.

Shadowy businessman Datuk Ravi Dharan (pic) , chairman of the Daya group of companies, has always been in the shadows of the PKR, serving only Anwar before and after the March 8 polls and during the run-up to the abortive Sept 16 plan to topple the Barisan Nasional government via defections.

He was close to Anwar when the latter was the finance minister and like other tycoons in Anwar's circle, he suffered after Anwar was sacked and jailed in 1998.

Ravi, 59, went abroad and soon settled down in Indonesia where he has interests in several areas, including coal mining in Kalimantan.

However, unlike Anwar's other former friend Datuk K.S. Nallakaruppan, Ravi remained loyal to the former and was a big supporter — personally and financially — of the opposition leader during the March 8 general election campaign.

Anwar has now become worried that Indian dissatisfaction with his party, centred on the resignation of Kapar MP S. Manikavasagam as the party's Selangor deputy chief, will flare up, and he has sought out Ravi to quell the rebellion.

This will be the political coming out for Ravi who had always remained in the shadows.

It is significant that Anwar did not task any of the more senior party leaders such as deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali, vice-president S. Sivarasa, seen as the nominal Indian head of the party, Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, Selangor exco member Dr Xavier Jeyakumar or even PKR Padang Serai MP M. Gobalakrishnan.

"It was to Ravi that Anwar turned to," said a PKR insider, adding that Anwar was worried that a "hidden hand" was manipulating the "rebellion" and splitting the party especially in light of speculation reported in online news website Malaysiakini that PKR rebels together with Hindraf leader P. Uthayakumar and chairman P. Waythamoorthy were in alliance with MIC rebels to oust embattled MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu.

Manikavasagam's relationship with Sivarasa and Dr Xavier and possibly Khalid, whom he has accused of betraying the people's trust by not fulfilling election promises, is now beyond repair, PKR insiders said.

Under these circumstances Anwar relied on Ravi as a trusted ally, in the same role once played by Nallakaruppan before their dramatic falling out, to help contain or extinguish the Manikavasagam fire.

Ravi attended a meeting of over 100 Indian supporters of Hindraf/Makkal Sakthi yesterday that discussed the problems raised by Manikavasagam and former PKR deputy secretary-general P. Jenapala.

Both Manikavasagam and Jenapala also attended the closed-door meeting.

"Ravi listened carefully, watched their body language and never uttered a single word," said a PKR supporter who attended the meeting.

Later at the press conference Ravi moved in to take charge, admitting there were differences over issues among the PKR leaders. "This is a democratic process, we meet, we discuss, tell our differences and we seek consensus," Ravi told The Malaysian Insider after the meeting.

"We all have one aim — to make Anwar prime minister — and until then we should remain committed and united," said Ravi.

He was worried PKR's political enemies would exploit the differences.

"We should not give them that opportunity," he told the people gathered. "I don't think there is a hidden hand behind the open airing of differences in PKR."

The meeting resolved that Manikavasagam and others would meet Anwar on his return and lay their unhappiness at his feet for a resolution of the differences.

Nevertheless the discontent is too fundamental to be resolved without upsetting the PKR's delicate racial balance.

The animosity between Manikavasagam and the rest of the PKR Indian leadership cannot be ignored.

The others — Sivarasa, Dr Xavier, Khalid and others — control Selangor PKR and are big names in the PKR setup although at the Makkal Sakthi grassroots level they are lightweights compared with Manikavasagam.

While Manikavasagam sees himself as a Makkal Sakthi founder, he accepts Uthayakumar and Waythamoorthy as his real mentors, and he also has the highest regards for Anwar.

It is left to Anwar to see how best to balance the demands of the big names in the PKR who are all for sacking Manikavasagam and satisfying the Makkal Sakthi grassroots who have adopted PKR as their new political home but want a bigger slice of the largesse.

What Ravi recommends to Anwar will play a crucial role in the balancing act - The Malaysian Insider.