Wednesday January 30, 2013
A visit that takes the cake
By Joceline Tan
Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat made a significant visit to Karpal Singh’s house on Thaipusam day but behind the big smiles and the birthday cake for the PAS leader is the message that PAS is not quitting the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.
KARPAL Singh was still taking his bath when Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and his entourage arrived at his house in Penang’s Western Road. It was the first time that the PAS leader was calling on the DAP leader, and everyone in the house was quite thrilled.
“My wife was banging on the bathroom door telling me to hurry up, that he is already here, he is inside the house. I think Nik Aziz must have heard it as well,” said the DAP chairman.
Nik Aziz, accompanied by Penang PAS commissioner Datuk Salleh Man, was about 15 minutes early although Karpal’s house lies smack along the kavadi route of the Thaipusam festivities.
The meeting of these two long-time adversaries is still the talk of their party supporters today.
Some loved it that the two men looked so cosy and congenial in the company of each other. Although both men had exchanged sharp words in the past, they greeted one another with megawatt smiles and held on to each others’ hands. To Karpal, Nik Aziz is “the old man” (said fondly); after all, Karpal is only 72 to Nik Aziz’s 82 years.
But others, especially some in PAS, were unsure what to make of it because Karpal has been a leading critic of PAS’ Islamic policies. This is the very same man who had declared “over my dead body” to PAS’ goal of setting up an Islamic state in Malaysia.
In fact, many in PAS think that Karpal ranks up there with MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek when it comes to criticising the theocratic policies of PAS. Let’s just say the two men are not the best loved figures among PAS members.
Harakahdaily played up the event, splashing photographs of Nik Aziz cutting a birthday cake surrounded by Karpal’s family and several other Pakatan Rakyat MPs and state assemblymen.
Utusan Malaysia also gave it the front-page treatment in its Monday edition, with the heading: “Hari jadi Nik Aziz di raikan dirumah Karpal Singh” (Nik Aziz’s birthday celebrated in Karpal Singh’s house). In fact, PAS dominated Utusan Malaysia’s front page that day because the lead story was “Nasharudin dipecat” — it was a report on PAS sacking its former deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa from its Syura Council.
Nik Aziz had turned 82 on Jan 10. His birthday cake was custom-made — it had the emblems of the three Pakatan parties and the words “Selamat Hari Jadi Tok Guru”.
Karpal on his part looked thrilled to bits. The fiery politician has seen it all but this was something else. He recognised the significance of this influential leader coming to his house as Hindus passed by outside, shouting “Vel! Vel!” in praise of the deity.
“It was nice of him to come. We have our differences but we get along. My feelings even before this have been quite warm. He is one of those people whom you cannot hate, he exudes friendliness,” said Karpal.
“We went into Parliament together in 1978, you know. I remember he sat beside me.”
No one in PAS can quite recall the Mursyidul Am ever celebrating his birthday, let alone cut a birthday cake. Apparently, the more conservative segment of PAS thinks that celebrating birthdays is a western practice that they would rather not emulate.
But Nik Aziz is the ultimate politician. The fact that he agreed to go to Karpal’s home on no less than on Thaipusam day says a lot about the man. It was a risky political move and only someone of his extended years and stature could dare do it.
But it was less of a birthday celebration than about sending out signals to those watching. Nik Aziz was basically telling his audience that although PAS and DAP differed regarding the thorny kalimah Allah issue, he was not above calling on its top leader.
Later in the afternoon, he met with the new Catholic Church head for the Penang diocese, Bishop Sebastian Francis. The meeting was just as cordial and Nik Aziz even presented the Bishop with a cake ringed with cherries. This time, his message was that although PAS is against the use of the term Allah in Christian Bibles, PAS leaders could still sit down and talk with Christian leaders.
Politically speaking, Nik Aziz is trying to portray a moderate image for PAS and to reach out to the middle ground, especially among the Chinese community. Hence, his visit to the house of a DAP leader.
The kalimah Allah has damaged Pakatan, particularly given that it has placed PAS on one side and DAP and PKR on the other. They are the proverbial “strange bedfellows” still living in the same house but in different bedrooms and they want to persuade voters that they are still together despite differences on this fundamental matter.
But Nik Aziz is probably aware that people inside and outside his party are bound to see all this as yet another instance of PAS dancing to DAP’s tune. But PAS needs DAP’s help to hold on to its seats in the west coast.
Critics in PAS said all these gestures benefit DAP more than their own party. They think that reaching out to Karpal is a waste of time because it is not going to change him and they are probably right.
Karpal is still enjoying the warm buzz from the visit but he said: “My stand on hudud law and the Islamic state remains the same, visit or no visit. What needs to be heard, has to be said.”