| Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 2 July 2016 | Asia Samachar |
The bullock cart played a prominent role in the early life of Dr Karnail Singh Nijhar, a Punjabi Sikh who held a senior leadership position in the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).
Known simply as K.S. Nijhar, he was literally born on a bullock cart in 1936 between Kroh and Kelian Intan in Perak.
Nijhar rose to the position of vice president in the Indian-based political party MIC and founded a security company which has grown into one of the largest in Malaysia.
He also served as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Subang, one of the largest urban constituency by voter count, for two terms between 1999 and 2008.
“As a Punjabi Sikh who spoke no Tamil, my political career seemed hopeless. It took three years just to be an ordinary member,” he told an audience in Kuala Lumpur at a recent launch of his autobiography The Bullock Cart Boy, which coincided with his 80th birthday.
He owes his political fortunes to S Samy Vellu, a former MIC president and a long serving Federal minister, whom he describes as a ’close friend and political mentor’.
Samy was present at the book launch along with present MIC president and Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam.
In 1980, Samy Vellu appointed Nijhar as the chairman of then two newly created bureaus relating to the pressing issues for the Indian community: the Economics Bureau and Education Bureau.
“I was the first Punjabi Sikh, since Tun Sambanthan’s time in 1955, to hold any national level portfolios in MIC,” he writes in the book.
MIC was founded as Malaya Indian Congress in August 1946. Its second president was Budh Singh, who served between 1947 to 1950, making him the highest ranking Punjabi Sikh in the party largely dominated by Tamils.
Jaspal Singh and Daljit Singh, two prominent Punjabi Sikh leaders in MIC today, were also present at the book launch.
Jaspal, a former party treasurer-general and a two-term senator, won a vice president slot in the party’s 2015 election.
Daljit, who served a one-year senatorship and is now a director at the Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board, secured a seat in the party’s Central Working Committee (CWC) in the same year.
Describing his rise in the party, Nijhar writes that in 1985, he was appointed as a senator in the Dewan Negara, the upper house of the Malaysian parliament.
“This was the first time MIC nominated a Punjabi Sikh for the Senate, and I was the only second Punjabi Sikh in Malaysia’s history to sit in the Senate, after Senator Paramjit Singh, the president of PPP (People’s Progressive Party). The only other notable Sikh in the political landscape was in the opposition, namely the late Karpal Singh,” he writes.
In June 1997, Nijhar says he ‘created another history’ when he became the first Punjabi Sikh to be nominated by the MIC to receive the Panglima Setia Mahkota Malaysia (PSM) award, the second highest state award after the Tun. The award carries the title ‘Tan Sri’.
“My award created history for the Sikh community in Malaysia, for being the only Sikh ever to have been recommended by the MIC for PSM, to this day. I should add that from the time of Malaya’s independence to the present, no more than six Malaysian Sikhs have received the PSM,” he writes.
The book, narrated to his daughter Premeeta Nijhar, is punctuated with photographs and sketches depicting key events.
It records ‘the experiences of micro-minorities in Malaysia – in this instance, a second-generation Malaysian of Punjabi Sikh descent’, he writes in the book’s preface.
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