Saturday, March 21, 2009

A formidable father-and-son act

KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 — As an outspoken human rights lawyer and ferocious opposition politician, Karpal Singh, 68, constantly courts danger, controversies and has been arrested frequently in a career spanning nearly four decades.

His exploits have earned him the nickname "Lion of Jelutong", after the northern constituency that first elected him to Parliament in 1974.

But now he has been joined on the national political stage by one of his sons, Gobind Singh Deo, 38.

Gobind practised as a lawyer at his father's law firm after graduating from Lincoln's Inn in 1996 and entered Parliament last year at his first attempt. And in a relatively short time he has already risen to national prominence as a fiery opposition lawmaker.

Like the father, Gobind courts controversies, fights all comers in the courts, in Parliament and outside it, and has quickly earned the nickname "Little Lion of Puchong", after the constituency near the capital that sent him to Parliament in March last year.

Both father and son are Sikhs and members of the Chinese-majority DAP. While the father is the party chairman, the son is a member of the its decision-making central executive committee.

"Speaking up against injustice and defending democracy and human rights is an everyday job for me," Karpal said. "I have been doing it for 30 years and I am still going at it."

Gobind may have a hard act to follow.

"My father is virtually an institution, I am just starting out," Gobind said. "I have learned a lot watching him deal with the complex legal, political and human rights issues that cross his desk.

"I am still under his shadow," Gobind said. "I have a long way to go."

But by some counts Gobind has already arrived in a country dominated by majority Malay Muslims where fiery, macho style-politics is accepted as "right and proper" by aggrieved minority Chinese and Indian voters.

This week both father and son made national headlines, sparking an outpouring of sympathy after they were punished — the son for crossing Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the father for offending Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak.

Gobind was suspended for a year from Parliament on Monday after he called Najib a murderer during a raucous debate on unrelated matters the previous Thursday. The opposition has tried to link Najib to the 2006 murder of Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu, but Najib has sworn on the Quran that he did not know her.

Although Gobind is protected by parliamentary immunity, his use of the word "murderer" incensed Najib's supporters who quickly moved a motion to suspend him and carry it through with their parliamentary majority.

On Tuesday, Karpal was himself charged with sedition, a serious offence punishable by two years' jail, for disparaging the Sultan by questioning his authority at a press conference on Feb 16. The Sultan had sparked a public outcry after he dismissed the opposition Pakatan Rakyat state government and installed a fresh Umno-led Barisan Nasional administration on Feb 5.

Last month Karpal received threatening letters, two live bullets in the mail, and Umno members lodged more than 100 police reports against him for "insulting" the Sultan.

Such controversies are bread and butter stuff for Karpal, who first made a name abroad while defending Australian drug trafficker Kevin Barlow, who was executed in Malaysia in 1986. In 1989, Amnesty International declared Karpal a prisoner of conscience after he was detained without trial under security laws.

A plaque in Karpal's law office summarises his outlook on life. It reads in part, "I will never cower before any Earthly master.” Karpal's zeal is all the more astounding because a 2005 car accident left him wheelchair bound.

His many political opponents wrote him off but after two years recuperation, Karpal bounced back by returning to Parliament last year after winning the Bukit Gelugor constituency in Penang.

Another of Karpal's sons, Jagdeep Singh, 39, is a lawmaker in Penang and manages Karpal's law office there but unlike Karpal or Gobind, he rarely courts controversies that make the headlines.

Another son Ram, 36, and a daughter Sangeet, 29, are both lawyers and have not yet shown any political ambitions and the youngest Mankarpal, 21, is studying law.

But the glue that holds the family together is Karpal's devoted wife, Gurmit Kaur, 58. They were childhood friends before marrying in 1970 — the same year Karpal started his law practice after graduating from the University of Singapore a year earlier.

He also joined the DAP the same year and stood for election and lost, but four years later in 1974 he succeeded as lawmaker, starting a fiery career that has made him a household name.

"Despite the accident, he is the same determined and committed Karpal that I have always known," Gurmit said. Her fervent hope is to see him walk one day. Unlike before, when Karpal hogged the limelight, now he has Gobind to share the political stage.

"[Karpal] is as fiery as ever if not more," opposition lawmaker M. Kulasegaran said. "Together with the son they make a formidable team both in and outside Parliament." — South China Morning Post

1 comment:

Wes Nitram said...

The Lions of Jelutong have and will know no fear in fighting Malaysians right ...SALUTE!!!!!!