HULU SELANGOR, July 8 — P. Kamalanathan’s office is small, much like a holding cell measuring no more than two metres on all four sides.
The Hulu Selangor MP, dressed in a simple short-sleeved collared shirt, untucked, slacks and slippers, cuts a neat figure behind the small work desk where he sits for hours every week to see his constituents.
Save for a mini pewter replica of the Petronas Twin Towers placed haphazardly on his desk, there is no other sign of the leader’s former city life.
But to the woman who hobbles into Kamalanathan’s room, her arm in a sling, the missing accolades, desk adornments and self-portraits that usually colour the room of a politician, seems more comforting.
She starts her story with an apology for seeking his help for the second time in months. But the diabetes has taken its toll on her, she says, eyes glossing over with unshed tears, and her shoulder has become nearly frozen, hampering her daily tutoring sessions.
“The thing is, YB Kamal, I want to work. I am not here just for handouts but I have no choice,” said the woman, who is ethnic Indian. Beside her is her housemate, a middle-aged Chinese woman. Both are recipients of welfare aid.
“YB Kamal” listens to the woman’s tale and tells his officers to locate a nearby specialist to help her with her needs. He tells both women that he will try to place them on his monthly grocery recipient list — a new initiative he plans on introducing soon to help the poor and the destitute in his constituency, which is the size of Malacca.
Within seconds, another Indian woman walks into the tiny room. Following closely behind is her daughter, a young child of no more than 10 years who suffers from down-syndrome.
The woman, another welfare recipient, asks for monetary aid. She says her elder daughter, now in secondary school, needs help to print her assignments but she does not have the funds.
Kamalanathan calls in his officer again, this time directing him to buy a basic printer for the household.
“At least it is better than just giving money,” he tells this reporter, who was sitting in last week on the parliamentarian’s weekly Wednesday sessions with his constituents at his Bukit Beruntung service centre. Kamalanathan goes to his Kuala Kubu Baru and Kalumpang service centres every Thursday and another centre in Rasa town twice in a month.
An Indian family walks in next — husband struggling with his crutches, wife and two children in tow. They show “YB Kamal” their electricity bill, which totalled a whopping RM2,657, accumulated over six years.
Kamalanathan, eyebrows raised, tells the family that he cannot settle their bill.
“If I help them this way, every single person will expect the same,” he tells The Malaysian Insider. Instead, he offers the family a solution.
“Let my men speak to TNB. Perhaps we can work out some sort of instalment plan,” he said.
More welfare seekers, mostly Indians, breeze into Kamalanathan’s office during the weekly session. In a day, Kamalanathan serves between 50 to 100 constituents with 106 being his record to date since he took office in April 2010.
“I do not even have time for lunch. If I tried to break for lunch, my constituents would get angry with me... they’d complain that they’d been waiting for hours so how could I eat?” he said, explaining that this is why he keeps a mug of water, one cup of coffee and some biscuits stashed away in his desk.
In Hulu Selangor, the Indian community makes up some 16 per cent of the nearly 82,000-strong electorate, while the Malays make up 57 per cent, the Chinese 24 per cent and the orang asli three per cent.
According to the first-term MP, a large segment of Hulu Selangor voters are lower income earners, with many among them Indians.
“They come in with a lot of problems. Some, I cannot solve... it is beyond my imagination to solve. And yes, they even cry. I get very, very emotional too but I try my best to listen to them,” he said.
He said a whopping 27,000 voters in Hulu Selangor were recipients of Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M), an initiative introduced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in Budget 2012 that saw households earning below RM3,000 receive one-off cash payments of RM500.
“That is over 30 per cent of the electorate here, imagine that,” Kamalanathan pointed out.
But he is not daunted by the number of destitute Indians in his constituency, insisting that since Election 2008, the livelihood of Hulu Selangor’s lower income earners have improved, owing to the Najib administration’s policies and “plain hard work”.
“When I started this service centre, not many people came in. But when people started seeing their problems resolved, they started coming in... really coming in. Plus, the PM has introduced a lot of initiatives to ensure the Indians are taken care of,” he said.
“Lets look at numbers. If in a week, I see 50 in this office alone, in a month, I see 200. If, say, 60 per cent of them are Indians... just calculate that,” he said. “So I think I will be able to get more [votes] in the next polls... because I sit with my voters, I break protocols.”
Kamalanathan, who is among MIC’s four federal lawmakers, added that under Datuk Seri G. Palanivel’s leadership, the rebranded MIC has also done quite well to woo Indian support back into Barisan Nasional’s (BN) fold.
“So, generally, yes, Indian support has increased. You can see for yourself,” he said, referring to the steady stream of Indian voters he had served that afternoon alone. “And this is the trend I get every other week.”
The country’s 1.8-million strong Indian community make up some seven per cent of the population and electorate and is seen as a crucial vote bank for BN in the coming polls.
Decades of frustrations at being left out of development had seen the community flee from BN during Election 2008, adding to the ruling pact’s historical loss of its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority.
But since then, Najib has been actively courting the community, seen now as the possible game-changer for the coming 13th general election. For example, the prime minister had allocated RM100 million to upgrade Tamil schools in Budget 2012, the same amount given to Chinese schools and religious schools.
“And of course, it was Najib who told me three things when I was voted in and it has helped me a lot,” Kamalanathan recalled.
“One, he told me to stand by my principles. Next, he said I must be connected to the grassroots. And this is how I do it — face to face problem solving. Finally, it is plain hard work,” he said.
Kamalanathan explained that in a month, he would have at least 130 programmes lined up, excluding his weekly sessions with his constituents.
He admits the work is hectic and difficult but added that, “I always look forward to the next day.”
“But it’s my passion — I love what I do. And this is what is going to make a difference in the elections — delivery,” he said.
Kamalanathan recaptured Hulu Selangor for BN during a by-election in April 2010, trouncing former PKR strongman Datuk Zaid Ibrahim with a 1,725-vote majority for the seat.
The constituency was previously held for four terms by Palanivel but the MIC leader had lost the seat during the tsunami of Election 2008 to PKR’s Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad.