Comrade R. Nehru passed away on 11 November 2022 in Kuala Lumpur after suffering a massive stroke a few days ago. He was 71, and his sudden passing was unexpected by his beloved family members and friends.
Born in the heady days of pre-independent Malaya, Nehru grew up during a time of nation building, with the Alliance leading the charge on the political front. Naturally, he was exposed to politics and the public sphere from an early age. His father, a rubber tapper, was a follower of the Dravida Kazhagam social reform movement that was against the caste and class divide in society and against superstitious religious beliefs. This, no doubt, shaped the values and social consciousness of his children — three of whom, Nehru, Gandhi and Annadurai, were named after prominent personalities. Dorairaj, Nehru’s older brother, took an interest in the welfare and rights of estate workers and became the chairman of the Heawood Estate NUPW Committee.
In the 1970s, Nehru’s interest in politics led him to become a member of the MIC. During that time he grew frustrated, as he witnessed the starting ideals of the once progressive organisation fade over time and into a party associated with self-interest, corruption and lawlessness. It is no surprise, then, that later in the late 1970s the then disenchanted Nehru was instantly drawn to the idealism of a few individuals who participated in a one-month university students’ exposure program at three Lintang Road estates in Sg Siput.
Throughout the following years, he teamed up with Vincent, a church worker, Saras from the YCW, along with Kumar and Rani, who both participated in the students‘ exposure program to pioneer Kalvi Kulu (Education Group). The group was the forerunner of Alaigal, one of the militant people’s organisations that went on to form PSM in 1998.
Kalvi Kulu was created to help address the very poor educational standards of the children within the estates. The group did not have plans to just provide tuition to them, but they also wanted to build a parents’ group. A lot of time was spent organising retreats for the parents, and for older students who partook in teaching at the tuition classes. Nehru played an important role in this work.
As 10 years of active Kalvi Kulu work was coming to an end, involving tuition classes and kindergartens, regular parents, and teachers sessions, cultural activities like concerts and dramas, they realised that tuition alone would not achieve much if larger social dimensions of education was not addressed, such as family income, facilities in estate schools and cramped housing.
That was when it was decided to form Alaigal to start campaigning for a better economic deal for plantation workers. Nehru was a part-timer for Alaigal for a while. As Alaigal, their work extended to Ipoh — amongst many other places — and to other marginalised communities like peneroka bandar and industrial workers.
When Nehru was in his forties in 1996, he had to make a difficult choice of moving away from his hometown where his heart was, to Kuala Lumpur, as he had to work to support his family. Kamala, his wife, and his four children — Santhiravarman, Chandra Sooria, Koghilabalan and Ragunawathy (coined from a combination of Rani, Nehru, Kumar and Saraswathy), accompanied him and settled down in Cheras where they lived until his recent passing.
Nehru had a flair for the Tamil language and literature. He, together with other Alaigal members, co-authored two books, respectively titled Othukkapadum Samuthaayam (Marginalised Society), and Ezuchi (Awakening).
After 5 years of intensive work with Alaigal — which included networking with like-minded Community Development Centre and Suara Warga Pertiwi — we saw the need to form a political party to represent the poorer half of society. He accompanied us on this journey and joined PSM, and later on became the chairperson of the PSM Kajang Branch.
It is not easy to find people who could stand up to Samy Vellu, but Nehru bravely sided with PSM’s Dr. Kumar in the 1999 General Elections for the Sg Siput seat against Samy Vellu, whom Nehru had ditched earlier. He was their campaign manager in a seat that resembled the lair of Samy Vellu who seemed threatened by the entry of the then miniscule PSM, more prey than predator! As it was revealed later, his instincts were not wrong.
Nehru was a nice soul to hang out with. He had a big sense of humour and an infectious laugh. He was a smoker for a long time and enjoyed meeting and inviting his old ‘kakis’ over for a few drinks. If he was still here, would he have been present in Sg Siput to vote, in a contest that has excluded PSM this time?
Rest in power Comrade. The struggle carries on.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia