A Short Biography of Tun V.T.Sambanthan : An Indian Leader From Malaya ( Malaysia)

Author:   Dr.Ganesan Shanmugavelu and Prof. Dr.Balakrishnan Parasuraman

Dr.Ganesan Shanmugavelu,  Institute of Teacher Education Ipoh Campus, Malaysia and Prof. Dr.Balakrishnan Parasuraman, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan



Thirunyanasambanthan s/o Veerasamy, also known as V.T. Sambanthan, is the 5th President of Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and indirectly, he is one of the founding fathers of Malaysia together with Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Tan Cheng Lock. He became the  MIC president from 1955 until 1973. Sambanthan is one of the most important individual of the Indians in playing a key role in the independence for Malaya. As the MIC president  he worked closely with the Alliance Party leader, Tunku Abdul Rahman and they both formed a close bond of brotherhood.

He is remembered by bringing MIC into a multiracial alliance in 1955 which also brings the image of the Alliance Party as a party representing the three main races in Malaya and Malaysia to date. The highlight of his struggle can be seen  on  31st August, 1957 when Malaya  gained independence under the ‘Merdeka Agreement’  and Tun Sambanthan was one of the leader  who signed it.


Biography of Tun V.T.Sambanthan   

Tun V.T. Sambanthan was born in Sungai Siput, Perak on 16th June 1919. His father, M.S. Veerasamy came to Malaya in 1896 and amongst the early rubber planters  in Sungai Siput, Perak and had several rubber  plantations. Tun Sambanthan's siblings are V. Meenachi Sundram, V. Krishnan and V. Saraswathy. Tun Sambanthan received his  early education at Clifford High School in Kuala Kangsar, Perak. He is a passionate sports person and also known as a smart, friendly and fun student. After completing his Senior Cambridge, Sambanthan continue his education at Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu in the field of Economics. While studying in India, Sambanthan was interested in the political ideology of Mahatma Gandhi, Subash Chandra Bose and Nehru. He was also involved in the Quit-India movement.

Sambanthan’s involvement in politics began with his intention to develop and unite the Indians. On that basis, he organized the United Indian Council of Perak in 1953. In the same year he was appointed as the Perak MIC chairman. The event that spawned Sambanthan’s name as the leading MIC politician was during the visit by Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit,  Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister. At the invitation of Sambanthan, Vijaya Lakshmi visited Malaya in 1954 and despite the emergency, she visited Sungai Siput and inaugurated the Mahatma Gandhi Tamil School.The meeting between Sambanthan and Vijaya Lakshmi in 1954 raised Sambanthan’s name  and helped him a lot to contest for the MIC presidential post in 1955. In 1955, he was elected as a member of parliament for North Kinta. The seat was renamed as Sungai Siput parliamentary seat in 1959.

After the Second World War, Indian professional elites have been together and united under the ideological spirit of Indian nationalism. In 1946, Indian elites in Malaya established the MIC. For the first eight years, the MIC leader is composed of those from Northern India or Malayalee, and they are minorities among the Indians in Malaya. The majority of Indians (90%) in Malaya at that time were from South India and most came from the working class.

In 1954, there was a warm debate in the MIC whether to join the coalition with UMNO and MCA which had emerged as the main political movement in the country. The MIC has been in line with the party leader Datuk Onn Jaafar, the Independent of Malaya Party and later the National Party According to Rajeswary Ampalavanar (1981),  the MIC leadership is likely to join the Alliance but there is resistance from party members. They expressed their willingness to support if the party could guarantee the Alliance on issues involving racial relations, especially those involving the educational issues of  Indians.


The MIC president, K.L. Devaser received great criticism from the Tamil media for not taking note of the issues faced by the Indian community. Although he speaks aloud, his influence is much more among the Indian elites living in the city and he has less grassroots support. Some leaders in the party feel they need a leader who have strong relationships with the grassroots.

In March 1955, Tamil Murasu daily newspaper called on the Tamils ​​to boycott MIC. Sambanthan, who was then the state MIC leader, emerged as an alternative candidate for party leadership. According to historical records, he was actually forced to contest the presidency. Another candidate, PP Narayanan, was approached by a party leader but he rejected the offer because he wanted to focus on union activities.

Sambanthan also rejected the offer but due to pressure from the Tamil leadership he eventually agreed to lead the party. He was elected as  MIC president in May 1955. Sambanthan was also accepted by the Malay leadership as he spoke less vocally in the economic field and was more likely to speak on  culture and language rights. Among the major challenges faced by MIC is to unite the aspirations between the middle class and the demands of the Indian laboures mostly from the plantation sector.

Sambanthan started campaigning to  increase the party members among the plantation workers,  increasing the use of Tamil language and  conduct Tamil cultural activities. But the MIC under Sambanthan failed to unite the labourers  demands with the political aspirations of the middle class. The traditional and lower middle classes have strengthened their influence in the party, while the professional and intellectual classes begin to stay away from the party.

Under the leadership of Sambanthan, MIC has become a Tamil party. Sambanthan served as MIC president from 1955-73 and was responsible for transforming the party from an active party and a political-based organization to a conservative, traditional, cultural, religious and linguistic party. This party is also the weakest party among the three main component  parties of the Alliance. This party has the smallest support of 7.4% in 1959; and has little support from the Indian community. Tun Sambanthan, when he became MIC president, helped to strengthen the party economically by selling half of his 2.4 km² rubber plantation to help the Indian community and the party. One of the biggest contribution by Sambanthan was the establishment of National Land Finance Co-operative Society (NLFCS) to uplift the socio-economic condition of Indians in Malaya.

The year 1955 was a year that brought progress to Malaya towards self-government. The British administration had agreed to hold the first federal elections in July 1955 and Sambanthan was immediately involved in election campaign. He has faced challenges and after negotiations with the Alliance,  MIC leaders have been given  to contest two seats in Batu Pahat, Johor, and Sungai Siput, Perak. Sambanthan himself contested in the Sungai Siput seat and won in style. The Alliance won 51 out of 52 seats in the election.

After the victory, Sambanthan was appointed cabinet member and sworn in as the Labour Minister in the Alliance government. The government then decided to urge the shifting of  power and the Alliance's delegation went  to London in January 1956 to discuss several issues including negotiations for independence with Britain's Internal Affairs Minister Alan Lennox-Boyd.

During the early 1956, Sambanthan led the MIC delegation in negotiations between the component  parties in the Alliance to prepare  a memorandum to be presented to Reid's Commission.Sambanthan is a capable negotiator and he works hard to ensure the right of the Indians is assured, and at the same time cautious in touching sensitive issues. He was criticized at the time by party members for being soft in some issues, but Sambanthan faced them calmly and always took a middle ground in negotiations. That’s why he was praised by Tunku.

The last negotiations for independence in May 1957 were also seen as a personal change to  Sambanthan. While in London to negotiate the constitution, Tunku Abdul Rahman decided that Sambanthan needed new clothes. Sambanthan has sparked some controversy when he was seen wearing a Tamil dhoti dress during his appointment as the Federal Legislative Council. The apparel was seen as taboo in the British era. Sambanthan however defended his decision and said, "This will make most people happy". Even after the 1955 elections, when he was appointed Minister of Labour, he continued to wear traditional Indian clothes wherever he went.

During the debate to form the Federal Constitution in the Federal Legislative Council on 10th July 1957, Sambanthan urged for greater collaboration among the communities, and he reminded council members that Malaya was a multiracial nation. The success of  MIC was greatly motivated by the close relationship between Tun Sambanthan and Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. Sambanthan works with MIC in a relaxed and informal way.

When Tun Abdul Razak Hussein replaced Tunku Abdul Rahman as Prime Minister of Malaysia, MIC was urged to follow UMNO's decision. This happened after the May 13 incident and Tun Razak was more enthusiastic than Tunku to highlight the Malay Supremacy. 

Sambanthan, now known as "Tun", has been forced to resign from MIC and handover the party leadership  to V. Manickavasagam in 1973.As president of a party which became the major compound of the Alliance Party which ruled the country, he was appointed Labour Minister (1955-57), Minister of Health (1957-59), Works, Post and Telecommunication Minister (1959-71) and National Unity Minister (1972-74).

Apart from the ministry's duties, Tunku Abdul Rahman often gave important task  to Sambanthan. In 1968,   Tunku sent Sambanthan to Fiji as a security messenger.  The Chief Minister of   Fiji recognizes Sambanthan's contribution in a letter to Tunku and thanked him for the great success of the delegation led by Tun Sambanthan. He  also joined the delegation to Jakarta, Indonesia in 1966 to witness the agreement whereby the relationship between Indonesia and Malaysia was restored after the Indonesian Confrontation. Tun V.T. Sambanthan has also been the acting prime minister for a day when the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister was away   at the same time. After resigning as MIC president, he was appointed as chairman of the National Unity Board from 1974 until 1978. The body replaces the National Unity Ministry. Throughout his 25-year career in politics, he often called for and implemented the understanding that led to the universal reality. In the context of Malaysia, he focuses entirely on national unity in the later years of his life. Tun V.T.Sambanthan passed away on 21st May 1979 due to heart failure.



Overall, it can be said that Tun V,T,Sambanthan had contributed a lot to the Indian comunity as well as to the country. It may be noted that Tun V.T.Sambanthan is the pioneer of administrative and political management of the nation and the Malaysian society that should not be forgotten. He has sarificed his wealth, squeezed his thinking and worked with  leaders from other countries. He is still remembered as one of the statesmen who has contributed a lot to the country, especially to the Indians in Malaysia.



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