by Himanshu Bhattand Sangeetha Amarthalingam And Azril Annuar
Apr 20, 2014
GEORGE TOWN (April 20): It was the sort of send-off never before seen by Malaysians in living memory.The dramatic outpouring of of adulation as the cortege of the late Karpal Singh passed through the streets of his hometown of Penang will surely reverberate in the annals of our history.
It was indeed a sumptuous tribute to a most iconic and colourful hero of our times.
Karpal, 74, who passed away in an accident in the pre-dawn hours of April 17, was neither a minister nor an official dignitary, and did not hold any position in the government.
He was an opposition parliamentarian and an advocate noted for his courageous and bold stands for various segments of society.
At the same time he was reviled by the powers that be for his indignant and untiring efforts to weed out malpractices and misgovernment.
Karpal, had in his long and eventful career in law and politics been famously incarcerated without trial under the draconian Internal Security Act.
In fact, prior to his death he was on the verge of appealing a sedition-related sentence of RM4,000 fine which would have stripped him of his status as an MP for Bukit Gelugor.
However, as it had so happened, the immense tributes and public grief from all segments of society at the epilogue of his life have appeared as vindication of his unwavering commitment to stick by his principles, no matter the challenges heaped against him.
Resounding Sikh call to defend innocents
His funeral day began with firecrackers erupting as the cortege emerged from his Jalan Utama home to make its way for ceremony with state honours at the Dewan Sri Pinang hall.
The stream of personages who queued to pay their respects was no less impressive than the tens of thousands of common people who thronged around the complex for an opportunity to bid him farewell.
Fittingly, his casket was draped with the state flag of Penang, and the flag of his beloved party, the DAP.
At the end of the official ceremony, the wafting strains of the verses of the Sikh holy book `Guru Granth Sahib’ were heard by all.
It was then – in the most symbolic projection of Karpal’s reputed character – that the loud clarion call of the Sikhs, as defenders of the innocent, resounded through the speakers in the hall as well as along the entire hushed complex and the roads outside: “Bole Sonihal! Saasriakal!”
Poignant moments during cortege procession
As his casket was led out, the floods of emotion surfaced amidst the multiracial crowd as people wept and cried “Karpal Singh! Karpal Singh!”.
Thousands of people on foot and scores of roaring motorbikes escorted him.
The cortege stopped in a deeply poignant moment in front of the Penang court complex’s main gate at Light Street with the avenue of Green Hall where Karpal’s legal office is sited just across the street.
It next stopped at the Penang State Legislative Assembly where Karpal had served as an assemblyman in 1970s and 1980s. Known as the “Tiger of Jelutong”, Karpal was an eight-term MP of Bukit Gelugor and Jelutong, as well as 4-term assemblyman in Kedah and Penang, first elected in 1974.
Later, hundreds of St Xavier’s Institution students and alumni burst into the school’s anthem as the cortege of one of their favourite sons stopped at the front gate of Farquhar Street.
Meanwhile, the crowd swelled further, and a convoy of firetrucks and ambulances belonging to volunteer squads wailed their sirens as his cortege turned into Penang Road.
Traffic came to a standstill along entire stretches of Penang Road and Burma Road as the streets were flooded with people and bikes streaming with the cortege in its journey to the United Hokkien Cemetery in Batu Gantong where he was later cremated.
As the day approached its end and the hysteria waned, all those who had witnessed the historic occasion were left to rue if such a one as the great Karpal Singh will ever, in flesh or in spirit, rise on the Malaysian soil again.