Karpal Singh’s death left a huge void, in both the courts of Malaysia and its political arena.
However, the Tiger of Jelutong had in mind who should succeed him in his parliamentary seat of Bukit Gelugor, should he be thrown into jail.
It should come as no surprise that Karpal had, in his steel-trap mind, a contingency plan if the government finally succeeded in imprisoning him for his recent conviction for sedition.
If incarcerated, and therefore suspended from politics as per the local law, Karpal planned for his successor to be his son, Ramkarpal, who was with him in the car when he died.
The author of the 2013 biography, Karpal Singh – Tiger of Jelutong, New Zealand journalist Tim Donoghue, said he saw the veteran politician’s succession plan with his own eyes on the night before the May general election in 2013.
“There were about 100,000 people at the field in Penang. For some reason or another, the father said to the son, you should get up and address this crowd.
“I think he was saying, in his own mind, that he would very much like his successor in the electorate to be his son, Ramkarpal.”
Ramkarpal, alongside his mother Gurmit Kaur and sister Sangeet, had masterminded the Bukit Gelugor campaign, resulting in a 41,000-vote majority for Karpal, and Donoghue said they carried it out with military precision.
Karpal had told Donoghue of his plan for Ramkarpal to succeed him should the sedition conviction result in a prison sentence – a prophecy, now, that could well be fulfilled in the wake of his death.
“Karpal told me on a number of occasions, if and when he got nailed by the establishment in terms of losing the sedition appeal, his successor would very definitely be Ramkarpal.
“I know that was what was in the mind of the father for the boy who was injured in the vehicle with him.”
A proud father
Donoghue said Karpal died as he lived, working around the clock for human rights in Malaysia, trying to achieve political equality within the country.
“But I think he realised that constitutionally, within his lifetime, he would never truly see equality in terms of the racial make-up of who controlled the power in Malaysia, but he did have hopes Malaysia would become a more equitable society within the lifetime of his children.”
His five children were a particular source of pride for a man who had much to be proud of.
Until recently, eldest son Jagdeep led the law office of Karpal Singh and Co in Penang, where Karpal was most at home, for about 20 years, Donoghue said.
Gobind had already established a political career in his own right, and having already been banned “left, right, and centre”, he was “really a chip off the old block”.
In terms of being a lawyer, Karpal regarded his daughter as the best, Donoghue said – there was “a bit of the smiling assassin” about Sangeet.
The father had a great deal of admiration for his daughter, and they would often be seen having lunch at the courthouse, laughing and joking.
“I know that Karpal valued immensely the last eight or nine years, the time he was able to spend with his lawyer daughter. He would not have spent that time with her had he not had his injury.”
His youngest child, Mankarpal, who Karpal initially named after himself, only to emerge from detention under the ISA to discover the baby’s name had been changed, was “the only one with any brains, not going into the law,” Karpal would joke about the banker.
“So the tiger has bred a bunch of cubs who are going to carry on with his work. And I’ve got no doubt his children, as members of the legal fraternity, will carry on what he started,” Donoghue said.
In an interview with Malaysiakini a week before he died, Karpal spoke of the possibility he would be ineligible to remain in the seat if he was jailed.
Planning a ferocious fight in the Federal Court, Karpal seemed to accept, with a certain inevitability, that this was one he would not win.
“If, at the end of it, I have to go, then that’s too bad. There’ll be a by-election. It’s a very strong seat, I think we will win it hands down. There should be no problem,” he said.
The Election Commission will meet on April 24 to determine the nomination and polling date for a by-election.