Uneasy calm over Seafield temple

K. Kabilan

A tenuous peace has descended on the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple in USJ25, Subang Jaya, but it will not last unless the land dispute surrounding the temple is solved for good. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, December 8, 2018.

AFTER the riots of a fortnight ago, an uneasy calm has settled over the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

Devotees and temple officials know that this peace will not last unless the contentious land issue is settled for good.

The two days of rioting saw scores injured and dozens of vehicles torched. Police arrested 71 suspects and have already charged a few.

As it stands now, the Selangor government has asked until next week to announce a “win-win situation” where the temple authorities and the developer, One City Development Sdn Bhd, will end up winners in this long land tussle.

The temple was to have been relocated four years ago under a consent judgment while the developer took control of the land for a major development project.

But that is now back in the courts after the temple committee filed an injunction against the consent judgment. That case will now be decided on January 11 next year.

Businessman Vincent Tan had also waded into the issue when he started a fundraising effort to buy the land for the temple.

In between, many loud voices are being heard on issue. Some claimed to have been involved in the temple issue from the beginning while others say they are just there to help for a good cause.

The Malaysian Insight looks at the roles being played out in the temple issue.

Police hauling away the wreckage of a burnt car near the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple in USJ25, Subang Jaya on November 28. Multiple parties have since come forward to offer their assistance to settle the land dispute surrounding the temple. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, December 8, 2018.

The temple committee

The temple’s first committee was set up in 1993 with K. Chellappa named as the president and M. Nagaraju as secretary. In 1996, it was Chellappa who filed a suit against a host of parties to fight against the land takeover by developers – first by Sime UEP Properties Sdn Bhd, and then by One City Development Sdn Bhd.

Later, as a result of a fallout between Chellappa and Nagaraju in 2001, the latter quit his post. Nagaraju and his volunteers then formed a committee to safeguard the temple.

In March 2014, Chellappa and Nagaraju agreed to handover the land to One City Development under a consent judgment to the previous suit. However, in June 2017, Nagaraju and his team rejected the consent judgment and refused to budge from the original site.

Chellappa’s faction was in favour of the relocation to the new site offered by the developer. Chellappa also recognised by the courts as the head of the temple committee following a separate suit filed by Nagaraju to claim leadership of the temple committee.

The present temple committee is headed by M. Ramachandran, who last month had filed a fresh suit against One City Development. Last week, Ramachandran and 49 others got an undertaking from the developer to not move into the temple until their injunction application is heard on January 11.

They had filed their suit against Chellapa, One City Development and the Selangor government.

The civil societies and activists

Following a standoff with the developer in October, and in order to bring a stable temple leadership against the relocation, the management of the temple was undertaken by Seafield Temple Taskforce, led by S. Ramaji.

The Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple in USJ25, Subang Jaya, is currently being managed by the Save Seafield Temple Task Force led by R. Ramaji. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, December 8, 2018.

Fully supported by Nagaraju’s team as well as the present temple committee, Ramaji, a well known Hindu rights activist, took the temple’s plight to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad as well as to the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P. Waytha Moorthy.

In the campaign to remain at the present site, civil societies such as Malaysian Indian Progressive Association (Mipas) and Malaysian Indian Education Transformation Association (Mieta) joined hands to give the temple a louder voice.

Spokesman for the activists Elangovan Annamalai argued that the temple at the present site has historical and heritage value as it has been there since 1891.

Malaysia Hindu Sangam, the body which oversees Hindu issue in the country, is with Chellappa on the relocation. They want the temple to adhere to the consent judgment.

The developer

One City Development bought the land on which the temple sits from Sime UEP in 2007. It’s name, however, appeared as early as 1996 as it is also one of the parties named by Chellappa to stop the land takeover.

One City Development was the eventual party which entered into a consent judgment with both Chellappa and Nagaraju.

The ultimate owner of the land is actually Philippines conglomerate Ayala Corporation which through its property arm, Ayala Land Inc, controls One City Development.

Ayala Land, reportedly the biggest property developer in the Philippines, has a controlling stake in Malaysia’s public-listed firm MCT Bhd. MCT Bhd, through its wholly-owned subsidiary MCT Consortium Bhd, owns One City Development.

One City Development has been accused of hiring thugs to attack the temple in the early hours of November 26 but this has been denied by the developer and Ayala Corporation.

Pakatan’s Indian politicians

A day after the attack on the temple, Pakatan Harapan’s Indian ministers issued a statement from Parliament, urging Bukit Aman to take over the investigations.

Waytha Moorthy took charge of the situation and met the temple committee, along with Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran and Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari.

Following the meeting, Waytha Moorthy declared that the temple would remain in its present site, saying that he was working with the federal government and the state government to make sure it happens.

Selangor state exco V. Ganabatirau too had played his role for the temple at the state level. Both Waytha Moorthy and Ganabatirau are former Hindraf activists who in 2007 had fought against temple demolitions by the former Barisan Nasional administration.

Waytha Moorthy and Ganabatirau are now being investigated for sedition after speaking out against the attack. Waytha Moorthy had also come under attack from Umno and Malay rights group, Perkasa.

Police arresting a man near the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple in USJ25, Subang Jaya on November 28. Scores have been arrested over the riots two weeks ago. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, December 8, 2018.

Selangor menteri besar

On October 20, 2018, Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin had said the state will abide by the court order to relocate the temple as it was built on private land.

However, on November 28, he said will announce the best solution to the issue the next day. The next day, in a widely anticipated press conference, Amirudin said he was inviting everyone to the table again to negotiate an amicable settlement.

He also said the state government had no plans to acquire the land on which the temple is located on behalf of the temple committee.

On December 4, he urged the public to submit ideas how to resolve the relocation issue, adding that their suggestions must respect the “the rule of law”. He said that as the “intermediary”, the state government would find the best solution to the issue by next week.

MIC politicians

MIC leaders led by its president S. A. Vigneswaran were among the first to visit the temple after the attack. The party is also behind the new suit filed by the present temple committee chairman Ramachandran against the developer.

Vigneswaran had been reported as saying that the temple can be at peace as MIC was spearheading the suit which will prove the consent judgment was obtained through fraud.

The party had also offered free legal services to individuals who were arrested in the violent disturbances the day after the attack. MIC has provided seven lawyers for this.

MIC is also assisting several individuals who were injured while defending the temple. While the limelight has been on fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim who was attacked by a mob at the temple on November 27, there are at least three others – all temple devotees – who are also in hospital after being attacked.

Vincent Tan

While the politicians were looking for a solution to the temple land issue, tycoon Vincent Tan initiated a crowdfunding initiative, saying the fund was part of his efforts to put an end to the controversy.

He pledged RM500,000, followed by three other businessmen who similarly pledged RM500,000 each. The fund set up to buy the land on which the temple stands.

Tan, who also visited the temple said he was confident that Ayala Corporation would do all it could to help return the land to the temple, adding he knew the chief executive officer of Ayala Corporation and that he was a charitable and respected individual.

As of December 5, the fund stood at RM2.15 million. – December 8, 2018.

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