GEORGE TOWN: The state legislative assembly is a place for elected representatives to discuss issues affecting their constituencies, whatever they may be but one issue has overshadowed all others.
That Sri Muniswaran temple demolition controversy that morphed itself from a group of workers' bone of contention with their employer into a racial antipathy between political parties in Penang.
The temple, evidently a shrine, existed for 48 years, on land belonging to the Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB).
On April 20, PPSB allegedly bulldozed the shrine without informing its Hindu staff, who for years relied on the divine protection of the deity as they went about their tasks.
With the shrine gone, anger and frustration replaced the initial shock and sudden vulnerability felt by the workers who demanded an answer from PPSB for failing to issue a demolition notice.
Within days of its demolition, the issue spiralled into a political affair involving Pakatan Rakyat (PR) state government and PPSB.
PR dubbed the demolition as a "sacrilege" and a "barbaric" act.
Nine days later, about 150 Butterworth Container Terminal workers petitioned PPSB demanding an apology and asking them to rebuild the shrine.
However, nothing came out of that.
Even the state government's repeated calls to PPSB executive chairman Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya and Penang Port Commission (PPC) chairman Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek to apologise, proved futile.
The PPSB board refused to be drawn into the politics and pushed Dr Hilmi in the fore to ease the tension.
Dr Hilmi issued some rhetorical responses but none that could be deemed as an apology.
It did not matter that Dr Hilmi's visit with State MIC leaders to the site and initial response to rebuild the shrine elsewhere, provided a resolution.
By the time the state assembly convened on April 30, the ground was fertile for both opposing political parties to debate the issue.
It was revealed that the shrine was located close to a chemical gas pipe and the use of fire to light lamps posed a threat to port safety.
Regardless, the crux of the matter was the absence of an apology for the missing notice to the workers.
Thus, Dr Hilmi, thrust into the ring, endured verbal blows on behalf of PPSB but he was not to emerge the loser because that forlorn dub went to Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
Lim seemed to have borne the brunt of the matter for allegedly uttering that Hindu temples would be threatened if Umno took control of Penang, resulting in a mass walkout by Umno backbenchers on May 7.
From that moment on, the issue took an about-turn and like a boomerang it headed straight back at Lim, who not only endured a police report against him but learnt about his "demise" staged by Perkasa members on May 10.
The pressure group placed a framed photo of Lim with a garland of flowers to signify his "death" in front of his house in Pinhorn Road. Penang Perkasa head, Mohd Rizuad Mohd Azudin justified the protest by attributing it to Lim's apparent incitement of racial tension among Malays and Indians.
Lim's remark of Umno and its alleged threat to Hindu temples may have bordered on seditious but the core of the matter remained that PPSB had yet to apologise to its workers.
Worse still, the manner in which the shrine was demolished and its sacred items such as the soolam (spears) strewn along with debris revealed a lack of apathy to a place of worship.
Religious organisations such as Penang Hindu Sangam and Malaysian Consultative Council Of Buddhism, Christianity, Hindu, Sikh and Taoism (Penang Branch) condemned the demolition.
They supported the port workers and rued with Lim for Perkasa's farcical protest, and demanded that PPSB apologise.
Two days after the demolition, State MIC deputy chief L. Krishnan visited the site where his subtle reaction and regret was captured in photographs published in the media.
Nearly a month later, Krishnan's remorse still shadowed his face almost belying the confidence in his voice when he spoke about PPSB's assurance that the shrine would be rebuilt soon.
But an apology had not followed though. "We told PPSB we can't wait any longer.
If they prolong, their inefficiency in reconstructing the shrine would show.
The problem is that the demolition was a decision of one person," he lamented.
Would this person apologise then? Krishnan does not know.
Perhaps, it is true then; as an early 80s song suggests: Sorry (does) seem to be the hardest word.