Thursday, November 8, 2012

Commentary: Rowley must make some fundamental changes to be a national leader

Keith Rowley is working hard at presenting himself as a real person outside of the public image as a politician and leader of the People's National Movement (PNM).

He spoke with the Trinidad Express about the issue this week and denied that he has hired an image consultant, although everybody who attended the party's recent convention agreed that it included a serious imaging component with Rowley appearing in a suit instead of the traditional red PNM shirt, holding hands with his wife in an American style campaign posture.

The PNM leader told the paper, "I have decided to open my life more to the public," which includes his new image aimed at erasing the "raging bull" and "wajang" labels that Patrick Manning stamped on him.

He was seen last weekend wearing Indian attire at the opening of Divali Nagar, accompanied by his wife, Sharon, who was also dressed to suit the event. Several top PNMites also made the trek to Chaguanas to an event that Rowley's predecessor and party traditionally blanked.

It was part of Rowley's attempt to reach out to the Indian community and demonstrate that he is not against them. To emphasise the point he told the Express he embraces all the people of the country "regardless of ethnicity, religion or political affiliation."

In his effort to make his case that he is not against Indians he made an interesting point that many people might skim over. He told the Express that in his former capacity as a PNM government minister, he had put forward "proposals to avoid the shutdown of Caroni (1975) Ltd".

Why is that important?

For several reasons. The government of which he was a part always claimed that the decision to close the state sugar company was an economic one. 

This blog has always challenged that and called it a decision based on political spite because Caroni represented the base of the United National Congress (UNC) and Manning shut it down to try to punish UNC supporters, mainly people of Indian origin, and reduce them to a state of destitution. 

Read related column: The death of sugar
Read related column: Revenge of the Stepchild

Lands that were part of the deal to close the company were never given to the former workers; machinery and equipment were plundered and a company with assets valued at billions of dollars was reduced to near bankruptcy.

For the first time we are hearing a suggestion that closing Caroni had something to do with race. Why else would Rowley raise the matter in the context of discussing his love for people of Indian ancestry?

Caroni aside, Rowley's record contradicts him new-found love for this ethnic group. Rowley is the one who harshly criticised the Prime Minister in January for showing respect to the Indian president when he said, "we did not send her there to represent her race or religion". 

Go back a little and recall his Rasta senator shouting that if he had the opportunity he would cut off the locks of a little dreadlock who embraced the PM. That Rowley never censured Fitzgerald Hinds for such a racist position amounts to an acknowledgement of it by the PNM leader.

Almost every day the PNM and its leadership are accusing the PP of discrimination against people of African origin when the records show otherwise. Last month UNC Chairman Jack Warner provided some statistics to back up his case that the PNM has never truly embraced T&T's diversity. Here's what Jack said:

"I maintain the view that the PNM, by its history, does not represent a wide enough cross section of the population. History shows that it has alienated and marginalized half of the population of Trinidad and Tobago. To demonstrate this, one just had to look at the records.

"For 30 years, not a single Hindu sat in the PNM Cabinet. This is a fact. Past PNM Cabinets had a ceiling of 15 to 25 per cent of East Indians. This is a fact.

"Similarly, PNM State Boards had only 21 per cent East Indians. This is a fact. Since 1962 there has not been a single Attorney General under the PNM of East Indian heritage. This is a fact. The PNM distributed $53 million in scholarships and only 10 per cent of recipients were of East Indian origin. This is a fact.

"The PNM also waged a relentless campaign against East Indians in this country; the Maha Sabha was denied a radio license for 10 years while Louis Lee Sing received his in 48 hours.

"East Indians in the public service and State Enterprises such as Feroza Ramjohn, Ganga Persad Kissoon and Devant Maharaj were discriminated against; over 10,000 families were plunged into hardship when the PNM closed down Caroni Limited, and the PNM, through its agents, pursues a racist agenda on certain radio programmes. All of these are facts."

And what about Manning's senseless and baseless hounding and harassment of former Chief Justice Sat Sharma?
And before that I recall Rowley contradicting his Manning, when the then PM apologised to the country for what he called "a printer's error" in budget documents that stated that cabinet had agreed to reserve tertiary education places exclusively for young blacks. Manning was doing damage control on what was in effective an affirmative action program in favour of blacks.

But Rowley stood up and said Manning was wrong; there was no typo. He insisted that the policy was government policy and it must not be changed. Selwyn Cudjoe even chided Manning for backing down and told him to "stand up for your right".

So if Rowley wants people to get to know him better, he could start by being honest and then tell the country the truth. Then he could say he wants the PNM to change and embrace everyone. Having said that all his actions and energy should be directed there because Trinidad & Tobago has no room for divisive ethnic politics.

Kamla and the PP ended that in 2010 and no citizen should allow racism to crawl back into our politics. We don't need the bigots; leaders must embrace our diversity with honesty and sincerity. The PP has embarked on such a journey and now is the time for Rowley to genuine follow.

The PNM cannot erase its record with public relations and image management. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that it is politics that drove Rowley and the PNM to the Divali Nagar opening. 

The PNM's priority, as Manning told me when he was opposition leader in 1999, was to "take care of my people". Perhaps Rowley genuinely wants to change that because he understands that for anyone who wants to lead T&T "my people" must be all the people regardless of where they live, how they look and how they pray.

Hinds has sent a coded message that links back to 2001 when then President Robinson appointed Manning as PM. Hinds told the Express the PNM must reach out and be flexible while holding on to its "moral, spiritual and political principles". In other words, we accept you on our terms.

Rowley has an opportunity to make the PNM a great national party; the question and the challenge for Rowley is whether that is what the PNM wants. 

The reality is that unless Rowley makes some significant and fundamental changes to the way his party thinks, I would have to seriously doubt his sincerity.

Jai Parasram | 07 November 2012

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai