Monday, November 12, 2012

Commentary: Stop blaming Jack and accept that the PNM has a problem

Jack Warner
Jack Warner, it seems, continues to be a convenient whipping boy for everything that is wrong these days. 

The latest transgressions are his refusal to attend the opening of Divali Nagar because Keith Rowley was invited, and his comments about the recent PNM-sponsored Democracy march in Port of Spain. (By the way he attended Divali Nagar Friday and on Saturday he celebrated with his constituents).

Dana Seetahal is the latest to take on Jack. In her column in the Trinidad Express Friday - Spare us from politicians - the respected attorney and former independent senator attacked the Chaguanas West MP, based on her interpretation of Jack's comments.

Here is the partial quote that Seetahal used in her column: "Where was the diversity? Where were the East Indians, the mixed faces, the Chinese, the whites ...?''. Taken by itself it would seem that Jack, as Seetahal contends, was suggesting that only one ethnic group supports the opposition People's National Movement (PNM).

However that is an interpretation based on the bias of some people. Jack's point was that while the PNM contended that it attracted widespread national support he did not see the evidence to support that because the march lacked the diversity that is seen in events sponsored by the People's Partnership.

He was very clear on that. So I don't understand how Seetahal or others who have condemned the UNC chairman arrived at the conclusion that he was saying Indians don't support the PNM. 

This is what Seetahal wrote: "It is one thing to assert that the march was peopled by Opposition supporters (and why not?) but it is quite another to suggest either that all East Indians support the People's Partnership or that no East Indians support the Opposition." Jack did not say that or suggest that. Again, that was a perception based on a bias. 

Then she goes further to quote Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and his interpretation of what Jack said. This is the quote from Ramesh that she used: "What Mr Warner and the Government are saying is this: 'We are an Indo-dominated party, our support base is Indo-Trinidadians...they support us and they didn't come out'.''

And her conclusion is: "While I do not necessarily agree that the Government is saying this, it is evident that Minister Warner is."

I beg to disagree. The minister was not saying that and we should not put words in the man's mouth. 

And Ramesh is not a credible source, especially since he is the among those who wanted the UNC to be an Indian party and resented Jack's prominence in the party despite his support for Jack as a member of the Movement for Change.

Forgive me for being blunt and using an offensive word, but here is what Ramesh told me two days after the 2007 general election: "Jack is just a nigger, but we need his money." 

The reality in Trinidad & Tobago is that politicians created racial polarisation for their benefit. And the People's National Movement (PNM) was as guilty as any other. 
It was the coalition of interest that Kamla Persad-Bissessar created with the help of people like Jack that caused us to make a quantum leap ahead and bury political tribalism in 2010.

It is clear that the march on November 02 was a battle cry for PNM forces and those who want to "bring down the government" to gather to show support. The critical point that Jack was making was that the march did not have the diversity that is needed to topple a government. And that's what his critics missed because race makes such a good talking point.

The present coalition removed the Manning administration by welcoming everyone in a coalition regardless of race, religion and economic background. And those are the same people who will vote against against anyone who abuses them and fails to recognise that we are one country, regardless of how we look and where we pray.

And that brings me to the Divali Nagar issue. If anyone seriously thinks that Keith Rowley and his PNM officials went there because of the PNM's love for Hindus you are truly out of touch.

It was a part of Rowley's political makeover and part of the imaging that the party decided is necessary if Rowley is to be accepted as a national leader. It was a political statement if only because Divali and Hindus were never a priority for the PNM. 

Until last Friday, Rowley kept his distance from Hindu celebrations and Hindu culture. It was a part of his party's divisiveness that started with Eric Williams, who won his first mandate by creating divisions within the Indian community by embracing Kamaluddin Mohammed and Winston Mahabir and leaving out Hindus. Don't take my word for it, check the history and the analysis of Dr Selwyn Ryan in his book, RACE AND NATIONALISM.

Williams called Hindu schools cowsheds and refused to accept their language and religion as a part of our multicultural society. PNM apologists have brushed that aside as they have with the angry attack on Indians following the PNM's loss of the Federal Elections in 1958 when Williams blamed Indians and the media for his defeat. (He burned a copy of the Guardian newspaper too).

When he spoke of the "recalcitrant Indians" it was directed at Hindu Indians, not the general Indian population. Mahabir confirmed that to me in an interview in Canada and wrote about it his his biography. 

The PNM has never embraced Trinidad & Tobago's diversity and it would take more than Rowley's attendance at a Hindu event like Divali and a Divali celebration in St James to change that.

It's easy for the pack journalism to paint Jack with a racist brush. If Jack were a racist he would have accepted the PNM's courtship a long time ago. But he was never interested in that kind of politics. 

The PNM on the other hand always portrayed those Afro Trinibagonians like Jack as "traitors". My friend, Louis Lee Sing, once described Wade Mark (a previous UNC chairman) as "Panday's house nigger". And when Manning was Prime Minister and leader of the PNM he acknowledged that in all its years the party was never able to attract the country's diversity.

Here is what he told supporters in July 2003: "It would be a glorious day when the composition of the PNM is a reflection of the society from which we come. That is yet to happen...". In 2012, it is still not a reality.

Seetahal has joined a chorus of people who are saying that Jack is stirring up racial sentiments. However, 
what is unfortunate is that people who should know better are seeing everything in shades of colour without accepting that Jack was merely saying something that we all know to be true but prefer to whisper it privately but never in public.

We must acknowledge that there continues to be a problem but the problem is not with Jack, Kamla or members of the People's Partnership. They crossed the bridge a long time ago and are comfortable embracing the country's diversity; the PNM has not.

And it would indeed be a glorious day, to use Manning's words, when the PNM could do the same. Manning and his predecessors were unable to do it and Rowley now finds himself in a political straight jacket trying to extend his arms to embrace everyone.

Jack is right. The PNM does not have the national support to "overthrow" the government and when the time comes for people to make a choice through the ballot box they would seek leadership, not divisiveness. 

In other words, if the PNM wants to be in the game it would be wise to stop worrying about image makeovers and focus on becoming a truly national party, even if it means finding a new leader instead of trying to remake a failed one.

Jai Parasram | 12 Nov. 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