Sunday, November 18, 2012

Guest column: Multiculturalism and coalitions

Keith Rowley and his wife, Sharon, in traditional Indian attire
In recent times, the issues of coalitions and of multiculturalism have formed their own coalition as the period leading up to the festival of Divali came to a crescendo last week. 

One statement by Jack Warner about diversity or the lack of it in a public march led to a complete change of conversation that dropped the very subject of the march itself off the national radar screen.

The follow-up punch was an obviously orchestrated controversy involving the Divali Nagar and the attendance of the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Rowley, which was followed by further comments at the Chaguanas West constituency Divali celebration by Warner.

All of this was done at a time when Rowley was emerging from a “makeover” exercise at the PNM convention that was designed to portray his softer side. The follow-up was to give him a new profile as someone who would be open to a multicultural worldview as opposed to a western, Christian worldview.

His foray into the Divali Nagar site in the midst of a controversy that had clearly been created by Warner put the spotlight on the PNM leader with comparisons being made about who from the PNM ever came there before and who was coming now and why were they coming now.

In the midst of all of this, Dr Moonilal and subsequently Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar recalled the controversy earlier in the year when the Prime Minister was roundly criticised by Rowley for her gesture towards the Indian president. 

That particular juxtaposition at that specific moment of “makeover” manoeuvre at the Divali Nagar was a telling counteroffensive to remind the audience of something awkward, the significance of which they would understand.

Essentially, what has happened is that the Hindu voter is now far more statistically relevant today than at any time before. As a consequence, the PNM has obviously come to this realisation and is seeking to overtly demonstrate that it is willing to adopt a more multicultural approach than before.

This is obviously driven by the fact that the PNM recognises that its pathway back to power has to pass through thousands of Hindu voters in marginal constituencies who have not felt very welcome at the hands of the party over the last 50 years.

The statisticians who are advising the PNM leadership will have recognised that the demographics of Trinidad have changed to such an extent that in many marginal constituencies, the Hindu voter (who can make the difference) is more likely to support the UNC than the PNM.

In the circumstances, the PNM now has to tone down the attacks that have religious and ritualistic overtones (like the attack on the Prime Minister for her gesture towards the Indian president) and seek to extend the hand of friendship and peace instead.

The UNC has moved ahead of the PNM in changing the image of their party to reflect the multiculturalism that is the stated policy of the People’s Partnership Government. The PNM continues to be criticised about its lack of diversity and clearly the leadership is moving to respond to this because of its electoral and political significance.

All of this has suddenly assumed a new level of importance because of one comment by Jack Warner about diversity. 

However, his comments about diversity also apply to the issue of forming coalitions. Dr Rowley is on record as dismissing the “stand alone, win alone, lose alone” statement of Patrick Manning of 1995. This has opened the door to some kind of coalition or alliance outlook on the part of the PNM in order to remain competitive.

However, the recent attempt by the PNM to have rudimentary coalition talks with the MSJ and the JTUM that led to the Section 34 public march two weeks ago has not yielded any cross-ethnic support, hence the move into the Divali Nagar site with the attendant wardrobe makeover.

The PNM now finds itself in new territory on two fronts, namely opening coalition dialogues with possible partners and also shifting from a dominant western, Christian worldview towards a multicultural worldview. 

The former will have to contend with the watchwords of the party, “Great is the PNM and it shall prevail,” while the latter has to contend with some bad history of the distant past as well as of recent vintage.

The Congress of the People (COP) is also having to make some adjustments of its own. Their newly-elected chair, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, has made it clear that her mission is to try to woo back disenchanted former supporters of the party. Part of that effort will require a diagnosis to find out where they may have gone.

In undertaking that process of introspection to regain lost supporters, the party still has to decide whether it intends to have power-sharing as a core philosophy or whether it wishes to be a party that will develop itself on its own without coalition partnerships in order to seek to capture power on its own. The PNM may also now be going into this phase after 56 years of not imagining it.

The above column by Dr Hamid Ghany also appears in the Sunday Guardian

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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