Sunday, January 27, 2013

A sense of shame. The Peter O'Connor commentary

How does one explain our politics and the level of political campaigning to visitors, and indeed even to locals? 

One thing is clear in my mind; the level of debate and future campaigning is going to continue to fall. There is nothing, and indeed no one on the horizon to give us hope that this slide into hatred and ignorance can be halted.

I am thankful that I was not in Tobago for the THA election campaign. And not out of fear of violence, but from my growing abhorrence of current political behaviour. But just watching and reading the news was enough to tell me—even allowing for “sound-bite” presentations of the insulting, ugly and racist comments—that more hatred and suspicion was fomented in that campaign than any I can remember.

I would like somebody to point out to us just one redeeming aspect of the campaign rhetoric, other than the fact that none of the contenders were abusive after the results came in. 

That abusive element was left to non-candidates—people who were never directly involved, but who spewed hate upon the same Tobago which the UNC had so assiduously been wooing up to last Sunday night. 

And make no mistake about it, it was the UNC influence, not that of the Peoples’ Partnership (was COP or NJAC ever present, other than by Anil Roberts?) which caused Hilton Sandy to make his “Calcutta ship” statement which he knew—as did Rowley and London—that he could scare Tobagonians into rejecting the Tobago Organization of the People. 

For all their pretended apologies, the PNM would have really enjoyed the furor Sandy caused. After all, it was Rowley, was it not, who referred to the UNC presence as the “yellow peril”, a reference used against Japanese invaders in World War Two. 

But I wonder how much of Tobago’s concern was racist and how much was religious and cultural conservatism. I make no excuse for Sandy and Rowley, for they both knew exactly what Sandy was trying to stir up. I seek a wider understanding of Tobagonians generally on this matter.

In general, the people of Tobago do not really like us Trinidadians. We are considered crass and noisy, nasty—in terms of our littering habits--, and insensitive to the problems of Tobago and the concerns of Tobagonians. And this dislike is well founded, for we Trinis are all of the above. 

Tobago is very much more than us a mono-cultural, mono-religious and mono-ethnic society. So the idea of a “shipload of people” who are culturally and religiously different to us suddenly arriving in our space is probably more unsettling than the ethnicity of those persons.

Having acknowledged all this, I cannot accept that the main reason for TOP’s loss was “the fear of an Indian invasion”. Tobago had, in 2010 voted for TOP candidates in the general elections without any qualms about the “Indian” element in the Peoples’ Partnership—of which TOP was a part. True the “Calcutta” issue was not publicly raised, but if that is how Tobago was feeling, I am sure we would have heard about then.

In my view, TOP lost because of voter’s lack of faith in the present government, a loss of faith and trust throughout both Trinidad and Tobago. 

Both Tobago Leaders had integrity issues which would have weighed against them. London had the Millserv contract, and Jack clearly had issues about the huge house which he recently built. 

I imagine these issues might have canceled each other in voters’ minds—much as we handle allegations of corruption in Trinidad, by pointing at the accusers and saying they did it too, and that is enough, for we now understand and accept that we live with this cancer, regardless of who is in power.

If I was a Tobagonian, I think I might not have voted. The PNM has continued to do nothing for Tobago, and is now safely there to do nothing for another four years. 

But the UNC (TOP really was never yet in a position to do anything) literally swept in like an unwelcome interfering “auntie” wanting to rearrange the furniture without asking whether Tobago wanted that. 

They gift-wrapped presents which the PNM had prepared, and opened them with overdone fanfare and insults to the incumbents. It would have been one thing for TOP to insult Orville, but for Kamla and her entourage to sweep in and hurl accusations and insults was something to which Tobago correctly objected.

Some form of rapprochement and peace is required—for Tobago and for the Peoples’ Partnership. Failure to work together will hurt the government politically, and Tobago economically. 

But with the Attorney general pursuing Millserv, and ignoring Jack’s house, peace seems unlikely in the near future, and our sense of embarrassment remains.

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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