Saturday, January 26, 2013

Commentary: PNM must go beyond tokenism and PR to avoid race-based politics

Patrick Manning's message is more relevant today that ever... it's a call for
the PNM to show a genuine commitment to embracing T&T's diversity
Former Prime Minister Patrick Manning once explained the absence of people of Indian descent in top positions in his People's National Movement (PNM) by stating that he found it difficult to find Indians willing to serve. However he was the one who banished PNM co-founder Kamlauddin Mohammed and Errol Mahabir.

And he told a convention of the PNM in 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 ladies and gentlemen."

During a walkabout in Chaguanas in 2009 he dubbed the central borough "PNM country" while talking about race relations. He said Trinidad and Tobago is a difficult country to run because of the ethnic and religious mix.

He urged his supporters to concentrate on living together in harmony. "When we say we want to live together in harmony with people who are different from us, I want it to be a commitment from your heart," said Manning. "Different from us" was and continues to be a loaded phase.

As recently as 2011 long after Keith Rowley became leader of the PNM, Manning was warning of the dangers of divisiveness on the basis of race. In a speech in San Fernando directed to PNM supporters he said Trinidad and Tobago faces the possibility of civil unrest if it doesn’t handle its diversity properly. 

He was at the time pointing a finger at Nizam Mohammed who had just been dismissed as chairman of the Police Service Commission for comments that were interpreted as offensive and racist. Mohammed had said that there were too few Indians in the police service and suggested that the imbalance should be corrected through legislative action. President Richards fired him.

Manning said, “If you don’t manage the differences that exist among a people, those differences conspire to divide rather than to unite.” He gave a history of race relations internationally that have led to problems in societies, causing divisions and coups.

“Don’t believe it cannot happen here, God is not a Trini, do not believe it cannot happen. It is the biggest mistake you could make...You see all this talk about race, it gets us nowhere,” he added. 

Manning was sending a clear message to all of Trinidad & Tobago but also to his own party and its new leader. It seems the PNM was not paying attention because that issue has now become a ghost to haunt the Rowley PNM.

Race became a hot subject in the just concluded Tobago House of Assembly (THA) campaign when Deputy Chief Secretary at the time Hilton Sandy made a racist remark about the risk of Indians invading Tobago if the PNM didn't win the election.

His leaders, Rowley and Orville London, endorsed him initially and condemned him later when it became a national scandal. And on Thursday Sandy was demoted although he still holds an important portfolio within the new THA. 

The fact that the PNM allowed him to continue to stand for election and then hand him the important infrastructure and public utilities portfolio speaks volumes about the PNM's sincerity when it says it stands for equality and inclusion. Can Sandy truly be expected to serve the public with sincerity when he harbours such racist feelings?

Rowley said on Monday night that his party has room for everyone but the public pronouncements and the reality and not in synch.

Even getting a Hindu woman - Pulwaty Beepath - to offer prayers at the inauguration on Thursday didn't erase the blemish that Sandy inflicted on the party and its leadership.

Perhaps it should have seized the opportunity to include Beepath in the THA as a councillor just to put a tinge of variety and to demonstrate that it is not anti-Indian. It seems the Tobago woman was good enough for the window dressing in offering prayers but no more. 
The PNM celebrates Mrs Rampersad

Back in Trinidad the PNM damage control was continuing with the party honouring one of its loyalists, Kalawatee Rampersad, who had the courage to fight several losing battles against Basdeo Panday in Couva North.

Public Relations works only when it is based on honesty and truth. 

So embracing Mrs Rampersad or inviting a Tobago Hindu to offer prayers is hollow showbiz and clear hypocrisy. The PNM has a poor record of inclusion and it is not going to fix the problem by tokenisn and eating doubles.

Jai Parasram

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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