Last Friday, “overwhelmed by the exuberant atmosphere” of a political meeting in Tobago, as he later put it, the People's National Movement candidate for Roxborough/Delaford warned the crowd of “a ship at Calcutta waiting to sail to Tobago...Calcutta ship is coming down for you.”
Hilton Sandy, who currently serves as Deputy Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), clearly should have known better. His protestations that he was making what turned out to be a clumsy and wrongheaded reference to the song Jahaji Bhai by Brother Marvin ring profoundly hollow.
There’s been no question that the threat of dominance by the central Government in Trinidad and the growing cultural mix in Tobago have played a part in the political banter leading up to the THA elections. Mr Sandy was playing with a particularly deadly bomb in his political tirade, and he has only himself to blame for the way it’s exploded in his face. The gaffe was so obviously out of line that PNM leader Keith Rowley wasted no time in condemning the statement.
Describing the statement and the sentiments associated with it as having no part to play in the party’s campaign in Tobago, Dr Rowley stated unequivocally that: “It was wrong and I think he should—whatever implications it had—he should apologise for it.”Mr Sandy has since done so, but it’s hard to see how the enormity of that error missed him for so long.
Indeed, it wasn’t until the rival TOP party started making use of a recording of the statement and his own party’s condemnation of the statement that he felt compelled to apologise for a statement that should have been withdrawn on the very day it was made.
At the time, the statement may have been the subject of cheers by crowds fired up by political invective and personality roasting. It must all have seemed quite clever and appropriate back then—and that’s why Mr Sandy, a seasoned politician and a mature representative of his constituency, should step down from his post.
What he described as an error played too clearly into the ever-present fear of racial and cultural differences that has continued to plague sensible political discourse in T&T and which has found unfortunate root in the campaign for the THA.
In the past few weeks, government spokesmen had alleged that exactly this kind of claim was being made on PNM platforms, which senior PNM members had denied. Mr Sandy, however, walked straight into a trap by indulging in these inflammatory, empty accusations.
To have made such a comment, Mr Sandy must concede that he is racist, clueless or an insensitive political campaigner, none of which qualifies him to continue as the representative for Roxborough/Delaford or a future role in the assembly.
Dr Rowley has been on the receiving end of such barbs, bearing with admirable stoicism the accusation that he had come “kurta-clad” to the Divali Nagar of November 2012. The Opposition Leader’s sensible and calm response to that bit of political baiting must now be matched by a willingness to stamp out such sentiments when they surface within his own party.
In 2013 there is no longer any room for politicians who so thoughtlessly play to the cheap seats and Orville London and Keith Rowley should make a clear example of Hilton Sandy by setting his unwelcome old-school style of political picong aside.
If Mr Sandy truly believes in the public record of integrity and fairness he claimed in his apology, then no one should have to explain to him why he should step down.