Thursday, October 17, 2013

Commentary: The UNC - 25 years later

by Dr. Rampersad Parasram

Sometimes it is useful to look back at where we are and from where we have come. Our party, the United National Congress, is today a member of a partnership representing the diversity of Trinidad and Tobago similar to what we saw when Basdeo Panday led a UNC government between 1995 and 2001.

Today Kamla Persad-Bissessar leads a party that has produced two prime ministers in its 25-year history during which it was both a forceful opposition and a highly effective government. 

In opposition it held the government to account and the administrations led by the party's two leaders have been highly effective and productive, serving not just it’s a core constituency but everyone based on its founding principle of freedom, justice and equality.

Panday’s effectiveness was driven by his professional background as a lawyer and trade unionist who fought in the trenches for a constituency that had always been ignored by successive the PNM administration as well as the one led by A.N.R. Robinson, which he had to leave to form CLUB 88 and then the UNC.

Kamla has admitted that Panday was her guru and mentor and her political grounding at the Local Government level made her responsive to the needs of the people, which is what has driven the policies of her administration.

Tens of thousands of citizens gave CLUB 88 the Aranguez Mandate of October 16,1988. They represented a significant section of the community, which has always rallied behind this party and what it stands for.

The UNC, as only the second party to pass the survival test in government and opposition over a quarter century, set a new benchmark for democracy with its system of one-member, one-vote to election its leadership. Other parties have now followed the UNC although it is left to be seen if the ILP would do the same when it presents its constitution to the party’s membership.

The UNC has faced and managed many crises. But it has held together, still united and strong. The Aranguez mandate is the landmark date although the party was not formally constituted until 1989. On April 30, 2014 the UNC will celebrate its 25th birthday.

Only the PNM has a longer history as a significant political party and the UNC is, like its younger cousin, the COP, basically comprised of members who have inherited their opposition to the politics of the PNM from their forbears and who have demanded social justice and equality for all.

Those tens of thousands of members and supporters who were in the United Labour Front, NAR, CLUB 88 and the in the UNC are in fact the heart and soul of United National Congress.

Leaders will change. The Party will win or lose. There will be divisions and fights. But the support base remains strong in spite of their occasional frustrations and expression of a sense of alienation in the party they and their parents before them built.

It is very important that we nurture this base hold it together; they must not become victims of alienation, exploitation and discrimination.

Our party is today engaged in a significant journey and its leadership must strengthen it regardless of setbacks. It must build and sustain structures and systems to ensure longevity.

While today is important, the UNC must plan for tomorrow and it must also pay tribute to the past.

For my part I am happy to have played my little part as Chairman of CLUB 88 and the first Chairman of the UNC. It was a pleasure to work with the leaders and members. I am also grateful for all who carried the dream and mission forward.

The present fracture and the formation of the Independent Liberal Party is only another phase in the evolving politics of Trinidad and Tobago.

We must not forget that in 1968, Robinson left and later form the Democratic Action Congress; Karl Hudson Phillips also left the PNM and built the Organization for National Reconstruction in 1981. Both joined the predecessor organisation of the UNC to form an alliance that changed our politics forever in the 1986 general election that ended the unbroken 30-year role of the PNM.

In the politics of our country, alliances have been formed and broken. Promises have been made and kept and promises have been made and broken.

The struggle for human dignity, equality and justice on the one hand and the search for places and spaces where one may feel secure and dare to dream and pursue dreams will continue as it has continued for millennia.

The House of the Rising Sun, the United National Congress, must remain a home for those who engage in such struggle and who seek secure havens for the chance to dream and to pursue dreams.

Let us build a lasting institution that will serve generations to come, outlast its founders and present-day managers and remain relevant. We must be prepared to pass the baton that we must hold securely before we pass it on to the next runner; a house to build, not for ourselves, but for tomorrow's children and generations to come.

Many wondered and many asked if I were for real as I read Rabindranath Tagore's timeless poem at the Aranguez rally on October 16, 988.

Some did not hear it. Some could not care. I, however, believed in what I read and which I now dare to repeat; a fool's dream or an eternal vision from which the discerning may draw strength:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free 

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 

By narrow domestic walls 

Where words come out from the depth of truth 

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection 

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way 

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit 

Where the mind is led forward by thee 

Into ever-widening thought and action 

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake! 

God Bless to all who sow seeds today so that tomorrow's child may have food; who build today that someone will find shelter tomorrow and who have faith that no matter how dark the night is, the sun will rise in the morning.

Dr Rampersad Parasram
16 October 2013

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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