Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Commentary: Panday, Jack and Ramesh set sights on dethroning Kamla

There was a sense of Deja Vu Sunday at the Rienzi Complex with the trio of Basdeo Panday, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Jack Warner getting together at a meeting of former sugar workers in what was ostensibly a gathering to deal with issues related to the members of the audience but in reality was a political meeting.

The same three got together in 2007 to resuscitate the United National Congress (UNC) after a period of bloodletting within the party that saw the departure of its elected leader, Winston Dookeran, and the birth of the Congress of the People (COP).

In the election that followed, Panday and Jack pushed Kamla Persad-Bissessar aside with the full support of Ramesh and caused the People's National Movement (PNM) to win the election by refusing to work with the COP. 

Jack, who initially supported Dookeran, had returned to embrace Panday. Ramesh, the UNC number neemakharam who had toppled the Panday administration, was back as chief political strategist along with Panday and Jack. The rest is history.

Patrick Manning won a commanding majority of 26 of the 41 seats although the PNM received just around 45 per cent of the popular vote. Following that election the "crab in the barrel" syndrome set in with Ramesh and Jack (RAMJACK) teaming up with several UNC members, including MP Winston "Gypsy" Peters, in the Movement for Change to force change in the UNC.

Kamla was not a part of that movement but when Panday agreed to hold the long overdue internal election she decided to challenge her guru and political mentor. Jack rejected his RAMJACK colleague in backed Kamla instead of Ramesh, running for and winning the chairmanship of the UNC against Vasant Bharath and Kamla scored a 10-1 victory over Panday.

The UNC founder never accepted the defeat, claiming the vote was rigged against him, using the argument that staff at the party's headquarters refused to distribute party cards to members, thereby denying them the right to vote. It was a baseless argument because no one in that election required a party card to vote. But Panday was never comfortable with the humiliating defeat and continues to insist that the election was not fairly contested.

In the 2012 UNC internal election that saw Jack returned as chairman, Panday supported a team called Generation Next, which was soundly defeated. 
Sunday's meeting at the Rienzi complex
Today he is rebuilding some political traction and the strange alliance of Panday, Ramesh and Jack is coming together to challenge Kamla and the UNC national executive in an election due in January 2014. Kamla's leadership is at stake and Panday is sounding like he is ready to get back into the political game although he is not saying so.
Basdeo Panday and Ramesh L. Maharaj - together again
On Sunday he was using the same constituency that he had used over and over again - people who worked in sugar all their lives - to gain some political leverage. Both he and Ramesh were at the Rienzi complex addressing former workers of Caroni limited, standing for their rights, never mind neither of them lifted a finger to stop Manning from shutting down the company immediately after winning the 2002 general election.

There was more than a shade of hypocrisy in that gathering on Sunday as Panday told the audience they have to "take back" their party. But in his typical style, he was not offering himself for election, hoping that the people would "encourage" him.

“I am here to point a way," he told the former sugar workers. "But before you can do that, you must take back your party. Take back what is yours. You must take back what you gave birth to. You must take back what you gave your blood and your sweat and your tears,” he added.

His familiar lines were there, suggesting as he did in 2010, that those who were there when the party was born are the only ones who have a right to claim the party. And he was also going over the same ground of a "stolen election", which never had any merit.

He was playing on the emotion of the people gathered to hear his "sermon", telling them that the present government had treated them "as indentured servants", giving them nothing. Quite conveniently he had forgotten that when Manning and the PNM refused to give agricultural lands and building lots to the former Caroni workers he and Ramesh remained silent. And he was also ignoring the fact that since Kamla came into office she has distributed lands to thousands who had waited for nearly a decade for the PNM to keep its contractual agreement.

Ramesh too was sounding like a fighter for the people threatening legal and political action against the government.

But the most interesting part of the event was the presence of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) leader Jack Warner who had fought Panday with all his political ammunition and vowed never again to work with the former UNC leader. That was then, and today is today, he would likely say.

This is what he told the media. "They made the point that the UNC of today is not the UNC that they belonged to." He repeated what he said before forming the ILP - that he "never left the old UNC". And for the first time he admitted that the ILP was a protest movement. "The ILP was formed in protest against the Kamla UNC," he told reporters. 

There was something even more significant from Jack. Since he formed the ILP in July he had insisted that the ILP represented the dawn of a new era. But the loss of the local election, the missteps in the Chaguanas corporation that led to resignations of his youth leader and chairman, and a poor showing in the St Joseph by election seem to have changed his position.

Jack told reporters if the Kamla-led UNC national executive returns in the next internal election it would determine whether the ILP is relevant, noting that as long as Kamla led the party the ILP would be relevant. 

This is also a contradiction because Jack is on record as saying that he has no quarrel with Kamla and has described her as the best PM the country has ever had and would have for a long time to come. But I am sure he would present the same argument for his change of heart - that was yesterday.

What happened on Sunday was not unexpected. Each of the three key players - Panday, Jack and Ramesh - plays politics according to the music the band is playing. Panday's famous line of "sleeping with the devil" is well known and he is also on record as saying that "politics has a morality of its own."

He had kicked out Ramesh after the 2002 palace coup, yet he was happy to embrace him in 2007 and again when Kamla was running for the leadershing of the UNC in 2010. He had called Jack all manner of things, even accusing him of failing to account for millions of dollars in campaign funds, even refused to sit near Jack in Parliament. Yet today, Jack appears acceptable to Panday.

And what of Jack? He too had no need for Panday or Ramesh because he saw Kamla as a winner. But having fallen out with the current UNC leader, he is now ready to embrace both Panday and Ramesh.

I won't call it hypocrisy; rather I see it for what it is - political opportunism with each of the three seeing an opening to attack and malign Kamla hoping that with the storm building against her from the media and the PNM they could capitalise on it and then take her down, hoping that they would inherit the UNC and return to government in 2015.

I don't see that happening. But it would provide the trio a splendid opportunity to feed the media with all manner of propaganda against Kamla and her government, such that she might be mortally wounded politically. And if they can cause such injury their hope is to seize the opportunity to ride the backs of the very sugar workers they refused to defend from the PNM abuse and return to office.

Kamla would be wise to pay attention to what is happening. I would wager that in a free vote within the UNC she would beat any challenger, including Panday. But perhaps their intention is not to win but to inflict severe injury to the PM.

When Ramesh failed to usurp the Panday government and hand it to Manning in 2000 he formed the TEAM UNITY party not to win an election but to prevent Panday and the UNC from winning. And he did just that. When the 2001 election returned an 18-18 result and Panday fell for the basket of letting President Robinson decide on who will be PM, Robinson gave Trinidad and Tobago a dictator in the making in Patrick Manning.

The people removed Manning in 2010 with no help from Panday or Ramesh. They understood the need for unity and when Kamla put together the People's Partnership they overwhelmingly endorsed her and her team.

Since May 24, 2010 much has changed for the better in Trinidad and Tobago but Kamla and her government have also made mistakes. She has made that clear and is moving forward.

Trinidad and Tobago is better off today in every way than when Kamla took office. Both Panday and Ramesh have refused to acknowledge that. And when Jack left the government he too refused to acknowledge it although in the three years that he served under Kamla he was the one who boasted almost every day that he was a part of the best government ever and that his leader was the best the country has ever had.

But all of that is yesterday's news. Today political expediency has brought together this trio once again and they are hoping that it would give them a prize that they want more than anything else.

Whether they get it depends on a whole range of issues. But in the end, the people are the ones who must decide. And how they decide will determine much more than the political arrangements; it will determine their destiny and the future of Trinidad and Tobago.

If people care about the country their first move must be to pay attention and ask questions. Are failed leaders who want another slice of the political cake merely looking for an opportunity to regain power? What are they offering?

I would caution people against blindly supporting anyone. Those who blindly support politicians usually have to settle for the crumbs, and often find that there aren't any remaining.

Jai Parasram - 09 December 2013.

1 comment:

frederick simmons said...

People must never forget how these three men had the UNC in disarray with their in fighting , they must never be allowed to carry the UNC back , if they want they could become part of the ILP.

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