Monday, January 20, 2014

Commentary: Can the PNM deal with the 'indianisation' of the party?

“There was a time that I was interfacing with the East Indian community at such a rate that I used to be eating roti five times a week … so much so that I am an expert on roti today.”
Patrick Manning - campaign 2010
The quotation is from former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, trying to make the point during the 2010 election campaign that he was close to the ethnic group that has always kept a distance from the People’s National Movement (PNM).

If roti is the benchmark for connection with the Indian community then we are in trouble. But that is how Manning saw Indians and how the PNM traditionally saw the people who make up nearly half of the population of Trinidad and Tobago.

And what about his successor, Keith Rowley?

Rowley boasts of leading a party that is "an institution representing every race, colour, creed and class". While that is what the founding charter of the PNM stated, it is far from the reality.
File: Keith Rowley eating doubles in Debe
And today Rowley is using the same kind of tokenism to try to woo Indians to the party. He has been hanging out in Debe eating doubles, showing up at Divali Nagar dressed in fine Indian clothes and even staging a PNM Divali celebration in St James. 
Terrence Deyalsingh with Keith Rowley
It is no accident that he put Terrence Deyalsingh as the PNM’s candidate in St Joseph (when it was clear that a black candidate could have won the seat) and then push out Penny Beckles and Fitzgerald Hinds from the Senate to make room for Diane Baldeo-Chadeesingh and Avinash Singh.

Avinash is the young man whom Jack Warner defeated in the Chaguanas West byelection and Diane is a media figure who, like Avinash, has no political track record. It’s a manipulative move because their lack of political muscle and inexperience make them malleable to create the right optics for the media and the Indian community.

Rowley was playing this card carefully until a PNM member named Bose Sharma tried to undress his leader, suggesting that the Indian courtship is a fake and that Indians are not welcome in the PNM.
Dr Bose Sharma

Bose is not a ‘Johnny Come Lately’. He ran as the PNM candidate in St Augustine in the 2010 general election and leads a group called ‘To Preserve the Balisier’.

Bose's commented provoked a swift response which amounted to a severe tongue lashing from Rowley, who accused Bose of working for the UNC to send an anti-PNM message to Indians.

That charge betrayed something about Rowley’s thinking. And if Bose and his Balisier group continue their anti-Rowley campaign Rowley would be compelled to deal head on with the Indian issue.

It’s early days in the PNM internal election. But there are rumblings that are making Rowley nervous.

The talk is that Manning could be the hand in the glove for a candidate to oppose Rowley. His dislike for the man he has dubbed the "raging bull" goes way back to the 1996 campaign when Rowley challenged him for the leadership of the PNM. 

Manning sent a message recently that he is still in the game when he showed up in Parliament and left while Rowley was speaking. 

There are reports too that some top PNM strategists are backing Penny. And as if that is not enough stress for Rowley, Bose has raised a troubling issue, calling out Rowley on the race matter.

Bose has not even named a candidate but his campaign has already brought out Rowley’s anger and if Bose continues with his campaign, we’ll see more venom from Rowley. Here are some intersting questions:
  • What if Bose himself decides to run?
  • Suppose he chooses an Indian candidate that brings a wave of Indian members to the party?
  • Would the party shut out new members and deny them the vote? 
  • Would Rowley risk losing to an Indian candidate by allowing members to toe a race-based line in the election?
  • Would the present non-Indian members of the party be prepared to accept an Indian leader?
The party has never had to deal with such issues in public. No one dared challenge its founding leader and when Eric Williams died in office in 1981 the party denied deputy leaders Kamaluddin ‘Charch’ Mohammed and Errol Mahabir the leadership in favour of George Chambers, the most junior and least qualified among the three. 
Kamaluddin Mohammed

Charch was not only a founding member of the PNM and a confidant of Williams, he was the most senior and most experienced politician within the party at the time and the most suitable person to succeed Williams. 

The party will never admit it and Charch doesn’t talk about it but those who knew and understood the politics of the day will tell you that the PNM was not prepared to have an Indian leader and the party justified its choice because its leadership said the country would not accept an Indian leader.

Interestingly, when Basdeo Panday, as a founding member of the National Alliance For Reconstruction (NAR) had to deal with the same race issue in 1986 he stood down and handed the leadership to A.N.R. Robinson, saying he did not think that Trinidad and Tobago was ready for an Indian leader. In hindsight, he told JYOTI, he knows he was wrong.

Nine years later as the leader of the United National Congress (UNC) he became prime minister and the transition was smooth and peaceful. In 2010 the country welcomed an Indian woman as Prime Minister.
PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar and former PM Basdeo Panday
It is clear that the country does not consider race the way the politicians do.

Perhaps now is the time to test whether the PNM can deal with the prospect of having an Indian leader. It would be a winning stroke if the present membership – which is predominantly non-Indian – were to decide that it could put race aside in their election.

That would not happen ... but what if it does?

Jai Parasram - 20 Jan. 2014

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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