Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Commentary: Penny needs to follow the PP lead and create an all-inclusive PNM

Pennelope “Penny” Beckles-Robinson is blaming the People’s Partnership Government for a lack of unity in Trinidad and Tobago when she should be looking in her own backyard to see who has planted the seeds of disunity and continue to do so.

The former senator is fighting her leader, Keith Rowley, for the leadership of the People’s National Movement (PNM) and is using the opportunity to find fault with the government when her fingers should be pointed at Rowley and those who ran the PNM since 1956. And that includes Penny herself, who is a member of the PNM executive, had held cabinet positions and has been a member of the party for 20 years.

She told the Trinidad Express newspaper, “When the mas is over the unity must continue with politics of connectivity and inclusion,” adding that that the People’s Partnership Government promised unity and change but failed to deliver on that promise because the country remains divided.

“Right now, Trinidad and Tobago is a house divided against itself…You can’t build a society unless ordinary people feel included in the decisions which affect their lives and their livelihood.” We all know that but let’s not getting carried away with flowery rhetoric.

Who alienated the people, Penny? Look in the mirror! The divisiveness in this society comes from your party and its present and past leaders. 

It was Patrick Manning who insisted on fighting alone and losing alone, a policy that caused him to lose his government in 1995 to a leader who worked hard to end the divisiveness nurtured by the PNM, and bring all the people together under the big tent of the UNC – the United National Congress. And Kamla, as the new UNC leader and Prime Minister, has been governing with a commitment and belief in unity and consensus.

By contrast, Keith Rowley has been the leader of the PNM since he and his followers kicked Manning out of Balisier House in 2010 and he has worked hard at keeping the country divided with his partisan statements and actions.

He has objected to rural development, hospitals in Couva and Penal, a University Campus in Debe, decentralization of other state facilities and most recently, he took issue with the Prime Minister for inviting the Mighty Sparrow and Peter Minshall to Penal to honour them. He suggested that the event should happen at a location “in keeping with the character of their contribution”. In other words, Penal was not good enough for these two men, a suggestion that the culture of Penal is unsuitable for men like Sparrow and Minshall. 

It was Rowley who praised his PNM colleague in Tobago after he made the racist “Calcutta Ship” comment. His colleague, Fitzgerald Hinds threatened to chop off the rasta locks of a little boy for kissing the hands of the Prime Minister. And Hinds said people say Rowley is too black to be PM because he wanted to send a message that people should keep Rowley as their leader because of his ethnicity.

The PNM has been so opposed to rural Trinidad that Manning even told this country that Kamla was not fit to be Prime Minister because she was from Siparia. 

Rowley had a problem with Kamla visiting India and showing respect for her elders. "Nobody sent the Prime Minister abroad to represent her religion or her race,"  he said.
These are the things that defeat attempts to unite our country, Penny. You should be telling Rowley and members of your party that it is time they start working on building a united Trinidad and Tobago instead of taking every opportunity they can find to cause division and disunity.

It started a long time ago with your founding leader Eric Williams who denounced one race of people for not supporting his party. He called schools built and supported by the Hindus cowsheds and in the decades he governed he never saw it fit to include a single Hindu within his cabinet. Is that how you build national unity? 

Even members of your own party feel the stress and strain. Colm Imbert remarked in 2010 that he was too white and too educated to be identified among the membership of the PNM. Manning ended up in Parliament in 1971 because Williams tossed out Gerard Montano from San Fernando East because the PNM no longer had room for white people in his government.

Take a look at the president cabinet and you’ll see a united Trinidad and Tobago. Take a look at the People’s Partnership and you would see inclusion and acceptance of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago, not just those who traditionally support one party. 

Manning said NJAC was waste that the PP took up from the garbage heap. Today NJAC – and all those it represents – is an equal member of the PP and can contribute to the development of a united and progressive Trinidad and Tobago. 
Kamla Persad-Bissessar brought all the people together in a coalition of interests that involved parties and people. The PNM style was to cast aside non-PNM members. PNM country was never Trinidad and Tobago; it was a geographical area populated by supporters of your party and no one else mattered. That is what made us – to use your words – a “house divided”.

That is why the country’s infrastructure was crumbling while your party was building white elephants in Port of Spain. That is not how you build unity. You build unity with people and seeking their interests.

You build unity the way Kamla has been doing it. Her mantra was there can never be a “we and them” in Trinidad and Tobago, only “us” because regardless of ethnic origin, religious or social standing, we are all one people. The PP has never seen supporters and members of the PNM as their enemies but as neighbours and members of the same family who didn’t share the PP’s view of things.

No PNM government has ever accepted that and the proof is in the country’s archives if anyone wants to check.

Patrick Manning stated at a PNM convention some years ago that it would be “glorious day” for the PNM when its membership could reflect the diversity of Trinidad and Tobago but in all his years in government and as leader of the party he worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen.

The infamous PNM secret slush fund to give scholarships to party supporters alone demonstrated that the PNM was a party that would remain committed and loyal not to Trinidad and Tobago but to those citizens who would blindly support the leader.

You cannot have a national party by just putting a candidate in every constituency in the country. And nobody doubts your contention that that you have some Indians in the party. I have not heard you object to a statement by one of your supporters, Bose Sharma, that the PNM does not welcome Indians. Kamaluddin Mohammed was a founder of the party and was working with Williams even before the party had a name. But Kamal was not a suitable choice to be Williams’ successor because he and Errol Mahabir lacked one important credential that only George Chambers had.

Politics is more than perception. Politics is about people and you include people by seeing them as people who have concerns and need support of a caring and compassionate leader and government.

People don’t expect their governments to deliver everything; they know that is not possible. What they expect is to be respected to treated with dignity and to be accepted as equals regardless of their political choices. Rowley and the PNM – your leader and your party – have built their stock on dividing and exploiting people.

If you want to be a leader, then act like one and don’t be shy about calling out those who have really divided this country. Having a few Indians in the party and hanging out at a curry duck lime doesn’t make you an inclusive leader.

Your statement: “I have always been about consensus, I will work with anyone in order to achieve worthy goals, once the other person has the same objectives and standards” is an interesting one. But is can distance you from your own party, which believes the opposite. Theirs is a politics based on a single party hegemony that leaves out the rest of the population.

Follow the lead set by Kamla and change the PNM to make it an inclusive one like the People’s Partnership. To borrow Manning’s words, it would indeed be a 'glorious day' when the PNM, like the PP, could embrace all of Trinidad and Tobago unconditionally.

Jai Parasram – 25 February 2014

No comments:

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