Thursday, January 18, 2018

Back to race for Sat Maharaj

The head of the Maha Sabha is a very important position, one that could be employed to the good of national unity or to the ugly of national division. Sat Maharaj consistently chooses divisiveness. When he speaks he does not do so with the same constraints as would the archbishops. He is not making a pitch for the rights of worshippers. He makes it clear that he has a horse in the political race and he wants to help it. And each time he gets an opportunity, whether on radio, or in some public space, he goes back to what he knows best, which is race baiting.

Sat gladly received a cheque from the Prime Minister on Indian Arrival Day this year, to defray costs connected to the occasion. He then proceeded to point a finger in the direction of the PNM, whom he said had planted civil servants in the People’s Partnership Government, their purpose to be obstructionist regarding the implementation of official policy. But where is the evidence of this? Has one single civil servant, proven to be a PNM operative, ever been successfully investigated for undermining his or her superiors?

Indian Arrival is one of our very special holidays because of the history of which it reminds us. It is the history of people from a great civilisation being wrenched from their land to toil on an island far away. It is a history of all of us. Africans too had been dragged away from their continent and from their own culture for centuries. Thus, Black Stalin was correct. It was the same trip, the same ship.

But Sat can be expected to resort to the ugly once he has the national stage. On the great national stage that is Indian Arrival, he felt no qualms about scraping old scabs. Still attacking Eric Williams, dead since 1981, Sat says that civil servants who were planted by the PNM have basically been obstructionist, effectively sabotaging the efforts of the Prime Minister and her party. This is dangerous, in that it could lead to undue workplace animosities, and to unfounded suspicions of people perceived by whatever measure to be of PNM ilk.

This sort of xenophobic mischief was rampant when the Partnership came to power. It led to mass purgings. It led to a spate of pre-action protocol letters being sent to members of former state boards, and to the vilification of highly talented and accomplished men such as Kenneth Julien, Malcolm Jones and Brian Copeland. Parallel with this we saw the hiring of people with dubious qualifications to state bodies and, no one bothering to hold their qualifications up to the light.

Sat’s outburst is designed to support the party in power at the expense of the opposition. But this approach is out of tune with the times. For example, Jack Warner defeated the UNC establishment candidate in Chaguanas West.

George Chambers found out in 1985, as did Patrick Manning more recently, that the PNM cannot take the African vote for granted. The People’s Partnership won because it put forth a party of racial unity. Winston Dookeran was the key here, his COP having penetrated the “Corridor” with his message of “new politics”. He chose Tunapuna rather than Chaguanas, in the so-called UNC “heartland”, as his constituency. The Partnership offered a cosmopolitan slate, inclusive of Verna St Rose Greaves, Jack Warner, Errol McLeod, David Abdulah, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, Ashworth Jack and Makandal Daaga. Because of this, the party won Tobago East and Tobago West, Toco/Manzanilla, Tunapuna, Arima, St Augustine, La Horquetta, and D’Abadie/O’Meara. These kinds of candidates do not lead you back easily to Sat Maharaj.

The Partnership squandered its mandate and opportunity for new politics. Its ministers have been out of control. We have been going from scandal to scandal. The Prime Minister herself is the only saving grace, but the men in her party have let her down. The PNM could not have scripted this better even if they tried. They have had basically to do nothing in the face of the Partnership’s race to the bottom. Sat Maharaj will find that what worked with the PDP and DLP of old will not work now. His instinct is to run back to the UNC. But to do that will surely signal to Africans what they have to do next time. One would have thought that these lessons were learned with the Tobago local elections whitewash. Someone in the Partnership will have to decide if the motto is still “We Shall Rise”, or are we now “Back To Race”?