Some 50 years ago, citizens of Trinidad were in the midst of animated debate about their constitutional and political future.
The country was on the boil ethnically and many were fearing the worse.
Extremists, of whom there were quite a few, were proposing all manner of schemes to get what they wanted, which was ethnic parity in terms of the distribution of national state offices.
The issues were not really different from what they are now with respect to the Central Bank.
Williams was having nothing to do with PR or representative bureaucracy.
As he said, "There are those who would like the Trinidad and Tobago Independence Constitution to be patterned on that of Cyprus which means that the Constitution will emphasise, and in fact establish sharp lines of division between the various racial groups...I would far prefer to have a Government of Trinidad and Tobago accused of not dividing up the community into racial groups rather than have it accused of constitutional provisions which would establish a Negro President and an Indian Vice-President of a Republic, with a fixed proportion of seats or places as to the various racial groups in the Cabinet, in Parliament, in the Judiciary, in the Police Service and in the Civil Service. As far as I am concerned, that way madness lies."
These and other issues were on the unofficial table during the deliberations of the major parties and groups which took place at Queen's Hall, which was one of the more iconic events in our constitutional history. Williams was happy that he was able to get the groups to get together and not insist on a referendum to decide what was to be done. In his view, the event was a landmark. As he boasted, "Today's meeting represents the closest approximation we have yet achieved towards the national community...All of you added together, with your collective views however divergent or contradictory, constitute a citizen's assembly the likes of which has seldom been seen in the world...You are all here this morning...the nation in conference, an educated democracy in deliberation, a Government seeking advice from its citizens."
Williams had a mild rebuke for those who "congratulated the government" on the "privilege" that they had been afforded.
"Participation was a right and an obligation, not a favour," he reminded.
Williams also disclosed that the draft had been prepared in only three and a half weeks.
They were men in a hurry, he explained.
Other voices were not as sanguine about the usefulness of the conference.
CLR James referred to it as a "phony conference" that was not representative of all the people.
In the view of the DLP, the whole thing was a circus from start to finish.
Opposition elements described it as a "citizen's committee to cover a dirty dictatorship", a "mahogany casket to hide a rotten corpse".
Others contended rather unfairly that it had been packed with PNM supporters. Critics also justly rejected the government's arguments that the country had to hurry to independence, and thus could not allow the citizenry more time to debate the issue.
The failure of the two parties to settle their differences before going to the Colonial Office must be ascribed to the unfortunate procedure that Williams chose to adopt in framing the constitution.
As Dr Capildeo himself argued at Marlborough House in London, "a wider measure of agreement would have been achieved if an attempt had been made to secure our cooperation from the outset...The Government however chose to ignore us and proceeded to prepare a draft on its own".
None of the principals, including the DLP, endorsed the demands of an extremist minority of the Indian community.
The DLP itself strongly rebuked the Indian National Association for its "extremism". "The Indian Association is a many sided thing. Cranks who have weird ideas of removing governments, communist sympathisers, frustrated people who would have liked to be candidates in the last elections...They are prepared to destroy left, right and centre if they do not get what they want. They conspire, intrigue and undermine. They, most of them, have chips on their shoulders."
The colonial secretary, Reginald Maulding, also rejected partition quite firmly.
As he advised, "a heavy responsibility lies upon those attending...to ensure that the new Constitution they are devising will be one under which the peoples of a former dependency can emerge and government themselves as a single nation".
Since both the PNM and the DLP were in agreement that partition or proportional representation was undesirable and, in the case of partition, meaningless, the negotiations did not give consideration to such proposals.
Whether at the instance of reports from Trinidad, or intuition that Trinidad might indeed witness a bloodbath, Williams finally agreed to compromise.
The conference seemed on the verge of complete collapse when he decided that he would make a statement that he hoped would meet some of the objections of the DLP.
The concessions were the following:
Special entrenchment of an increased number of provisions by a three-fourths majority of the members of the lower house and a two-thirds majority of the members of the upper house.
An independent boundaries commission which would delineate new constituencies which would vary by no more than margins of 20 per cent.
An elections commission which would be responsible for the conduct of elections and the registration of voters.
Widening of the right of appeal to the Privy Council in matters other than constitutional rights.
Limitation to six months of the period during which a proclamation of a state of emergency could remain in force without being extended by parliament.
Strengthening of the provisions for the independence of the auditor general.
Entrenching of provisions relating to the independence of the judiciary from partisan political pressure.
Consultation with the leader of the opposition on important appointments including the chairmanship of the elections and boundaries commissions, and on all the important national issues.
Williams had at first planned to have Colonial Secretary Maulding serve as a liaison between himself and Capildeo, but later decided to inform the opposition leader personally that he planned to make some new proposals. During the tea break, Williams pulled Capildeo aside and told him that the two leaders should settle the outstanding issues rather than leave it to the British to resolve. Capildeo made his reply contingent upon the content of the proposals. According to Capildeo's version of the event, "Dr Williams came to me and said, I intend to make a statement that we shall cooperate, that we shall meet and that we shall discuss our differences," I replied, that statement is very good to make under any circumstances. Go ahead and make it by all means. If you make that statement, I would underline it."
Williams, who had kept his hearing aid switched off for most of the meeting while Capildeo hurled imprecations at him, turned it back on and sought to charm Capildeo.
Series to be continued