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Divali darkness

By Reginald Dumas

Wikipedia defines Divali in the following terms: "The celebration of Divali as the 'victory of good over evil' refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one's true nature, not as the body but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings anand (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light." (You see what anand means?)

The Times of India has this to say: "Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers, what the festival of lights really stands for today is a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill, and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple — and some not so simple – joys of life."

On these interpretations, the Prime Minister's recent assault on Keith Rowley at the NCIC's Divali Nagar was at best unfortunate and at worst wholly unacceptable. She has — rightly, in my opinion — been strongly criticised for her remarks. Whatever her apologists may say, the remarks were not in keeping with the essence and spirit of the festival and with the forum in which they were made. They weighed down the celebration with the very political baggage her effective deputy, Jack Warner, had earlier stated he wished to offload. They have served only to deepen current societal divisions.

There are two points I haven't seen mentioned so far in public.

The first is that the "I" in "NCIC" stands for "Indian", not "Hindu". There have been efforts over the decades, in and out of India, to merge the two concepts; I understand why. But although India is more than 80 per cent Hindu, it is nonetheless a secular state in which many other religions co-exist: Islam, Buddhism, Judaism (yes, Judaism), etc. There are more Christians than Sikhs, and Parsees previously persecuted in Persia now prosper in Pune and Mumbai.

It's perfectly true that Divali is primarily a Hindu festival, but in India it is celebrated as well by adherents of other religions, for example, Jains. And I, a non-Hindu who lived and travelled extensively within India, have certainly benefited from its philosophy. (In fact, from many perspectives I view my time in India as the most enlightening period of my life up to now.)

The second point is political. The PM clearly gave no thought to the possibility that attacking Rowley in that way might have a negative impact on the People's Partnership's quest for control of the THA through Ashworth Jack's TOP. Rowley may not be the most popular political figure in Tobago. The fact remains, however, that he is a Tobagonian, and Tobagonians don't like to be put down by non-Tobagonians, especially Trinidadians. But there is more.

When the Trinidadians — I'm speaking plainly; it's a time for plain speaking — are of Indian origin, the perceived insult takes on enhanced dimensions. I don't think it's a secret that the poison of race has for some considerable time now been infecting relations between Tobago and Trinidad, and things will only grow worse as the election campaign intensifies. Insidious messages are already being put about: if the TOP wins next January 21, the "pagans" (religious discrimination, too) will be in charge and "they" will take "our" land. "They" will manipulate Ashworth Jack as merely a docile and conveniently black puppet; internal self-government or no internal self-government, Tobago will be run from Port of Spain or, more precisely, Phillipine.

It may all sound absurd to many, but I assure you that the virus is spreading, and affecting even those I have hitherto considered balanced. Divisiveness is emerging triumphant: racist "jokes" are circulating, and persons of Indian origin, long-time residents of Tobago, are now saying they have never felt so uncomfortable.

The PM probably reasoned she was scoring heavily against the PNM; she may well have managed some own goals instead. Anyone who believes the TOP will stroll to victory in January because of the demonstrated inadequacies of the London administration would be well advised to retain the services of a psychiatrist. The party may indeed win, but it has great hurdles to vault before that day arrives. Whatever the result, however, we all realise that the election will in effect be a national referendum with serious long-term implications for the country as a whole.

Into this imbroglio strides our man in Washington, Neil Parsan, who is quoted as telling the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) that the Indian-origin community in T&T is the "more well-to-do and culturally strong and progressive ethnic group in the (country's) uniquely plural society..." Just the sort of thing to enthuse a GOPIO meeting.

I was for many years an ambassador of T&T, and I always took it for granted that I had to do my best to represent all of the country without singling out any group as superior to, or better than, others. Parsan is entitled as an individual to believe what he said. As a chief representative of T&T, however, he should not have given public voice to it. As if by way of self-exculpation, he is reported as saying his wife is black. That is no excuse at all, especially since, on his argument, she cannot be counted among the "more progressive". His own wife!

Its OPV and other successes notwithstanding, the Government has been making a fine hash of its convincing 2010 mandate, lurching from one placebo and faux pas to another. With the infamous Section 34 it crossed the Rubicon of trust; more and more people simply do not believe a word it says. Can it retrieve its original image? In politics one should never say "never", but, to cite my old Latin master, the auspices are not favourable.

• Reginald Dumas is a former

head of the Public Service

and a former diplomat

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