Saturday, February 17, 2018

Respecting the spirit of Divali


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There are some things too sacred for partisan political bickering and too culturally important to the nation's well-being for the politics of division. One of them is Divali. The public explanations given by ministers Jack Warner and Devant Maharaj for boycotting the opening of Divali Nagar is disrespectful to very spirit of Divali which has always emphasised inclusiveness and whose message is the triumph of enlightenment over ignorance.

That these government ministers have no hesitation in saying they stayed away because the Opposition Leader had been invited simply indicates how woefully out of touch they are with the national population. The National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC) was perfectly correct in inviting the Leader of the Opposition, whether out of respect for him or his office, or both.

For over 100 years, long before it was officially declared a national festival, Divali has been a welcoming space for people of all backgrounds and circumstances. In communities big and small across this country, Hindus have taken pride and joy in inviting friends, neighbours and even strangers to share the message and joy of Divali.

In elevating this wonderful Hindu celebration to the level of a national festival, Trinidad and Tobago declared its wholehearted embrace of Divali as a celebration that belongs to all of us and as an important part of the culture of this country.

It is truly sad that Mr Warner and Mr Maharaj could not rise above their ordinary differences with the Opposition Leader to respect the NCIC's invitation.

This is a country that prides itself in having the word "Tolerance" among its three chosen watchwords. It is therefore a matter of great worry that such intolerance and immaturity could reside inside the nation's Cabinet at the highest level of government.

We do not dispute any individual's right to turn down an invitation but, in doing so, we would expect common decency, even from children. But Messrs Warner and Maharaj are not mere individual citizens; they hold high public office as ministers of government with the responsibility to represent, not just themselves or their constituents or political parties, but all the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

This is a point that was lost on Mr Warner in particular when he dismissed last Friday's marchers as being of one ethnic group. Equally, it was lost on both him and Mr Maharaj when they rejected the NCIC's invitation.

The public declarations by ministers Warner and Maharaj threaten to take us into dangerous waters. For, we are on the way to totalitarian government when members of the Cabinet could openly express views which suggest that representatives and supporters of the Opposition are not entitled to representation by the government of Trinidad and Tobago.

Once again, we must draw attention to the Prime Minister's choice of silence on matters in which members of her Cabinet trespass on the spirit of the Constitution and on our aspirations to unity.

She should be advised that her silence amounts to complicity.