As Patrick Manning gets to hang in there, with 42 more days’ leave from Parliament, public affairs seems to get in the mood for back-in-times romance.
He had been certified well enough to retain his name on the parliamentary roll, but San Fernando’s most famous son failed to earn mention among those at the opening of what Keith Rowley called Balisier House South.
Some guests at the ribbon-cutting struck the cameras as being such throwbacks as to prompt questions framed as “Whatever happened to…?” The tall, patrician figure of Lenny Saith, among those to which the question applied, at once flashed back to his years of greyest eminence around wherever the Manning throne was positioned.
The default choice for acting Prime Minister, it was also to Dr Saith that, in April 2008, Mr Manning turned to fill the Trade and Industry portfolio from which he had ejected Dr Rowley. Until May 2010, the Prime Minister and political leader always found, for Lenny Saith, more compellingly big-picture assignments.
That was then? Well, he’s visibly, and intriguingly, up and about at a party event, even when his long-standing principal is no longer. And even when Keith Rowley is advertising, in his Budget response, “PNM Under New Management”.
If only for entertainment value, the new management also staged a solo turn by Trevor Sudama. Now, here is a figure on a tirelessly itinerant quest for meaning and purpose, since his December 2001 dunking in defeat, while in the bad company of Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.
Mr Sudama had been UNC Oropouche MP over 20 years. Then, with Mr Maharaj and Ralph Maraj, he rebelled against Mr Panday. The UNC leader would later find Senior Counsel use for and value in Mr Maharaj. Having recrossed the floor back to the PNM, Ralph Maraj played the MC role in the party’s 2010 campaign, then returned to the theatre stage at Naparima Bowl.
It’s nowhere reported what the MC at the Balisier House South opening said about Trevor Sudama by way of introduction. As guest speaker, however, he was unlikely to be presented in terms such as “That bravely unaffiliated voice in the political wilderness…”.
Trevor Sudama! He must be the best talent that PNM money can buy. Meanwhile, in the market for back-in-times stars with resonating potential, Basdeo Panday himself appeared in audition mode before the 1990 inquiry.
The commission played Mr Panday, and he played himself, for more entertainment value than the 23-year-old episode afforded. He was not in the Red House when the insurgents struck, but that wasn’t, he stressed, because they had tipped him off.
At this distance from the smoking guns, and the conspiracy theories about who knew what, when around July 1990, it would take a sensational revelation, yet to emerge, to implicate an opposition parliamentarian in self-evident treason. Mr Panday spins off one-liners (“I don’t think it was planned properly”) that effectively make light of those nightmarish events, and their authors.
Hansard reports a ritual August 8, 1990 self-distancing by Mr Panday: “I do not condone the actions of the Muslimeen on the evening of Friday, 27 July, in storming the Parliament and taking Parliamentarians hostage.”
His other expressions that day hailed the storming and hostage taking as a long-awaited act of God. It was all about him and the UNC, newly formed after his expulsion from the government and the NAR: “You humiliated and rejected me… Did you think God was sleeping, when you humiliated and degraded and marginalised us?”
Inside the Red House, under the gun, MP Sudama told his captors he “should not have pay for any of the deeds of those who had power and authority”. He and his leader shared the quaintly wrong-headed T&T conclusion that the NAR government must have done something wrong. Before mental equipment and language could be updated enough to recognise the perpetration on July 27, 1990 of an act of terrorism, a conventional unwisdom prevailed that it was all the then government’s fault.
Keith Rowley was not just the promoter of occasions for back-in-times nostalgia. He was also himself something of a fast-talking showman.
His budget response breathtakingly signalled a return to PNM enthusiasms once branded in the name of Patrick Manning. In the Manning era, T&T now hears from his one-time rival and now successor, much remains to be cherished, actively embraced and updated.
Dr Rowley draws down on his personal investment in the making of Vision 2020, the virtual software package for a Manning-led future, which he would now “reset” to “Vision 2030”. Rapid Rail, and east Port of Spain renewal are other Manning-era Big Ideas which, having failed to take off before May 2010, were later shrugged off by the People’s Partnership, and forgotten by the public.
Soon, Dr Rowley projects, the “invading, marauding Philistines of the PP” will have been allowed to fret and strut for just their proverbial “hour”.
Conspicuously missing from this back-in-times extravaganza, is the man in whose name they had been originally appeared. Newly rebranded in the Rowley name, the good old days of Patrick Manning are not so bad after all. Watch for coming attractions.