“Below the surface of Trinidad’s political peace exists an antagonistic ethnic monster waiting its moment of opportunity to explode. The image of a politically stable and economically prosperous state however conceals powerful internal contradictions in the society. Many critical tensions prowl through the body politic threatening to throw the society into turmoil. Perhaps, the most salient of these tensions derives from the country’s multi-ethnic population.” —Professor of Public Policy, Ralph Premdas (UWI, Department of Government)
Timothy Hamel-Smith earns our recognition for his persistent attempts to initiate a dialogue to uncover solutions to the causes that restrict the kind of open participation that can kick-start genuine social progress in Trinidad and Tobago.
It may be a mis-diagnosis implied in Hamel-Smith’s rubric that the challenge of change, simply put, is to restore trust and confidence. Trust and confidence strike me as a condition that assumes a common and equal stake among parties interested in the joint promotion of Trinidad and Tobago as an enterprise worth re-booting or refitting.
We need to reflect on what the primary difficulties are, what the secondary ones are, and what methods we may use to assess what falls into the different categories.
Among Mr Hamel-Smith’s lead comments is a quotation from Prof Ralph Premdas. He brings a conventional appraisal to the problem of political and social stability in Trinidad and Tobago. I believe ethnic allegiances must be taken as sociological fact with potential political impacts. A multi-ethnic society may lead to ethnic fragmentation, but nothing in existence preordains that social segmentation will be a permanent condition that portends dire social explosions. Or that multi-ethnicity, de facto, is a curse on all possibility for serious social progress.
Social fragmentation is not an automatic stricture on progress. Nor does it define the substantive difficulty we face as a nation with zero sum antagonisms as Ralph Premdas argues, and seems to commit to, as an immutable universal law of human behaviour. No belief could be more misleading or more subversive of a people’s need, and moral courage to invest in living arrangements that imagine a primary allegiance to Trinidad and Tobago first.
Persistent ethnic allegiance in heterogeneous societies is but a symptom of negligible social progress, just like waning ethnic loyalties suggest the breaking of bonds that release people’s availability to construct new, more inclusive ethnic social compacts out of many. Prof Premdas’s neat, tidy sociological analysis inherently concedes no prospect of change that can be classified as progress. Therefore it sets false limits on the human spirit by promoting a snapshot of society as an absolutely eternal truth.
Without social progress, ethnic solidarity is the fallback option for people in Caroni, the East-West Corridor and Tobago whenever leadership is uninspiring or where individuals own no significant stake in the activities that determine the timing, course, objectives and the conditions for implementing social action. The likelihood of falling back onto primal loyalties for security is higher the less accessible are decision-making procedures to us.
In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, Premdas’s analysis hints at no sense of possibility in the slow, inexorable journey larger numbers of increasingly young people made from their ethnic moorings in the period between 1976 and continuing past 2014. This trend started with Bhadase Sagan Maharaj’s spectacular failure in 1970 to agitate the Indo-Trinidadian/Hindu community to resist the offer of solidarity from NJAC’s Caroni march with the theme “Africans and Indians, Unite”. Bhadase was Sat Maharaj’s mentor and more. That oversight from this observer has the potential to give his scholarly analysis, in this regard, an irreversible sunset character.
• Lloyd Taylor, a long-time Tapia House
activist, writes from New York.
—Continues on Tuesday.