Words get in the way. It’s why I had never let “cabal” fall from my lips nor take form from my fingertips. Having lacked purchase on its meaning, I let the word belong to others: it’s not mine to use.
It became an attack word, even maybe a curse word. I gasped on seeing “cabal” applied to the stronger performers in our Macqueripe swimming group, who strike out toward the distant “point”, leaving lesser strugglers to plod water in their wake. Recognise, then, a curse word for an exclusive, self-regarding set, possessing special strength, skill, or luck to stay unreachable lengths ahead of lesser, vaguely envious, aquatic strivers.
To be so characterised is to be likened to the accursed whatever around Kamla Persad-Bissessar that, on July 29, in Chaguanas West, had got its just deserts. Unlike how Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday, the lady, by curiously chivalric reticence, tends not to be held up, for singular reprobation.
In defeat on That Night, she reminded the world that, despite the ignominious reverse, she still commanded the national government. Whatever had been lost fell short of the political kingdom.
Multilingual years ago in T&T, “caballeros” might have suggested itself as a word for members of “Kamla’s cabal”. The lady was affirming that, caballeros come, caballeros go, she remains in charge.
In predictable political quarters elsewhere, however, as a headline in Jack Warner’s Sunshine put it, “PM Kamla now a distraction”. Of course, it’s now the Warner Independent Liberal Party (ILP) that is regarded as the “attraction”.
Hoisted high by the oversize manhood of Shaquille O’Neal, “PM Kamla” claimed equally prime-time space for touching the feminine feet of Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil. After having been loudly rebuffed in Chaguanas West, it should not follow that the lady had suffered generalised national rejection.
Minus that other story in Tobago, 40 electoral constituencies remain in play. Presently, Ms Persad-Bissessar was finding occasion to play herself.
Gun murders and other crime had again called national attention to an East Port of Spain neighbourhood. It appeared that cries of the people directly affected by “home invasions” and the killing of a pregnant 16-year-old came over as appeals for “leadership”.
In the screenplay thus suggested, occasion arose for the leading lady to reclaim a positive spotlight. Somehow, without the liabilities of its “cabal”, the administration branded in the name of Kamla Persad-Bissessar was being put to the test.
It took a woman, with children of her own, and singularly available for the role, understandably to hug and sob with the mothers of teenage murder victims. For the “cabal”, assumed to comprise hard-eyed and hard-back men, no role here offered itself. The event reasserted the essence of the 2010 People’s Partnership promise.
Always, it had been a case of woman power. Not a “gender” revolution, but the pioneering rise to the commanding heights of a woman leader. This had to be seen to be believed. Even after having been seen, there remained unwillingness to suspend disbelief.
Two 2010 campaigns successively offered occasion to discredit what was on offer in the person and name of Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Fighting the UNC internal election, Basdeo Panday warned tendentiously of her “weakness”.
This could have been taken to mean either some personally self-destructive vulnerability, or a gender-related unfitness. Weighing the options before them, UNC party voters and, four months later, national electors shrugged and took a chance.
It was a chance-taking they would be caused soon to remember. With specific reference to the chance she had taken with the embrace of Jack Warner, then still also in the FIFA cabinet, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley, short weeks into the new administration, stated the case: “There is a view in this country that the Prime Minister is hostage to powerful forces.”
The “view” thus promoted held that, so far from being her own woman, she was the smiley-face figurehead hoisted aloft by the literal manpower of her handlers. It’s the “view” that, three years later, had gained mileage as the image of a “cabal” of players making up the engine room of the Persad-Bissessar administration.
In mid-August 2013, “Duncan Street” projected as a place in urgent need. It wasn’t an administration or a party, or any part thereof, which proved capable of adequate political response.
The spotlight trained on a single persona. “We Support You, Madam PM”; “We Love You”; “We Know You Care”, “Duncan Street” people said, including on placards that read as if scripted at UNC party central.
Something was left of the appeal that had made the People’s Partnership into a match-winning prospect against Patrick Manning’s “red steel” establishment. On “Duncan Street”, without the stigma of any “cabal” manpower, Ms Persad-Bissessar made woman-to-woman contact.
“Allegedly” suddenly lost its force. The woman Prime Minister was neither known nor defined by the incriminating “cabal” company she keeps.
With this new factor producing self-doubt among the PNM supporters and MPs long politically garrisoned within, the impulse was encouraged toward common cause against the common enemy now represented by the Warner ILP.
Shortly, too, Keith Rowley and Kamla Persad-Bissessar sat companionably around a table, rehearsing possibilities for “collaboration” on crime. The “cabal” had been got out of the way.