LEADER of the People's National Movement (PNM) Dr Keith Rowley, may have created unnecessary political problems for himself in rising to national leadership of Trinidad and Tobago by influencing his party into boycotting last Thursday night's official programme marking the country's formal break with British colonialism.
Dr Rowley would have been just 13 years old when the historian and founder/leader of the PNM, Dr Eric Williams, led this multi-ethnic plural society into independence on the night of August 31, 1962.
Then, despite earlier political leadership shenanigans of the brilliant scientist and mathematician, Dr Rudranath Capildeo of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), both the government and opposition had ensured national unity in the togetherness of celebrations of the momentous occasion.
But 50 years later, and against the backdrop of quite significant political, social and economic changes—including a "Black Power Revolution; transforming T&T into a constitutional republic and its emergence as Caricom's dominant trade and economic partner, the PNM under Dr Rowley's leadership, chose to do its own political thing in preference to participating in the official programme marking the nation's golden jubilee of political freedom.
Whatever real or perceived deficiencies there may have been in the planning and execution of the official programme by the Partnership Government for the historic occasion, a demonstration of social/political divisiveness should not have been an option for the PNM. But that was the impact.
The PNM leader had told the local media that it had no time for "feteing'' and went on to stage its own re-enactment of the flag-raising ceremony of 1962 with the claim that the Government had blanked his party's overtures since March last year for collaboration in staging an appropriate national ceremony.
National Security Minister Jack Warner — very much in the news these days, and often driven on the backfoot in reponse to verbal broadsides — had dismissed the "divisive'' nature of the PNM's boycott of the official celebratory even, rooted, he thinks, in an unflattering political motive.
Leading religious leaders of the country condemned the separate path chosen by the PNM, and the Express was to observe in an editorial on August 31, titled "Put T&T first''.
"The PNM, which opted for its own mirror-image, including a flag-raising ceremony on Thursday night at party headquarters at Balisier House, has expressed dissatisfaction with the play given to Eric Eustace Williams in the official programme.
"The feeling is inescapable, however, added the Express, that since the PNM has not noticeably cherished Dr Williams' legacy, even downplaying his memory in its own 50th anniversary event (as a party in 2006), it is seeking with its new-found enthusiasm for its founder on this auspicious occasion, to score political points today…''
Personally, I cannot recall any of the previous leaders of the PNM betraying a divisive inclination for any national celebratory event to commemorate the birth of T&T as an independent nation.
And, at the risk of being proven wrong, I think that former long-serving PNM leader and prime minister Patrick Manning — currently recovering from illness — may have disagreed, if necessary, with aspects of the planned official programme but would have strongly resisted any suggestion of a separate flag-raising ceremony by the PNM.
Mr Manning would have correctly sensed, given his own political career, that such a separate ceremony can only make a mockery of the T&T's national motto: "Together we Aspire, Together we Achieve.''
Across in the Republic of Guyana, where its multi-ethnic citizens continue to live with the challenges of race-based politics, I still recall with nostalgia, the spontaneous embrace on the night of May 26, 1966, at the National Park in Georgetown, of Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan when the Union Jack was lowered and the Golden Arrowhead hoisted
A symbolic political show? Perhaps. But it was, nevertheless, a most welcome, matured gesture after the years of virtual fratricidal warfare in the 1960s.
And despite T&T's own social and political divisions, successive governments in Port of Spain have managed to avoid the racial violence and political disturbances that have often rocked Guyana and, therefore, still serve as a reference in the politics of nation-building in a multi-racial, multi-cultural society.
The question of relevance is what, objectively, does the PNM under Rowley's leadership, hopes to gain by the introduction of that myopic divisive separate re-enactment of the flag-raising ceremony on the day when Trinidad and Tobago marked its historic golden jubilee of political independence?
That development would hardly have stirred the creative imagination of the youth of Trinidad and Tobago — 13 years and older-and irrespective of ethnicity.