Two prominent Hindu leaders do not see anything wrong with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar choosing the forum of the Divali Nagar to criticise "kurta-clad" Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.
At the closing ceremony of the Divali Nagar on Monday night, Persad-Bissessar, in her address, noted that earlier this year Rowley had criticised her for bowing to the feet of India's President—a Hindu sign of respect for elders—after receiving that country's highest national award.
"Today, a few short months later, that same person came kurta-clad to share in your festivities and admire your art forms... The same individual who rejected your values," said Persad-Bissessar.
National Security Minister Jack Warner took issue with Rowley's presence at the Nagar and expressed this via letter to the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC), explaining why he was not attending the opening of the Divali Nagar.
Newly installed president of the Hindu Women's Organisation Dr Indrani Rampersad, in response to a request from the Express for a comment yesterday, e-mailed a statement.
Questioned as to whether Persad-Bissessar was right to raise these issues on the Divali Nagar platform, Rampersad stated: "Hindu Dharma does not separate the religious from the secular. We see it a religious duty to serve our country well. Lord Ram was both an incarnation of God and an ideal political ruler. It has been the custom in this country that politicians use religious and cultural platforms to make known their views on all matters affecting the country."
Rampersad noted that Persad-Bissessar did praise the NCIC for embracing all without hate, malice or recrimination.
"We do not feel that the Hon Prime Minister was disrespecting the platform of Divali Nagar," stated Rampersad.
"It is a fact that the PNM (People's National Movement) has a weak record in appreciating and patronising Indian and Hindu culture and one must necessarily be cautious as to whether new demonstrations of appreciation are indeed genuine or just political. We hope that Mr Rowley has become truly respectful of our religion and culture and congratulate him for seeing the light, if this is indeed so. Our great country needs leaders who unite, not divide us," she added.
Secretary-general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Sat Maharaj told the Express "any platform is the right platform when you speak about the truth and when you speak about discrimination".
Maharaj said since 1956 the PNM has been discriminating against the East Indian population, in particular Hindus, in this country.
Maharaj said Rowley is the leader of the PNM and to date he has not come forward and said "we have done wrong and we intend to correct it". "She (Persad-Bissessar) is right to use the Nagar platform. His (Rowley's) former leader described him as a raging bull. This is like a (Mitt) Romney remake," said Maharaj, referring to Barack Obama's competitor for the US presidency.
He said the wounds of discrimination inflicted by the PNM were too deep.
"Why doesn't Rowley come clean and say we want a new Trinidad and Tobago, a remake is not enough," said Maharaj.
Vice-president of the Inter Religious Organisation Imam Haji Abzal Mohammed shared his personal view with the Express, saying the Prime Minister should have heeded caution. "When we attend functions like these, we have to be very careful what we say and how we say it," he said.
On another issue, Mohammed told the Express he has raised concerns with IRO president Pundit Harrypersad Maharaj over reports that he (Maharaj) had endorsed a position taken by Warner—criticising Rowley's attendance of the Divali Nagar.
Mohammed said after discussing the matter with Maharaj, he learned that he (Maharaj) was misunderstood by the media and had in fact not taken any such position.