Bukka Rennie

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Re-Brand the PNM!

The Lyrics and The Licks


Like their Afro-counterparts, the Indian-Nationalists are only a segment of their natural social milieu. Over the years, particularly after Indepencence, they have viewed successive PNM governments as African dominated and controlled and therefore inimical to their interests. They have their genesis in the fears expressed by some of the Indian political groups such as the East Indian National Association who, in the 1930's and 1940's, advocated the "safeguard" of Proportional Representation as do "all minorities the world over" and demanded that in T&T, PR be a "substantial measure of Responsible and Representative Government with Dominion Status." The reality today is that Indians are no longer "a minority" in T&T but the expressed "fears" of yesteryear may still serve as a lingering psychological factor precisely given their perception of what the practice of the PNM regimes have been in the course of implementing national programmes. The fact that the racial composition of the very first PNM Cabinet has remained to date the most representative of the population mix, never impressed them, since, though that Cabinet comprised Indian Muslims and Presbyterians, there were no Hindu members; a fact which the PNM never tried to address until much later. The point is that after the demise of colonialism, the Afro-Trinidadians and Tobagonians, in large measure, replaced the expatriates within the State apparatus and thereby found themselves best positioned to wield political dominance which the Indians, given their then minority psyche, viewed with great distrust and suspicion and, therefore, strengthened their historic demand for equal ethnic dispensation at all levels. But political dominance of the Afros was an objective factor derived logically from colonial machinations and manipulation geared to deny the Africans any economic independence precisely because of their combative predisposition and the fact that the only avenue allowed to them for upward social mobility by colonialism had to be confinement to the State Administration and the discipline of wage-relations; in other words, it was the demand by colonial administrators to control the Afros that led afterwards to their political dominance. On the other hand, the fact that the Indos came here, NOT AS PROPERTY, but with clear contractual arrangements, allowed for many of them after indentureship to own land and to ingratiate themselves within the processes of wealth generation and accumulation; a great number of them never having to confine themselves solely and wholly to wage-relations. The later relative economic independence of sections of the Indian population, served to fuel their cohesion, whether Muslim, Hindu or Presbyterian, and in turn, this spirit of collective responsibility for kith and kin strengthened the potency of their demand for equal recognition at all social, cultural and political levels.

However, despite the fact that throughout the anti-colonial struggles both the Afro and Indo working-classes united to fight for Home Rule, the divergence came after Independence when the middle-classes and their vanguard political parties on either side of the divide would come to do battle for supremacy and control of the State Administration. But even before Independence in 1962, many Indian Nationalists at the time sought to forestall the movement forward preferring British Colonial control rather than a new order in which Afros would be politically dominant; they even articulated island insularity rather than Caribbean regionalism fearing greater African domination in any regional arrangement. Despite all that has transpired through valiant efforts of Caribbean people to forge at first CARIFTA, then CARICOM, the point remains that the salient ideological perspective of the Indian Nationalists has not changed over the decades regardless of the titular changes, mentioned before, that their vanguard party and/or their amalgamation of vanguard parties have morphed into e.g. DLP, ACDC-DLP, ALLIANCE, PANDAY'S ULF, NAR and UNC.

Furthermore, in the latter case of the UNC which captured state power through the elections and held that power from 1995-2001, the view was articulated by a senior principal of the UNC Government that Trinidad & Tobago should forego any form of Caribbean regionalism in favour of American state-hood. There has never been in the history of the world a progressive ideology or vision based solely on fear. Fear tends to merely produce rabid emotionalism, tribalism, irrationality and negative anti-historical postulations not bedded in any empirical evidence, hence the young Indian woman in 1995 at the UNC victory rally at the Rienzi complex could cry out: "we free, we free, at last from bondage." Nothing the successive PNM governments in the past could have done to appease such people, once the PNM had become stigmatized as a party with an obvious African bias in its policies and programmes and therefore racist in perspective. Again, it is a question of perception being as potent as reality. It is necessary, however, to note that what some Indian Nationalists were saying and condemning prior to 1962, out of fear and in anticipation of what might happen in the future, is exactly what many of them have continued to say and condemn, if only to enhance their own political mobilisations. It is not unusual to hear, even today, that the "PNM has done nothing in the 50 years that it has existed!" Let us examine this "nothingness" that the PNM accomplished and this "bondage" in which the PNM has placed the Indio-population of T&T.

Anybody who has witnessed, lived through or merely observed the outcome of the strategies outlined by the PNM regimes for national socio-economic development, starting, say, with the first set of Five-Year Development Programmes, can certify that the Indian segments of the population, more than anyone else, have benefited extensively, and as a social force today they have become quite dominant in the distributive trades and in medium and small businesses of every conceivable kind. In all the fields of professional and semi-professional activity they are likewise dominant today, be it medicine, law, engineering, teaching etc. when in fact statistics show that they were not so placed prior to the much "feared" Independence from Britain.

Yet to most of this social milieu, the PNM is to be spurned and rejected as anti-Indian and racist regardless of how much largesse they as a social force have gained from the governance of PNM regimes and state initiated and promoted arrangements. And surely, no one can dispute that they have pulled up themselves by their own bootstraps but a lot was facilitated by government policies and programmes. Interestingly, it was precisely their upward leap in social mobility that brought with it an intensification of the vocal strength of their general demands as citizens, but particularly those demands specific to their ethnicity. Prior to 1995, they constantly cried out about the bias treatment of African culture by the State as opposed to the lack of recognition paid to Indian culture, no matter what great strides they made in this regard on their own as a result of the private resources that they were now in a position to bring to bear on cultural matters. At the same time, the extremists among them have been known to express open vicious criticisms of what is deemed here as "African Culture". It is culture that some of them claim is "perverse, vulgar and immoral", even Pan, the only musical instrument created in the 20th century, is deemed by some of them to be "vulgar". Yet in every commercial aspect of the Pan industry, Indo-Trinidadians, in particular, are the citizens who profit whether from their chroming-facilities or from transportation since they own by far the largest percentage of all available trucking-service. Similarly, Carnival is deemed "immoral" but citizens from their social milieu gain the most from this so-called immoral activity.

The strategy of the Indian Nationalists propelled their vanguard elements to take the moral high-ground and morally blackmail all the PNM regimes to expend more and more state funding in the areas of particular interest to them e.g. Indian culture, educational facilities of the various denominations and religious activities in general and across the board; and what was derived from the State was compounded with what they mobilized from their own private resources. Eric Williams referred to such tactics as the tactics of a "recalcitrant minority" in specific reference to how this grouping reacted to the demand for a West Indian Federation and moreso the Federal Elections of 1958 at which point they tactically allied themselves with the anti-Federalists of Jamaica and Guyana. Since then, this grouping has never ceased to repeat ad nauseum this vexed and most unfortunate statement of Eric Williams without of course ever providing the proper socio-historical and political context. But that is not the problem; it is in their political interest to so do since it enhances their mobilizations and therefore no one can deny them their right to do so. The problem, however, is that none of the PNM governments have ever sought to deal with this criticism of their foremost proponent and the polemics that gave rise to his most unfortunate statement. No one had the "belly" to do it for fear of being labeled "racist". In fact, none of the unfair, subjective, emotional criticisms from elements of this Indian Nationalist grouping has ever been dealt with promptly and comprehensively by the PNM. In politics, once something is repeated constantly without instant rebuttal, it becomes the gospel after the passing of a certain period of time. Indeed, how can any party survive such "lyrics and licks" indefinitely?


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