Bukka Rennie

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Re-Brand the PNM!

The Lyrics and The Licks

For 30 years, 1956-1986, PNM regimes had ruled the roost until the mammoth defeat (33-3) to a coalition of opposing forces in 1986.The loss in 1986 signaled the culmination of a build-up of anti-PNM sentiment that had been generating since 1970. The PNM regained office in 1991 largely because the coalition of forces, the NAR, collapsed very shortly after gaining governance and the popular vote in the 1991 elections was not so much a vote for the PNM but a vote against the NAR who had followed the austerity programme of the IMF most faithfully. The new PNM leadership that emerged in 1991 had done no fundamental, in-depth review of the party structures and policies, nor any re-branding of the party for the world of the new millennium. So having re-gained office, they merely proceeded to govern under the silly premise sold to them by their new leader, Patrick Manning, that their good fortune was as a result of him, single-handedly walking the length and breadth of the country, kissing babies and meeting the people and that he had been chosen by Dr. Eric Williams to lead and to continue the work of Williams. Given such superficiality, it was not surprising that by 1995, the PNM found itself for the second time in opposition. This time, the PNM was narrowly defeated at the polls by the UNC (i.e.17-17-2, but those two Tobago seats made the results 19-17 in UNC's favour) whose leadership and mass support were/are firmly rooted in the Indian social milieu of T&T. The Indian Nationalist segment of this milieu immediately seized the moment to openly announce to the Nation that given an Indian Prime Minister (i.e. Panday) and an "Indian Government", it was now "Indian time." However, it was interesting to note that in the UNC's period of governance (1995-2001), NOT ONE SINGLE FISCAL OR NON-FISCAL POLICY OF THE PNM WAS CHANGED. So the issue of it being "Indian time" was purely an emotional reaction without any substance. That tells us all; it was more about "bragging rights" than anything else. The point, however, is that, though the Indian Nationalists, just as their African counterparts, only form a small percentage of the Indo-population, nevertheless they provide the vision-making and help to inform the broad strategies for their social milieu. That is why when the concept of "INDESH", a separate Indian Nation comprising their populations in Surinam, Guyana and Trinidad, was first proposed and some elements began encouraging Indo-Trinidadians to claim refugee status in Canada supposedly fleeing political and racial persecution, all geared to discredit the then PNM Government internationally, no legitimate political or religious Indian leader of stature in their social milieu rose to condemn the separatist sentiments and the political fraudulence.

In the same vein, when the Indian Nationalists raised the view that the raping of Indian women in the sugar belt was a crime politically motivated and perpetrated by African males, instead of condemning this claim as preposterous, the UNC made "crime" the main issue in the 1995 elections. The PNM leadership never seemed to comprehend what was happening. To the UNC support base, "fighting crime" was a coded, subliminal call to racial unity in the elections. "Do the crime, do the time!" meant that a UNC government would protect its own and deal effectively with all African criminals who attack Indians. Whenever the UNC raised the crime issue on the East-West Corridor, crime was given a different spin. The PNM leaders stood by unfocused and unable to respond effectively and eventually lost the elections. After some 10 months in office, by August of 1996, people became concerned about the direction of the UNC regime; it seemed that governance was proceeding in a "business as usual" manner without any fundamental departure and at the same time cronyism and nepotism had deepened to an overwhelming extent. That was the period when government contracts were being handing out to friends and relatives in the offices of various Ministers at the expense of Central Tenders' procedures. That was the time too when the following popular saying could be heard throughout the society: "An Engineer is any Indian with a back-hoe." True to say, given the specific genesis of its birth and growth, one would indeed be hard-pressed to assign any revolutionary or progressive tendency to the UNC. The only possible progressive act that one could have possibly be envisaged for the UNC in that period would have been the complete dismantling of the Sugar Industry as then organized, maintaining sugar production only for local consumption coupled with land re-distribution as the basis for diversification of agriculture through community co-operative farming.

The point is that the PNM never had the moral authority to seriously engage the people of the sugar-belt in any such actual programmes of social transformation, given the disconnect and credibility gap that continues to exist between the PNM and the people of the sugar-belt. The UNC had/has that moral authority even today. Most importantly if such a transformation of the Sugar-belt as outlined above had been undertaken by Panday's UNC, it would have dovetailed with the sectoral interest of UNC's base support and eventually augur well for the development of the entire society as the population would have forced them to make land re-distribution an issue national in scope. But the UNC under Panday's leadership refused to commit to such a transformation and lost the opportunity to attach a worldview and a universal vision to the specific, local demands and direct concerns of the Indian social milieu. Unconscious of that fact, Panday's journey to political death began with this failure. And though the UNC proved able to win the 2000 elections, 20-16, by 2001 due to the level of corruption within governmental circles they collapsed in office, were forced to call elections in 2001 and the results were a tie, 18-18, following which it was agreed that the President would be allowed to decide to whom office should be granted and the President chose the PNM predicating his choice on the need for heightened morality in public affairs much to the chagrin of the Indian support base of the UNC. PNM assumed office in 2001 and immediately began the dismantling of the old Sugar Plantation Industry; of course doing the right thing but utlising the wrong approach; everything came across as a suspicious, imposition from outside, rather than a derived consensus from within, with all stakeholders on board, ready, willing and capable to taking responsibility for the transformation. But, most of all, the African social milieu, from which the PNM derives its base support, did not see it or feel it necessary to make land re-distribution initiated in the sugar-belt, national in scope, which they would have certainly felt necessary to do if the programme had been initiated by the UNC. The whole issue was engaged by the PNM regime completely devoid of "politics."

Today, its April 2010, and once again the situation has turned full circle. The PNM, in office from 2001 to present stands in utter moral decay. Having accepted the silliness of the anointed one, the PNM, both as Party and Government stands dead in the water, completely lacking in capacity to engage itself in the politics of transformation and rejuvenation and forced thereby to face yet another election on May 24th 2010. On the other hand, the political stocks of the Kamla-led UNC, heading a coalition of opposition parties e.g. COP and social forces such as NJAC, FITUN, NATUC, etc., have been rising rapidly. Kamla, as a representative of progressive womanhood, has the potential to infuse the UNC-led forces, emanating mostly from the Indian social-milieu, with a universal womanhood vision and from this specific, legitimate platform move on to empower at community level all sectors of the society in the quest for social transformation. In a Kim Boodram report carried in the Express, Sunday April 18th, 2010, it is said that Kamla told the Hindu Women's Organisation that she intends to focus on "the issues of work and family life affecting local women," and that she proposes to initiate "child protective laws, and to tackle paternal absenteeism, day care facilities and even psychological trauma such as post-partum depression experienced by women." Furthermore, Kamla vowed to establish in every constituency a L.I.F.E. (i.e. Living Is For Everyone) Centre" to house programmes "aimed at improving the lives of women," and she outlined some of the intended programmes that would improve lives such as a Community Infrastructure development programme, a programme for Differently-Abled citizens, and others geared to deal with family violence and income assistance, also programmes to improve nutrition for children in low-income families. If Kamla prevails with such programmes she could thereby trigger the revolutionizing of her support base and be well-positioned to take the entire Nation in a different direction. If, however, Kamla fails so to do, the UNC and the amalgamation that it leads most likely would amount to naught and the UNC shall remained driven by the limited parameters issuing primarily from the narrow concerns of its Indian Nationalist segment. If that happens, the tables shall once again turn and the PNM, minus the silliness and untold damage of maximum leadership, shall have the opportunity to seize the time and objectively accomplish what the situation demands for the 21st century.


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