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PNM's Opportunities

June 24, 2001
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe

Robin Montano has abandoned the party of his father in which the latter was one of its finest orators. Perched as I am, about ten thousand miles away, it is difficult to get the drift of his entire argument but it seems that the source of his discontent is that PNM has abandoned the ways of his father and now caters exclusively to Africans, the most grievous sin any Trinbagonian can commit. In this new dispensation, the agonies and aspirations of Africans do not matter. Just buy out a few here and compromise a few there and all will be well.

Unfortunately Montano does not recognize the discord in his thinking nor that the obverse of his observations demonstrates its intellectual obtuseness. I am sure he did not pay much attention when, a few years ago, Basdeo Panday rallied his troops with following racist sentiments: "We [Indo-Trinbagonians] are our own worst enemy. We are too easily prepared to sell our birthright and that of our fellow [Indian] men for a mess of pottage from the tables of the new oligarchy. Some will sell it for a jacket and tie and a ministry, some for a wig and gown, some for a seat in the Senate, some for a little contract here and there. Our detractors say we are the victims of a curse, which like a virulent plague, threatens to engulf the entire community."

Ramesh Laurence Maharaj, UNC's Deputy Political Leader, echoed similar sentiments to a Canadian audience. He said: "Some of these PNM Indians must therefore be regarded as cosmetic Indians who serve merely to give the PNM the superficial appearance of being a national government while it is committed to the polarization of the races." I wonder if Montano bothered to ask if the African members of the UNC are merely "cosmetic Africans" and if those Africans who serve in the UNC government are victims of a "virulent plague" called "rigarmortis niggaritus."

The truth is when "yo' down, dog better than you." PNM has fallen on its face and every Tom, Dick and Harrilal, feel they have a right to spit on its prostrate body. Whether Montano is talking about Patrick Manning and his "minions" or the Africanization of the party (as though this is something new), it seems that his abandoning ship took place only because the grass looks so much greener on the other side and the streets, ala Carlos, appear to be paved in gold.

However, his salvo is a good thing for PNM. Since he has been practicing his war chant a while now, PNM ought not to have been taken by surprise. The party must respond to his explicit statement and be cognizant of its implicit assumptions. It must outline its political objectives anew, lift the morale of its troops and heighten people's awareness of UNC's shortcomings. It must put the word politics back into its political vocabulary and persuade the populace about the superiority of its vision. It must counter the image that the Party has relapsed into theoretical stasis, exudes political tepidness, and is ideologically uncertain. In short, the party must release itself from a general paralysis that seems to attend it.

This examination must begin with the General Secretary, the main organizer of the party, who makes sure the needs of each constituency are satisfied and the party is in a state of political readiness. It cannot be a part-time position. Given UNC's state of readiness, the depth of its financial coffers, and its capacity to dole out resources, PNM cannot compete if a part time person organizes the party's secretariat on a part time basis. What has the general secretary done over the past six months to strengthen and develop the party?

A party chairman prosecutes the goals and objectives of the party, inspires confidence in her members, and should be an astute political thinker. S/he must figure out what's happening on the political landscape, do a quick analysis, and impose her vision on party and nation. S/he should be the articulate voice of the party and a source of inspiration. Has the party chairman carried out those responsibilities successfully?

Historically, the PNM's Women's League has been (and perhaps still is) the backbone (no innuendo intended) of the party. The Chairwoman plays an important role in organizing the women in the party and keeps her ears on the ground to discern the currents of the society. The League must identify with and support women's causes, especially when women are under violent attack and are murdered each day. Does the occupant of that office involve herself with those aspects of her portfolio? Is she an articulate spokeswoman of and for women's issues?

Most PNM MPs are gainfully employed on a full-time basis which means they split themselves between their political responsibilities and their professional obligations. Some MPs are out of the country for long periods. If parliamentary representation is about service, when do these representatives find the time to serve their constituents? Even though the Westminster system renders opposition members almost useless, they must remain relevant to their constituents. While many of them are not wealthy, they must find creative solutions to alleviate the distress of their constituents. PNM's elected representatives must serve their constituents more comprehensively.

The fundamental premise of the law of errors is that even mistakes have their value. They should never be discarded uncritically. Discarding Montano without examining his folly only makes PNM weaker. It should be an opportunity for the party to open up, to learn and to remember that the test of a belief is not immutability, but adaptability. PNM will remain relevant to a plurality of voters only it adapts to the demands of the 21st century and displays greater political astuteness. The Good Book tells us the battle is not necessarily for the strongest or the most moneyed. Perseverance and endurance also count for something. Staying the course and re-engineering the product are necessary prerequisites for success. PNM will be successful. One only has to keep the faith.

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