January 28, 2001
By Raffique Shah
NO sooner had Prime Minister Basdeo Panday used the cloak of parliamentary immunity to slander me, branding me a Libyan-trained "hit-man", a veritable Carlos the Jackal, than my telephone started ringing off the hook.
Panday has once more overstepped the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in Parliament by making totally false charges against persons who have no recourse, given the immunity he enjoys in the House. What was worse was that neophyte Speaker Dr Rupert Griffith sat there and allowed the Prime Minister to freely assassinate the characters of law-abiding citizens of this country. Indeed, if Griffith did anything, it was to berate his ex-PNM colleagues when they attempted to intervene.
That was not the first occasion on which Panday made such ludicrous charges. I recall during the last session of Parliament when he accused Opposition Leader Patrick Manning of plotting against his government, adding that he had reported the matter to the police. Although he claimed in the first case that the police had been asked to investigate the matter, nothing further was heard about Manning's plot—the last one, that is.
I have no doubt that the same thing will happen this time around, meaning nothing. Already the Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier John Sandy, has stated he knew nothing of any cache of arms or of any plot against the Government. I imagine that acting Police Commissioner Everald Snaggs was too embarrassed to endorse Brigadier Sandy's stance on the matter, which would have meant declaring the PM a malicious liar.
Panday will think nothing, however, of using his wholly unfounded suspicions rooted in paranoia to have the police harass decent citizens by searching their homes or their vehicles. He may even have influence over certain officers who will be prepared to "frame" his perceived enemies. We cannot rule that out, especially now that he has assumed control of the Ministry of National Security, giving him direct control over the police.
If it was the Muslimeen he was targeting regarding the arms cache, then he should have no problems clearing that up. After all, that group actively campaigned for the UNC in the 1995 election and following Panday's ascension to office as Prime Minister, enjoyed the exclusivity of being the first to be invited to hold discussions with the PM. So it should be easy for him to summon the Mullahs to his office and ask them whether or not they were plotting another coup, and if they were, could they please wake him up before they started this time around.
Seriously, though, what's Panday's real problem? Why did he have to resort to an alarmist statement that was more than likely laced with naked lies? Insecurity, that's my guess. You see, when he cannot have his way in the dictatorial manner that he is accustomed to, he moves into the "mash up" mode. It happened in 1977/78, when, in the ULF, there were men and women of substance who weren't prepared to bow to his dictates, not to add his unacceptable conduct. He simply "mash up" the party and ensured thereafter that all those who surrounded him would first be castrated. We witnessed a similar situation in 1988, barely two years after the NAR swept the polls and almost consigned the PNM to history. But for Panday's behaviour then, the NAR might have retained its strength to this day.
Since then, he has had his way and his say. Until the last election, that is, when, having invested a huge sum of money in order to regain power for another five years, he found himself with a bare—and questionable—majority. The matters now before the courts must be of concern to him, since, if the results do not favour him, he could find himself sitting in opposition. To add to his woes, he is faced with a President who had the guts to kick him in the butt in 1988, and who, once more, is displaying more political virility than his entire Cabinet.
Grasping at straws, he all but implicated the President in the fictional plot, slamming Mr Robinson for, among other sins, meeting with another "plotter", Selwyn Cudjoe. According to Panday, President Robinson had no right to meet with someone who had breached the law by holding an illegal demonstration. As far as I am aware, Cudjoe did not hold any demonstration. And since Panday seems to be suffering with convenient memory loss, let me remind him that on March 18, 1975, he and I were among those who led the biggest illegal demonstration the country has ever seen. During that march and the violent attack by the police to break it up, dozens of people ended up in hospital, and scores were arrested.
More than that, Panday seems to have forgotten that during the said 1975 oil and sugar strikes that almost crippled the country, the then Governor-General (GG), Sir Ellis Clarke, had met with Panday, George Weekes and myself. Sir Ellis made several proposals to us in a bid to end the impasse. The talks were cordial but not fruitful, in that the strikes continued. Point is, was Sir Ellis wrong to meet with us, we who almost brought the country to its knees through illegal strike action, we who thought nothing about breaking the law against illegal demonstrations?
We didn't think so, nor did the then PM, Dr Eric Williams, since the latter neither complained to Sir Ellis nor did he accuse us or the GG of plotting against his government. As for consorting with insurrectionists, Panday has both the belt and the trophy. He had me, mutineer of 1970, as his second-in-command between 1974-1977. And post-1990, members of the Muslimeen were his bedfellows.
Panday has clearly forgotten the saying, "Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones". His inflammatory speech in Parliament was not only laced with lies, but it could also rebound to hit him between the eyes when he least expects it. He cannot play mas and 'fraid powder—not in Carnival country.
Copyright © Raffique Shah