Independent - March 28, 2001
By Raffique Shah
THE way politicians and political allegiances make fools of people can be aggravating in the extreme to people who have the capacity to think logically. It's as if most citizens, and here I include many professionals who have had the benefit of tertiary education, are mindless sheep following shepherd or sheep dog in any which direction, without thinking, without rationale, the latter being one human quality that separates us from animals. From attorneys who represent the ruling party in courts to diehard supporters on the streets, their convoluted thoughts and convenient memories are almost laughable-had we as a nation not been mired in a mess that could hit the fan any not-so-good day.
Last week, Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, having spent months working himself into a state of permanent frenzy, hence the consequential "ticker trouble", did not even pause for refreshment or medication as he blasted the PNM's Ken Valley for statements the latter had made in the House. Valley had accused the PM of interfering with the list of recruits for the Coast Guard, suggesting that Africans who had been accepted for training had their names arbitrarily removed and replaced by Indians. Valley's allegation came as something of a surprise to me, since I am aware of the procedures involved in recruitment in the Defence Force.
This is not to say that recruitment, be it at the level of officers or privates, is always above board. During the period I was in the military, there were many occasions on which young men who had met all the requirements, including medical, found themselves rejected. In their places, persons who had PNM political connections (that was when the PNM ruled supreme), or who senior officers or other ranks had recommended, would slip through. The truth would emerge during training when the training officers would encounter wholly unsuitable recruits, only to learn that they had entered the Regiment via the "back door".
So political or other forms of interference in what ought to be a straightforward process is nothing new. What would make Valley's charge different is if he can prove that the PM, or someone representing him in the Ministry of National Security, deliberately removed the names of Africans who were successful and replaced them with Indians who were not. In other words, while the interference I referred to earlier did take place, it reeked of political or other patronage, not so much racism. This latest charge, if it is proved to be true-and Valley did repeat it outside of the House, opening himself to be prosecuted for slander or defamation-adds a new, deleterious dimension to the process.
Panday was stung by the allegation. He went to the House last week Friday and accused Valley of defaming him under cover of the privileges MPs enjoy in the House, damned him for making "racist" allegations, and suggested that he be brought before the House Privileges Committee and/or be charged with making a defamatory statement. House Speaker Rupert Griffith allowed the PM free rein to carry on with a written speech in which he decried Valley's abuse of his status as an MP. And lest you believe Panday was vociferous on the issue, you should hear (or read) the comments of the PM's diehard supporters. They used every medium available to them-the very press they condemn, and radio talk shows-to slam into Valley, to call for action to be taken against him.
Panday and his blind supporters conveniently forget that it was mere weeks ago that that the PM used the sanctum of the House to make even more serious allegations against a number of persons, your not-so-humble scribe included. Let me remind these people who are stricken with tunnel vision and selective memories that Panday, in that speech, accused me of being part of a plot to overthrow his government. He told the House that I was among a number of people who were gathering arms for the specific purpose of removing his government by illegal means. In other words, I was accused of committing treason-for the second time in my life.
There was not a shred of evidence to link me with any such plot, and the only arms I have are the two attached to my body, which, mercifully, remain strong enough for me to physically "lick up" pipsqueaks like Panday-if he were brave enough to risk his life. But coward that he is (and has always been), he took his pot-shots while he was hiding behind the Speaker's skirt (or whatever outlandish gown he wears).
Weeks later, he is yet to adduce any evidence of such plot, although history will record his allegations in Hansard. In other words, the very charges he is today making against Valley, he himself committed against a number of people. So should he not be brought before the Privileges Committee? Will he dare repeat his allegations outside the confines of Parliament so that I can sue him and get generous retirement benefits?
When he stood in Parliament to condemn Valley, it was a straight case of Satan attempting to correct sin. Yet his blinded minions on the outside are crying out for action to be taken against Valley. If Valley cannot support his serious allegations, then most certainly he should be made to pay for a loose tongue. But what about Panday? Is his tart tongue protected my a "mouth dam"? Should he not be hauled before the Privileges Committee so that in the absence of me having the opportunity to plant a fist on his face, I would get some kind of justice in Parliament?
But the double standards that have been adopted by rabid UNC supporters do not end there. Read their letters to various editors or listen to them call in on every radio talk show and you'd understand what I mean. They accuse attorneys who represent the PNM in the motions that are before the courts of political bias. Even as Anand "Appeal" Ramlogan spews his "tatah" every time a magistrate or judge rules against the UNC, the party's supporters brand attorneys like Reggie Armour and Douglas Mendes PNMites.
It seems they have forgotten that these two attorneys were at the forefront of the fight to save the life of Glen Ashby, the convicted murderer who was hanged when Patrick Manning was in power. "Doggie" and "Reggie" fought like tigers against Manning and Keith Sobion. After Ashby was hanged, they accused the PNM Government of committing murder. They, and others like Frank Solomon and Allan Alexander, have a track record of opposing PNM excesses from as far back as when Ramesh Maharaj was a member of the balisier bunch. Yeah, for those who forget it, Ramesh was in the PNM in 1976, the year that Panday and the ULF tried to dislodge Eric Williams from power!
So today, when I listen to them on the radio, or when I hear Panday playing saint in the House, agnostic though I am, I feel compelled to say, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they say." It's just that while Father is forgiving, I am not. I feel like slamming their thick heads against a concrete wall. Forgive me, Father.
Copyright © Raffique Shah