November 25, 2001
By Raffique Shah
PEOPLE who believe in miracles, in the hand of God if not His fist, must be the only ones who also believe that December 10 and the general election will herald Salvation Day.
In my view, it will take all of the above, and maybe more, for the election to signal a better day for the people of this country. We often boast that this is a "blessed land" in which God was born, hence our luck in escaping natural disasters. No one can explain, though, why we have been cursed with more than our fair share of human disasters.
Take Robin Montano as one example of the latter. This "imps" was first foisted on us by Patrick Manning (take a bow, Patrick-as he insists on calling you) when the PNM was in the dumps following its stunning defeat by the NAR in 1986. Maybe the PNM salvaged him from some dump, because he does not appear to have come from the cultured domain of the Montano family. Ever since Manning granted him a licence to make an ass of himself, he has excelled in the field. But decent citizens who thought that we had seen the last of this gadfly when he quarrelled with Manning were wrong.
Trust Basdeo Panday to follow Manning's foolishness, to resurrect the "imps", to once again attempt to foist him on us. In fact, Panday, who cursed and damned the late Dr Eric Williams for decades, today promotes himself as a disciple of the "Father of the Nation". So we have Robin, who was swathed in balisier diapers when he was born, and who, for all we know, may still be a member of the PNM, telling cheering UNC supporters: "We (meaning the UNC) inherited a mess!" If the PNM left the country in a mess, wasn't his father one who helped create it? And didn't he, from childhood to manhood, support that same stink he pretends to abhor today, for many years?
But, I suppose, just as there were Saul and Paul, so, too, there are Robin and Rabin! The portents surrounding December 10 look more foreboding when we see another creator of the "unholy PNM mess", Kamaluddin Mohammed, sit at Panday's right hand and applaud him as he speaks of "30 years of stagnation under the PNM"! Where was the old "Charch" during that period? Not in the middle of the mess? And to think that "Charch" portrays himself as a devout Muslim, yet he stoops to suckle on insults during the holy month of Ramadan. With devotees like Kamal, Allah must surely be seeking out bin Laden to help Him maintain some sanity!
Of course, "Charch" and "Rabin" are only two of many PNM neemakharams who will never explain how they could have been part of the problem yesterday, or 20 years ago, and architects of the solution today. Errol Mahabir, Arnim Smith, Jack Warner, Roy Augustus, Lindsay Gillette, Gerald Yetming and Felix Hernandez are more "Sauls" who have miraculously been transformed into "Pauls".
As for Kelvin Ramnath, a man who proudly posed with a placard, "Indians for sale, contact Panday", but who is once more licking his master's boots today, he is in a "model" class of his own.
So what can we expect if these 35 jokers, led by a lone jack (I am tempted...), find themselves again in charge of our country, and more importantly, our money, come December 10? Not full-scale banditry, possibly of the barbaric type that today stalks us at every street corner, inside our homes, and at our workplaces? Because the UNC will see its victory as a mandate to pave, re-pave, and re-re-pave roads, "drop pipe" on all who want it, and steal from the public purse. The latter forms part of their mission statement: Give unto us the power and the glory, and unto you we shall grudgingly give you morsels even as we feast on the fat of the land.
Meanwhile Manning is making so many promises, I really don't know if he can deliver, should the PNM wrest power from the UNC. I suspect his Santa Claus bag of goodies was hurriedly loaded, a response to the 900,000-odd "kids" out there, most of whom believe the best leader is the one who makes the most promises. True, he says that if his government eliminates corruption it would have the resources to better service the people. And the PNM (like the UNC) has focused on the state of the global economy, the recession that began well before the events of September 11.
But whichever party wins the election, the reality is it will face at the very least a downturn in the economy. We are lucky that so far the price of oil has remained at around US$20 a barrel, which is profitable for us. But when demand for goods and services drop in the countries that are our main trading partners, our manufacturing sector will suffer. The construction sector is already showing signs of slowing down. When the heavy industrial plants currently under construction are completed, jobs will dry up. And because the UNC government borrowed so heavily during its six years in power (to add to our debt-mountain), debt servicing will gnaw away at our earnings.
The political picture is no less frightening. I cannot see any party winning more than 19 or 20 seats-and that spells trouble with a capital "T". Panday was forced to return to the polls in less than a year because of this. Manning found himself in a similar position in 1995, one year short of his only term as Prime Minister. As I have written before, I don't think another election will change this equation.
Ramesh Maharaj and his Team Unity will take sufficient votes away from Panday to make the marginal seats uncomfortable, if not out of reach, for the UNC. And they will hurt him in his core constituencies as he has never before been hurt. This does not mean Panday will lose these seats: in fact, he may well achieve his "Christmas wish" of seeing most Team Unity candidates lose their deposits.
But for the first time since he became the new "Baba" to Indians, Panday will see so many of them, especially younger people, turn against him.
So, short of a miracle, December 10 will not be "liberation day". At best, we could rid ourselves of thieving government. At worst, we could end up with a hung Parliament and all the chaos that flows from that.
Copyright © Raffique Shah