April 07, 2002
By Raffique Shah
Friday, April 5, 10 a.m.
THE tragedy of our times is that the politicians, and I mean close to 90 per cent of them, treat the populace with scant regard if not outright contempt, if we must judge them by their deeds, not their words. The bigger tragedy is that we, a supposedly educated and sensible people, allow ourselves to be used by them, abused, and then discarded. The biggest tragedy is that, like moronic masochists, we prostrate ourselves before them to face more licks, get more kicks-and still do their bidding.
I have begun writing this piece on Friday morning, overwhelmed by sadness, by what my country, my Parliament, is being reduced to. Not that that chamber was ever the sanctum of statesmanship that it was made out to be during the often-touted glory days of Dr Eric Williams, Dr Rudranath Capildeo, Lionel Seukeran and others who were schooled in Shakespeare and steeped in colonial traditions. Sure these men and women were glib, persuasive speakers. And their conduct was several cuts above the riff-raff that have long taken over the House of Representatives.
But Parliament has always been a sanctuary for scoundrels. Those who condemn Basdeo Panday's unseemly behaviour and Patrick Manning's pig-headedness either forget or do not know of the many unsavoury characters who preceded these two in the House. On the PNM benches we had the likes of John O'Halloran and Boysie Prevatt, bandits who did not even bother to wear masks. They did not need to disguise themselves since they were protected by parliamentary immunity.
The opposition benches were no holier than the PNM's. Bhadase Maharaj, the PDP/DLP leader who was also head of the Maha Sabha and the sugar workers' union, was nothing but a common thug. He used to walk into the House with one or two handguns, and on one occasion, during some heated clash, he is reported as having laid the firearms on his desk in the chamber! During the period I was there, I saw the other side of midnight, in a manner of speaking, which caused me to lose faith in politicians and in Parliament as an instrument of governance. I was no saint, I must confess, but my occasional loss of temper or resort to expletives was tame when compared with the unholy wheeling and dealing that went on between Panday and Williams.
So that Parliament is no church, although the analogy could be misleading, what with the Church, or so many priests in different religious orders, being involved in scandalous sexual behaviour. Still, one does not expect Members of the House to conduct themselves in jammette-like fashion. Whatever their "broughtupcy", one would think that they know that the business of the nation takes precedence over petty or even major differences between government and opposition. But while you can take some people out of the gutter, you can't take the gutter out of them. I expect, therefore, that today's sitting of the House would have been better held in a fish market or in the dingy backroom of some run-down "wappie" club.
Saturday, April 6, 7 a.m.
The good news is that the jokers in the House played themselves better than Jean and Dinah, Sparrow's mythical "jammettes". On the PNM side, we heard the language that is usually associated with high-class whorehouses. Speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of their nominees, but to what end, it beat me. Panday had declared his hand well before the sitting: he and his colleagues would do everything to frustrate the election of a Speaker. And his George Street "side", relics from an era long gone, lived up to expectations. Short of "bussing cuss" on any and everyone, they revelled in raucousness, their behaviour reminiscent of eunuchs in the courts of feudal overlords of the Middle Ages.
Why anyone expected Fuad Khan to break ranks, to give a "conscience vote" to have a Speaker elected, also defied explanation. The fact that he and his colleagues opted to remain with the UNC well after the party, then in government, had painted itself into a corner with the brush of corruption, spelt out where they had deposited their "balloons". Right inside Panday's pockets. And Bas, glowing with pride that in his winter years he could still castrate so many young men (and women), sat like the malevolent Caligula, as he watched his minions behave like a pack of rabid "pothounds".
Really, when the UNC could nominate someone like Robin Montano for the post of Speaker, then vote against him, speaks volumes about the cancer that has destroyed the core of that party. In fact, all their nominees proved to be willing pawns in a game designed to prove that Manning and the PNM did not have a majority in the House-a fact established on the night of December 10 last year. But they wanted to rub Manning's nose on the floor of the Red House, mattered not that in the process they brought the supposedly highest court in the land into total disrepute.
That Parliament is not the symbol of statehood it was meant to be has come about by a degeneration that set in many decades ago. Today, however, it has sunk to its lowest level ever. And for that we must put the blame squarely on Panday's slimy shoulders. Because he cannot have his way, because he was unceremoniously removed from the position of Prime Minister, he is bent on destroying party and Parliament and even country to assuage his power-driven "tabanca".
He does not realise that he is alienating himself from power with every word he utters. When "Pickharee" singers could brand him a disappointment, if not disgrace, to Indo-Trins, then, as we say in this country, "he reach". I don't know why Manning does not see the open door that's there for him to run through and go ahead and call fresh elections. The PNMites argue that another election may well put us back in the same 18-18 situation the last one did.
I think not. I believe that Panday-and Manning-will be in for a shock when elections are called. The country has grown tired of Bas and his mimic men. Turning the House of Representatives into an outhouse was the last straw. Now, it's for the people, if we refuse to be kicked around any more, to send them all to the bottom of the pit. And, for those who remember the "latrine pit", we know what lies there. Let Bas and his boys (they are no men) chew on that. Or smell it.
Copyright © Raffique Shah