Bas finally outsmarts himself
April 02, 2006
By Raffique Shah
"As it was in the beginning, So shall it be in the end."
DON'T ask me what book, chapter or verse in the Bible the above quote comes from. If I am a dunce when it comes to science, I am an even bigger dunce in matters relating to religion. I often tell people, though, that my nature-bestowed "hard drive" works marvellously well, and that quote came to mind when I saw, read, and followed the ongoing end-saga of Basdeo Panday. Like prosecutor Timothy Cassell, I need add that it gives me no pleasure to see Panday being dragged before the courts on corruption charges.
Still, as one who was an early victim of the UNC leader's political wiles, I cannot help but note that much the way he entered politics back in 1974, he appears to be on the verge of making a forced exit as the typical Trini smartman finally exposed. He has fooled a whole lot of people, many of them intellectuals and professionals, for a very long time. But, to use another Trini-speak, "time longer than twine". And it seems for Bas, his twine has finally reached the end, his political kite is about to "ayo"-gone, for those who don't understand our lingo.
In the beginning, his entry into politics brought out the guile in a man possessed with a lust for office if not power. It is often said that Panday's entry into the political arena was in 1966 when he was a candidate for the WFP. The records will show he was "small fry" back then, with the main players being Stephen Maharaj, CLR James and George Weekes, who had suffered bitterly at the hands of the PNM Government in 1965 when the ISA was enacted to prevent him from becoming leader of the sugar workers' union (in addition to the OWTU). Panday was a mere junior candidate: I don't know that he made any speeches of note (I was at Sandhurst at the time), made any important contribution, but the party was of little more than nuisance value, all its candidates losing their deposits.
His real entry into politics came via the trade union movement, the sugar workers' union to be more specific. And that was not until late 1973. Early that year, Winston Leonard and I had launched an assault on the established sugar cane order that Dr Eric Williams had in place. Norman Girwar, a confidante of Williams, headed the hated TICFA, and got Williams to pass legislation that compelled all cane farmers to pay dues to the organisation. Leonard and I launched a multi-pronged attack on that law (which would be nullified by the courts in 1975), and went on to win the support of the majority of farmers.
That, however, was not Eric's main fear. He dreaded our possible entry into the sugar workers' union which, following the death of another of his undercover agents, Bhadase Maraj, was left bereft of leadership. Rampartapsingh, who had succeeded Bhadase, was no match for us, and even as we mobilised the farmers, sugar workers kept crying out for us to intervene on their behalf, to rescue them from "Ram". Williams sensed if he did not move quickly, he would be saddled with a union that was led by the most radical elements in the country at the time.
It was against that background that Panday was identified as the "acceptable" choice, and was approached by Errol Mahabir and Rampartapsingh. It is documented (in the book Crisis, edited by Owen Baptiste) that he said his main mission upon being made president of the union was "to keep Shah at bay". From the beginning, therefore, he was tool of the PNM. But "smartman" that he was, he also saw immense opportunities to use the position not only to take full control of the union, but to bid to fill the political vacuum left by the warring factions of the DLP.
Although we joined forces in 1974 during a combined strike, he easily sold farmers out by accepting a "deal" from Williams (again, this is recorded in Crisis) to end the strike. What he got in return was recognition as indisputable leader of All Trinidad. He also got rid of Rampartap, the man who was instrumental in bringing him into the union, and his cronies.
Within a year, he saw another opportunity: with the DLP in disarray, there was "space" for a new opposition party to fight the PNM in the 1976 elections. But he could not do it on his own.
He needed Weekes and me. We both commanded significant support following our respective roles in the 1970 Black Power revolution. That's why and how he came to approach Weekes (I had rejected his overture), and it's how the ULF was born in 1975. The ULF was not formed by Panday. It was formed by Weekes, Panday and Shah.
Pt I | Pt II | Pt III