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Raffique Shah


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'How fortunate for leaders that men do not think'

By Raffique Shah
December 23, 2007

The voice of the people, we are often reminded, is the voice of God. My rejoinder to this scriptural interpretation of democracy is: the masses so often prove to be asses, one wonders if God has any influence in secular matters like elections, party affiliations, and worst of all, in leaders people choose to anoint or lionise. Six weeks ago close to 200,000 Trinidadians chose Basdeo Panday and the UNC to represent them in Parliament. In fact, a few years ago twice that many among the electorate not only voted him into power, but hoisted him on their shoulders as Prime Minister and paraded him as a lion-king, exemplar supreme.

Last Monday, at the widely telecast ceremonial opening of Parliament, this exemplar exposed himself for what he always was-a cane-defecating Indian without class, as my one-time journalist friend Kishore Tiwary used to say, laughing raucously. That Panday and most of his minions chose not to extend the courtesy of a handshake to the House Speaker can be overlooked. Politics is not an arena in which class comes before crassness. If anything, Speaker Sinanan might have been surprised that Winston "Gypsy" Peters and Nizam Baksh refused to follow the puerility of their boss. I was not. I know these two men personally, and they have always been gentlemen.

It was when Prime Minister Patrick Manning "put God out of his thoughts", as he likes to say, and crossed the chamber to extend courtesies to members of the opposition, that Bas bared his "bumsee" for all to see. He knew that act of wiping his hand with a kerchief immediately after shaking the PM's had a most unpleasant connotation. It signalled that Manning was not just a political enemy, but worse an untouchable, someone beneath his caste-a "chamar", or as many of his supporters would say, "Rawan".

While most sober people saw Panday's behaviour as disgraceful, you can bet that his supporters would have reacted otherwise. For them, his was a class act for which he should be commended, not condemned. Panday, consigned to opposition for the remainder of his political life, cannot come to terms with the reality that he lost the general elections by a wide margin, that he will never sleep in the $148 million mansion he had hoped to occupy. His call for civil disobedience in a bid to remove the government is the desperate cry of a man drowning in his own filth. He forgets he had his chance five weeks ago, not five years-and he failed.

Shifting to South Africa, those who follow world politics will have noted the way disgraced former deputy president, Jacob Zuma, was lionised by his supporters. Here's a man who, like Panday, faces serious allegations of corruption, and who recently stood trial for rape. You'd think that someone with that kind of baggage would be hiding out in the jungle hoping for relief in the jaws a hungry lion. Instead, politics being what it is, Zuma stormed into the ANC's party congress like a hero and had thousands of mindless people chanting his sullied name as if he were Nelson Mandela.

According to media reports, during his trial for rape Zuma accused the victim of "looking to be raped" based on the way she dressed. When it turned out that the woman was HIV positive, Zuma said he had a shower after sex-his idea of protection against the deadly affliction. Based on these statements, any sensible person would deem this man a buffoon if not outright mad. If he was some ordinary young man from Soweto, he would have been jailed for life, or locked away in some mental asylum. Zuma also faces the prospect of being charged with corruption in a matter in which other accused have already been found guilty and jailed (sounds familiar?).

Yet there he was, amidst a throng of singing, ululating supporters, basking in adulation that eclipsed President Thabo Mbeki's. When the vote for leadership of the ANC was taken, Zuma won by a landslide! It did not matter to his mindless supporters, many of them women, that he had escaped jail for rape only because of who he was. Or that he showed contempt for all women based on his statements during the trial. Worse, this lunatic has found a cure for AIDS-in the shower! Further, he might well be arrested shortly, tried for corruption, and possibly face a prison term. As far as his supporters are concerned, Zuma is the man.

Last week, too, South Koreans elected one Lee Myung Bak as their new president. Lee, like Zuma and Panday, is also the subject of investigations into corruption. I have mentioned three cases of leaders who, if they reflect the "voice of God", do nothing to enhance His stature. In fact, all three, and so many more, epitomise Adolf Hitler's concept of leaders and followers. The man who came closest to destroying the world as we know it, and that with significant support from most Germans, once said: "How fortunate for leaders that men do not think." How true, Adolf and Panday and Zuma.