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Raffique Shah


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We must never grovel to gutter politicians

By Raffique Shah
November 04, 2007

I don't know if, as I grow older, I am becoming a prude. That will be the day, those who know me well would say, bursting into gaffaws. I could not help note, however, the depths to which election campaigning sunk over the past few weeks as leading politicians publicly delved into the private lives-and body parts-of their opponents.

One would think that, having entered the 21st century, we would have gone way past the era of Buzz Butler, Chanka Maharaj and other old time politicians who thrived on personal attacks from platforms. In the 30 years that I have monitored elections, the levels of discourse, not to add the shenanigans of some main players, have disgusted me.

Let me start with the closing days of the campaign. Kelvin Ramnath, having recently been given a lease on life by God (I think he calls himself a Christian), mounted a platform in Couva. Apparently the COP's Ganga Singh, whose reputation as a "stinker" is no different to Ramnath's, had made reference to the latter's poor state of health.

If he did, that was distasteful. But Ramnath's response was the pits: "If he (Ganga) wants to know if I am man, let him send his wife to me!" Really! And you know what was worse? Women in the crowd laughed loudly, applauding this denigration of another woman. Just as they laughed and applauded when Basdeo Panday, referring to his COP opponent Hulsie Bhaggan, said to his audience: "She face so big, she banner couldn't fit on two lamp posts!"

In Tabaquite, where two pitbulls are pitted against each other, they wrestled in raw sewage so much that both came out smelling stink. Ramesh Maharaj had apparently accused his opponent of being a pervert, or something like that. It seems that references were made to bestiality, since at a later UNC meeting, a placard with a goat was prominent.

Anand Ramlogan responded at a COP meeting, saying: "Ramesh wrong! It was not a goat, but a jackass! And when ah finish with 'im, he mouth twist! I is man!" Again, applause and gaffaws from the crowd.

Then the sanctimonious Mervyn Assam, who is running for the COP against Patrick Manning, challenged a female PNM minister to say "where she put her nose when she was in the jacuzzi" at some party retreat. One night I listened with disbelief as Kirk Meighoo, who should represent the future of this country's politics, exposed the innards of his "uncle Winston", almost with relish. I read where the political divide in the once powerful PNM-Mohammed family prompted brother Jamal to "expose" sister Nafeesa for having once referred to Manning as a dictator.

Bearing in mind I missed out on many meetings, I can only imagine what speakers may have said on platforms across the country. I did, however, hear Manning say, in Barrackpore of all places, "Sugar dead...the industry will be revived over my dead body!" That after he and his government committed themselves to privatising the industry and a farmers' group was in the process of negotiating to acquire the Ste Madeleine factory. Talk about putting foot in mouth! Although nastiness was not part of the PNM platform, there were some crude references to the COP, and I'm sure I missed out on worse.

Then, as if to bury us in shame and scandal, Panday and side-kick Jack Warner flew on a private jet all the way to South Africa to woo Nelson Mandela to their cause. It seems that Jack believes money can buy any and everything, even the incorruptible and revered Mandela. Well, Mandela read the riot act to them, and they came back empty-handed. Now they have paid Jesse Jackson, who, like most American "icons", would do or say anything...for a fee. Why the hell are foreigners meddling in our national elections anyway? It is not just wrong, it's unpatriotic.

As someone who, however people may judge me, held lofty ideals when I intervened in the politics of the country in a dramatic way at age 24, I wonder what effect the crude utterances of so many of today's politicians have on young people who are seeking guidance, looking for inspired leadership. Would they, as they sit either on platforms or stand in audiences, believe that baring their opponents' backsides is what politics is all about? That undisguised vulgarity is electioneering? Because the only thing left for some politicians to do in their quest for power is to strip and show their "goods" (or lack thereof): "Look mih! Ent ah better than he (or she)?"

I am aware that politics is war without bloodshed...well, it's supposed to be, anyway. But I never dreamed we'd plunge to such depths. If we don't call halt to such degrading, insulting behaviour, demand standards from our would-be MPs, we shall forever remain an area of darkness so vividly portrayed by V.S. Naipaul in his classic work. Never again must we condone the crap that passes for politics in our beloved country.