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Raffique Shah


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Degeneration now

By Raffique Shah
Dec 18, 2011

You would think that two years after he suffered the most severe political flogging in local history, Basdeo Panday would have long ridden off into the sunset, hoisted his grandchildren on his lap and sat back in luxury, enjoying an ex-prime minister’s generous pension and perks. But that’s not Panday’s style. He’s back into active politics...or so he says.

Of course, his second coming, as the Express labelled his attempt at a comeback, is not of his own volition. Blame the masses, or the UNC faithful. There he was, minding his own business, enjoying political after-life, when members of the party he founded, disaffected by the way Kamla Persad-Bissessar has run the Government and the UNC, begged him to rescue them from political abandonment.

What’s a good leader to do in such circumstances? Answer the call, comrades: old soldiers never die—only their privates do! So Bas dips into his ever-ready bag of tricks, dusts off the crimson beret some spiritual adviser had suggested he wear when he fought and lost the 2007 general elections, and readies himself for battle.

Like Cervantes’ Don Quixote, he is now ready to strike—at windmills real or imagined, at missteps and mistakes, at every chink in Kamla’s armour. Before I proceed any further, I must say I think that Bas is madder than Mahal, the wacky Indian of local folklore who, many moons ago, drove his imaginary bus around Trinidad.

Look, Kamla and her People’s Partnership Government have made many errors since they took office nineteen months ago. Many people, among them core supporters of the constituent parties that make up the Partnership, are disappointed with their performance, or lack thereof. Last Thursday, after Cabinet met in Tobago, the PM told the media (explaining the missteps) that her ministers were still “settling in”. Damn long time it’s taking them.

But not even crazy people would revert to Panday, or for that matter, Patrick Manning. The PNM as a party seems unattractive to the electorate at this time. Keith Rowley and his aides need to re-engineer the party, virtually re-model it, in order for it to be considered as a viable alternative to the People’s Partnership. That’s reality. They can bury their heads in the sand, of course, claiming that the PNM bank of core supporters would take them back into office. Wishful thinking. Any party that hopes to win elections must draw support from way beyond the boundaries of the traditional ethnic base.

Realistically, the People’s Partnership as Government is secure only because there is nothing better on the horizon. If elections were called tomorrow, the Partnership would return to power, albeit with a reduced majority.

In this scenario, there is no place for Panday. He represents the past, and not a glorious one at that. Panday’s major achievement is that he helped eject the PNM from power in 1986, as part of the NAR.

Also, by 1995 he had bounced back to lead the UNC to a draw (17-17-2), which Arthur N R Robinson turned into a win by joining with him to form a post-election coalition government. Credit him, too, with being the first Indian Prime Minister of the country.

However, most of Panday’s ardent supporters would never face the fact that he led his party to defeat in five general elections and several local elections. That he survived on such a woeful record and is still considered by some as a star of sorts is testimony to the sad state of local politics. In any nation where people think before they vote, Panday would have been ancient history.

But Trinidad and Tobago remains a society mired in mediocrity 50 years after independence. Which is why Bas can contemplate a comeback. The bigger joke is the label he has put to his team—”generation next”. That term suggests the future. It conjures images of dynamic young people who want to take their country’s destiny in their hands, a la “Arab Spring” and the “Occupy” movement across the world.

Why would a septuagenarian, an “ole geezer”, mess around with the next generation’s future? For all his theatrics, Panday is degenerating, body and mind, as we all must as age takes its toll. You would think Bas might come to terms with the savagery of nature, thank Bhagwan for the many mercies he has enjoyed in life, and leave the political stage to younger, more energetic people.

Degeneration of the mind is a hell-of-a-thing. Maybe he is yet to recover from the murderous ten-to-one licking Kamla put on him back in January 2010. Maybe he still suffers with political “tabanca”. In some ways I understand his plight. It’s bad enough to be subjected to a political flogging; it’s humiliating when the person dishing out the blows is a woman.

Uppermost in Panday’s mind must be the fact that he all but breathed political life into Kamla. It was he, as Prime Minister, back in 1995, who elevated her to the position of Attorney General, one of the many gender-based “firsts” she has chalked up in her political career. Later, he used her as a foil against his foes, inside and outside his party.

Well, the student has returned to teach the master a thing or two...or three. While she has tempered her comments on his threatened intervention in the UNC elections, she did ask if he wanted a 20-to-one licking this time around. He would do well to heed her words.

Time was when we would feel sorry for the lion that dared come up against Bas. But times have changed. Now, the lioness roars...and Bas purrs away in his winter years.

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