Trinidad and Tobago


Aah, the power of sleaze

November 21, 2001

Evidence accruing from the hustings indicates escalating difficulty among politicians in differentiating between picong and patently offensive remarks.

It is also clear that no one party has monopolised this confusion and judging from recent statements by new blood on both major platforms, potential for continuity of the recklessness lies squarely ahead.

Even more disconcerting is the fact that these new examples are not victims of low-life upbringing or deficient education. Attorney-at-law Robin Montano and former head of the South Chamber of Commerce Diane Seukeran are not your common or garden-variety candidates. In fact, they are both offspring of legendary politicians, whose public conduct was never in question.

That Mr Montano could even think of saying what he did on Sunday about politicians who “do it to the public” takes us to a new plateau in platform speaking. Surely he knew that young children would form part of the television audience as his United National Congress (UNC) party introduced its candidates.

So while pictures in Monday’s newspapers showed him kissing his wife with the classic posture and pout of an exemplary husband and model father, what got past those same lips mere moments afterward communicated something quite different.

But alas, he is not alone. Even after applying hindsight spin to her private perception that inner-city violence would likely follow a UNC victory, the broader implications of that original assertion have apparently not yet registered on newcomer Ms Seukeran.

Of course, she is entitled to think that an election result unfavourable to the People’s Naztional Movement (PNM) party is achievable only through cheating from the other side, but to single out the people of Laventille as first to start a resulting riot reeks of unfounded prejudice.

Express editor-at-large Keith Smith, Guardian editor-in-chief Lennox Grant, its entertainment editor Peter Ray Blood and yours truly all hail from Success Village in Laventille. Like Ms Seukeran and her well-brought-up relatives and friends, none among us has considered a rampage based on the outcome of elections.

And if the dear lady wishes to make matters worse by identifying the other side of the Laventille hill as a village of unstable hotheads, then someone in her party’s hierarchy should rush to correct that generalisation. After all, didn’t party stalwart and quintessential peacemaker Morris Marshall live there? Isn’t all of Laventille PNM country?

Given our religious mix and the agreed spiritual safeguard of offering prayers from the three major faiths before undertaking no matter how contrary an activity, it is even more telling that both statements came during a week that might well rank as our most devout periods this year.

As it happened the glow of Divali, the Hindu festival of lights, had not yet subsided when Ramadan, Islam’s most holy period began and already, Christians were welcoming the season of goodwill. Perhaps we should separately thank all three versions of God that elections were not scheduled during the official feast of the flesh.

On Sunday, at rallies held by the two major political parties, leaders were careful to quote religious texts before proceeding. PNM’s Patrick Manning lifted liberally from The Holy Bible, visibly preening at one point when he cited chapter and verse from The Book of Chronicles. UNC’s Basdeo Panday selected inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita.

They have both repeatedly promised to deliver us from evil, a hazard that in Mr Panday’s assessment expressly includes the co-founder of his party, former running mate and ex-attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.

But not long after his opening incantation, Mr Panday announced that he was in receipt of advice from a seer-woman, who warned that Messrs Maharaj and Manning were working obeah on him.

By way of justifying the indelicacy of that declaration, Mr Panday who, lest we forget, is still Prime Minister, repeated details of the seer-woman’s findings: “Maharaj, Manning and (Ralph) Maraj are three M’s and ‘M’ is the 18th letter of the alphabet. Three sixes are 18 and a six is the sign of the devil.”

Not unlike Ms Seukeran, Mr Panday clearly has a misinformed impression of the African element in our society, if he still believes the colonial definition of obeah as “black arts”. This, from a man who not so long ago vowed publicly he would sleep with the devil himself to get rid of the PNM.

Now, honestly, and purely on the basis that impromptu addresses are subject to the vagaries of quick thinking on one’s legs, it was not altogether difficult to forgive Mr Panday his earlier outbursts about “Judases” and “Jackasses” in describing political opponents while on the platform.

Even when he insensitively referred to them as “terrorists” (given the world-view of such persons), it just seemed a tad melodramatic, but to go for witchcraft rationale really rattles. Accusing them of racial incitement and “Hitlerish and Stalinish” techniques further plumbs some hitherto uncharted depths.

And I had forgotten (then) Education Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s raunchy references to how much “pipe” she is familiar with, but politicians seem to want us all to remember them in their most uncomplimentary light.

It must be an indictment on successive governments if there is nothing uplifting that can be said from the political platform at this time. Mark you, I suspect there is more than enough verifiable information to produce intelligent debate, but aah… the power of that other thing!

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