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Testing tolerance

By Terry Joseph
June 05, 2002

Perhaps misled by flawed estimates of how many voters had recently begun developing precisely that inclination, UNC leader Basdeo Panday last week said he no longer wanted anyone to tolerate him.

Instead, he wanted to be "appreciated" which, we may surmise from his tone of near-martyrdom, is a condition of greater comfort. Using legendary skill at wrestling tribal imbalance out of hitherto harmless topics, Mr Panday subtly positioned the word "tolerance" as target of a zealous and potentially robust crusade.

Of course, any suggestion that "tolerance" is implicitly irreverent challenges every fundamental of the concept. Indeed, apart from being preached by every known religion, it is the only one of three national watchwords that worked; "discipline" and "production" having long failed at scaring anyone into reduced lawlessness or increased yield.

Given his widely known ability at spontaneously creating a tirade of the week then letting the chosen word slither into oblivion "unscathed", Mr Panday's flailing arms and designer gutturals meant nothing more at first hearing than his "Judas" line or other "Jackass" talk.

But this time Mr Panday might not be playing political prankster, up to his usual fun-stuff like holding Cabinet meetings at party headquarters long after it was made clear to him that someone else had been selected to form the real Government.

His command of language and Thespian delivery seldom leaves interpretation to chance. We know when he is tolerant, as distinct from appreciative.

He tolerated the idea of President Arthur NR Robinson having singular choice of a new Prime Minister when elections resulted in a hung Parliament, but certainly did not appreciate the way in which Mr Robinson announced his decision.

Although such experience with the subject words puts a macabre spin on the current matter, it should meanwhile be remembered that Mr Panday has an extraordinary sense of humour and enviable reflexes in picong on any level.

Words do not fool him. Mr Panday was gushing with gratitude in 1991 over Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj's help in forming the United National Congress (UNC). Ten years later, he would brook no assertion from the same quarter that his party had grown corrupt; expelling from the fold the very man earlier dubbed "The Rising Son". Before our very ears, appreciation turned full circle to downright intolerance.

It was a lesson well taught to party stalwarts who, upon hearing of recent clandestine coziness between Mr Panday and Mr Maharaj, vowed to expel themselves from the UNC if, resulting from those talks, political reconciliation between the friends-turned-foes was even so much as hinted.

The public has its own understanding of the words as well. We all appreciate how some routine small details could slip a busy Prime Minister, although the requirement to report to the Integrity Commission a foreign $10 million account to which he is a signatory seems major and, hopefully, is not everyday business.

With exemplary grace, we also tolerated Mr Panday's ranting over the removal of two religious items planted on the grounds of the Prime Minister's official residence, never mind his sounding more like lessor of the property than servant of the people allowed to stay for a while in our house.

What we do not appreciate is the implied threat of hostile intervention by sinister supernatural forces if a third shrine still present is eventually uprooted. If touching the remaining three-tonne Shiv Lingam without appropriate religious ritual would occasion some terrible fate upon the nation, then Mr Panday was patently irresponsible for installing it in the first place, except, of course, he was given to believe the rest of his life would be spent there.

Because in a country where religious mix and precarious politics could so easily conspire to afford a succession of Prime Ministers from different faiths, it is possible that in the fullness of time the grounds could be hosting a variety of symbols and shrines, each representing a former Prime Minister.

We have a long-term responsibility to ensure God is not confused when all He could spare is but a glance at the Prime Minister's residence. If, as the argument has come to insinuate, all Supreme Beings are great but some are greater than others, sage advice suggests we really shouldn't be rooting for a particular conviction, lest another denomination is looking directly down on the garden at crisis time.

Clearly, there is a role here for the Inter-Religious Organisation in designing a generic adornment, taking its major cue from the peaceful plurality of Soparee Mai, who embraces both Hindu and Christian beliefs and coming up with one that respects all possible prime ministerial persuasions.

Now, if Mr Panday knows for sure his will soon be back on the premises, outrage at unnecessary disruption of spiritual matters might be justified. He should, however, not play his hand so boldly, for it is understood that the forces do not enjoy being upstaged.

But it must be clear that every prime minister cannot plant items as eternal monuments to his/her spiritual direction, because the job does not come with a promise of perpetuity. Tasteful refurbishing of the house and a little landscaping is pretty near to maximum flexibility with a home acquired on such fragile terms.

Ironically, the very word Mr Panday now finds pejorative may be the only escape from what could eventually become a maze of sepulchres and sanctuaries.

Then, Mr Panday, every future Prime Minister will need tolerance like never before.

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