April 1, 2001 From: Winford James

Di NAR Nuh Deh-een

The title of this week's column is written not in English, but in a variety of Tobagonian speech that is variously called 'dialect', 'raw dialect', 'backayard talk', 'deep creole', 'basilect', and 'broken English'. (Indeed, from the way I have spelt it, it looks like a broken version of English. But if I had spelt it - more elegantly, I think - as The NAR No De-iin, you might have taken a little longer to interpret the intended sounds.) It translates into Standard English as something like 'The NAR is out of favour', but the structural beauty and semantic economy of the original are lost in the translation, especially of the compound verb deh-een.

Deh-een includes meanings such as 'be in season', 'be in vogue/ in the fashion', 'be in good form'. You would have to pick the meaning that suits a particular context. So a sentence like 'Mango deh-een' would translate as 'Mango is in season'; a sentence like 'Bell-battam pants deh-een' would translate as 'Is it fashionable to wear bell-bottom pants?'; and one like 'Mi hand deh-een' (as in a game of marbles) as 'My hand is in good form'. And you will now easily understand what I mean when I say of our international cricket team 'West Indies nuh deh-een'. Deh-een includes all the different interpretations that I have given (and more), and its potential to have these interpretations establishes its semantic economy.

So when I say 'Di NAR nuh deh-een', think of its meaning potential before translating into Standard English. And if you come up with 'The NAR is out of power', you are doing fine. If, as I suggested earlier, you come up with 'The NAR is not in favour', then you are right, for 'out of power' must imply 'not in favour' (eh Ramesh?). If you come up with 'The NAR is out of fashion' and 'The NAR has little or no appeal', then you are doing very well indeed. And if you translate 'The NAR is a pariah', that is a little rough, but, hey, it is a potential gem!

Out of power in 2001, after being in power from since the diluted restoration of the Tobago House of Assembly in 1980, the Tobago NAR will be like a fish out of water. Lacking in effective community and organisational structure, as well as in a credible doctor politics (which was for all those years its sustaining basis), it will find it desperately hard to stay with the illusion of coherence it enjoyed while in power.

It got into power on the basis of the idea of Tobagonian self-governance/ autonomy/nationalism articulated by the credible doctor politician, ANR Robinson. But with Robinson gone into the presidency, Hochoy Charles as de facto successor but no doctor status, and credible alternatives to Robinson having been (mercifully) alienated by authoritarian leadership politics in the party, only the idea remains. But it is an idea that was given its most focused chance (barring the days, circa 1977, of Robinson's motion for internal self-government) in the last four years of Charles' Tobago government in the light of Act 40 of 1996. Charles offered the electorate the scandals of ADDA, Ring Bang, lack of accountability, and Morgan Job, and, to compound matters, he attempted to be doctor without having the substance or the personal constituency to sustain the role.

The NAR sea of support parted, and the PNM walked through on dry ground.

The PNM de-iin now, and the NAR no de-iin. The PNM will have to run real politics to stay in, but it can bask for a time in the heady fact that, out of power, the NAR has little to keep or grow its popular support.

Already, the signs are there. Apart from the loss of bedrock supporters during the last elections, some of its principals have resigned and/or migrated. Charles himself has automatically held on to the leadership of the party and been behaving as if business is as usual, in characteristic defiance of those of his (erstwhile) followers who are calling for his resignation. And the party as a whole is faced with some disruptive facts.

Perhaps the most important is the perception that the NAR lost the election because of Charles and his disconnected adventurism. A second is that Charles did not offer his resignation after such failed adventurism. A third is the perception that, out of government, the gruff, authoritarian persona of Charles is not a calling card. A fourth is the party's heavy loss of potential leaders from its intelligentsia as well as its grassroots. A fifth is that Charles has never led the party to victory in elections (I ignore the unrepresentative 1997 by-elections). And a sixth is the mundane fact that people do not rally around losers, especially self-opinionated ones.

How will the party face these facts? Will it have to spend many years in the wilderness like the PNM rebuilding? What are the issues that will drive the rebuilding process? The time-honoured ones of nationalism, anti-PNMism, and leader statesmanship? Or new (that is, untested) ones such as community democracy and an assembly of autonomous villages?

But can the party rebuild itself along these lines with Charles at the head? Can it do so when it en de-iin?

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