October 27, 2002
By Raffique Shah
THREE weeks is more than ample time for a political party to mourn its losses, although regaining its footing on the slippery slopes of the political landscape that is Trinidad and Tobago may take forever. In fact, for the UNC, any chance of recouping its number one position in local politics seems to be as slim as its leader, Basdeo Panday, once was when he entered the arena back in 1976. What is disturbing is that UNC misleaders still see themselves as government-except that they are sitting on the wrong side in the parliamentary chamber. And they have managed to convince a significant number of their supporters that the party will be back in office "shortly".
If anything convinced me that the UNC is finished as a political force, it was Panday's pathetic performance during the Budget debate. The man was not merely "out of sorts", but he appeared to have given up both the post (as the one-time strong leader of his party) and the ghost. He was a shadow of himself, something I had noted during the campaign. In fact, when I wrote then that having monitored several meetings of both the PNM and UNC, I sensed a tide of change, I did not spell out that that tide was against the UNC. But trapped as they were in a make-believe world where cow dung is king, Panday and his mindless minions really believed they were on the road to victory. Worse, they kept their "secret shame", the signs that they had lost it, from their loyal supporters-which is why so many who did not see the sun rise on October 8th wept bitterly.
Of course, in any properly structured party, the loss of an election, or even five elections (as in Panday's case), does not necessarily signal the demise of the party. But when that party revolves solely around the maximum leader, when he is elevated to the status of a god, and then his feet of clay are exposed, all comes crashing down. Which is precisely the predicament in which the UNC finds itself today. Really, if Panday were forthright with his loyal supporters, he would tell them that he had had his day, he has enjoyed a great run both in opposition and government, and now he must ride off into the sunset-leaving the sun to rise on someone else's political career.
However, he created the elements of his own destruction and that of his party by establishing the "sole ownership" principle. And he ensured that he surrounded himself with political eunuchs. Remember in the run-up to the last elections how his minions responded to the ticklish question of the return to the fold of Ramesh Maharaj? The NACTA poll suggested that the combination of Ramesh and Bas could possibly beat the PNM. By then, slavishly following their leader-which is why I dub them "eunuchs"-they had all lambasted Ramesh in the vilest manner. They chanted, ad nauseam, the mantra: "Never forget, is Ramesh, Trevor and Ralph dat have we in dis position!"
Later, when the spectre of possible defeat at the polls stared them in the face, and when Panday met with Ramesh and rumours of a rapprochement were rife, what were the eunuchs' answers to questions about Ramesh's return? In fact, it was not a case of "answers" as much as there was a stock response: whatever is the will of the leader, we'll go along. I mean, here was a group of supposedly big men and women who had cursed Ramesh in every form, in Hindi and English, but yet they were about to re-embrace him because of the "will of the leader". I suppose for the Muslim sycophants in the party, that was equivalent to "the will of Allah".
Which really is where the demise of the UNC lay. From the time Panday engineered the split in the ULF back in 1978, when he had to deal with "real men" like George Weekes, Joe Young, Showkat Enatally, George Sammy, Boodram Jattan, Allan Alexander, Lennox Pierre and your not-so-humble servant, he unwittingly wrote his epitaph. He decided never again to have real men around him. Mice were preferable. Interestingly, most historians and political analysts did not see in that split the beginning of the end of Bas.
True, he went on to survive via a string of alliances, firstly with Ray Robinson's DAC and Lloyd Best's Tapia (The Allaince of 1981), and later added Karl Hudson-Phillips's ONR to bring about the NAR and that massive victory over the PNM in 1986. He used and abused a whole lot of people en route to power. Robinson was used (in 1986), abused (in 1988), used again (in 1995) and abused again (in 2001). He first embraced Winston Dookeran, then spat him out like a dry plum seed after the split in the NAR. Then when he saw trouble staring him in the face a few months ago, he once more latched on to Winston. Kelvin Ramnath's is a special case: he is like the proverbial woman whose man must beat her to show his love. In other words, Ramnath is impervious to abuse.
So while most UNC diehards saw power everlasting in the silver crown of their guru, with his Muslim supporters going down on their foreheads before this incarnation of the prophet Muhammad, anyone with a modicum of sense and sobriety could have sensed that the emperor was almost naked. What were his great achievements-besides gaining power, which, by itself, was nothing unique?
Like the pig-in-the-fable, he built a house of straw! The UNC and its predecessor party, the ULF, have been around for 25-plus years. During that time, the party claimed to have had tens-of-millions of dollars in its accounts. We know for sure when it controlled government for six years, massive sums of money passed through the hands or bank accounts of many of its frontline members. Yet, the party has failed to build even a modest headquarters. Hey, humble Tapia has had a "home" for decades. The DAC still owns a building-and that party tasted power only fleetingly. Even NJAC operates out of rented offices. The mighty UNC has squatted in Rienzi Complex, which is owned by the All Trinidad union, from its birth. And I dare say its funeral rites will be conducted from the said "squat".
So Panday was always a failure-in-disguise. His sole success was to have fooled a whole lot of people for a long, long time. That is quite an achievement, since it says a whole lot about a lot of people!
Copyright © Raffique Shah