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Raffique Shah


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The Trini 'Prince'

September 07, 2003
By Raffique Shah

CONTINUING from where I left off two weeks ago on the demise of Basdeo Panday and UNC, I argued that there were two main reasons for this. From as far back as when he re-entered the political arena in 1974, he had adopted the Machiavellian approach to leadership in both the union and party. By way of explanation, Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th century author of The Prince, advocated untrammelled manipulation to gain and retain political power. That meant using anyone or saying anything that would enhance one's political stocks at any given time, and making an about-face if that became necessary for survival. It also meant the elimination of anyone who was seen as a threat to one's absolute control of power.

This trait manifested itself in the early days of the ULF back in 1974/75, before the alliance of trade unions gave way to the formation of the party. Panday's entry into the turmoil that enveloped the sugar belt then was facilitated by Dr Eric Williams and the PNM. There was no way he could have become a member, far less leader, of the All Trinidad union without the blessings of the then strongman, Rampartap Singh, and by extension, the PNM. In interviews given to Owen Baptiste's People magazine then, he outlined the roles played by Errol Mahabir and Rampartap in making him leader, and how he later "outsmarted" Rampartap.

For a man who dismisses the first 30 years of PNM rule of the country as the most disastrous period in our history, many who don't know their history will be surprised to learn how well he worked with the PNM when it suited his needs. He was a perfect student of The Prince.

Some day I hope to write the true story of that period, of how the ULF really emerged. Suffice it to say that George Weekes, a father figure to me, was the one who asked me to forgive Panday his sins of deceit and "for the sake of country" join hands to unite sugar and oil. It was out of that that the ULF emerged in 1975. So quite opposite to the myth that it was Panday who "extended a hand" to Afro-Trinis like Weekes (hence justifying his claim to being the father of racial unity), really it was the other way round. Panday, again sticking closely to the theories promoted in The Prince, realised that the badly fragmented opposition could only be cemented with the presence of men like Weekes and myself. And while we, in good heart and with honourable intentions, went along with the dream of a multi-ethnic party that would eventually maul the PNM, he had the limited vision of using our popularity in 1976, disposing of us one year later (with active help from Williams and the PNM), and re-forming an Indo-based party that was no threat to the PNM.

Those who want to challenge these historical facts may also want to explain why the ULF won only eight seats in the 1981 general elections (down from 10 in 1976), and lost most of the county councils the party had won in 1977. Thereafter, Panday ensured that there would be no Weekes, no Shah, no Allan Alexander, no George Sammy, no man or woman of substance who would dare challenge his authoritarian approach to leadership. The Alliance (with the DAC and Tapia) that followed the break in the party in 1977 would eventually emerge into the all-conquering NAR that swept the PNM from power in 1986. Of course Panday played a pivotal role in that "party of parties". But without ANR Robinson, who was regarded with much respect though not rewarded with votes, and most of all Karl Hudson-Phillips' ONR that had made a big dent in the PNM's support base in 1981, an NAR under any name will have failed to dislodge even the besieged George Chambers.

In the aftermath of the NAR victory, cracks were bound to appear, and soon. Those who knew or were able to analyse the structure of the NAR saw its demise in its massive victory. Because the party won 33 seats and did not depend on Panday's 10-or-so constituencies to form the government, the latter realised he had been reduced to being "a small fish in a big pond". It was inevitable he would break with the NAR. It was only a question of when, and what reasons he would use. Because once more he found himself in the untenable situation of being surrounded by strong personalities like Robinson, Hudson-Phillips, Anthony Smart, Selwyn Richardson, Selby Wilson and Bhoe Tewarie, to name a few. His only way out was to break with the NAR, which he did, not bothering with the consequences.

I should note here that on the two occasions (until then) that the racially-mixed parties he was part of were showing signs of success, he was prepared to scuttle them on the altar of race. In 1977, he branded me "an Indian only in hair" and in 1986 he played the race card again. So much for a man who is believed by many to be the architect of racial unity. The real reason for his pique and drastic actions, though, lay in his inability to control men of some substance, men and women who were prepared to stand up to his foolishness.

And so Club 88 was formed, yet another reincarnation of the PDP-DLP-ULF, with an almost total Indian base.

Panday is himself no racist. I have maintained this position from as far back as in 1977. But in accordance with the edicts of The Prince, he would use anything to get where he wanted. He managed to convince some disgruntled non-Indians that he was the guru of racial unity and for opportunistic reasons, they remained with him.

(To be continued.)

Part I