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Ghosts in Panday's political afterlife

By Raffique Shah
February 28, 2010

The tide of events often disrupts the best laid plans of columnists. I promised readers last week that I would today conclude my take on a 'dying Carnival'. I wanted to share my thoughts on the few remaining bright sparks in the festival-the effervescent young pannists, calypsonians Kurt Allen, Brian London and Kizzie Ruiz, and dedicated cultural activists who refuse to allow our Carnival to descend into the abyss of nothingness.

But developments in the political arena have pre-empted that. I shall return to the topic above at an appropriate time. Discussions on Carnival ought never to be confined to the 'wining season'. We need to address entertainment not just as enjoyment, but as an industry, as a contributor to the national coffers rather than a collector of government handouts. There are studies already conducted along these lines, notably by UWI economist Dr Keith Nurse.

All of last week I was inundated with calls from media houses seeking my comments on the political death of Basdeo Panday. I guess my journalist colleagues bought into Panday's delusion that I was the first of a long line of persons he consigned to the 'graveyard'. So who better to ask about him, his career, than this 'ghost' that, sťance-like, will speak on the man?

I have in my time, and increasingly with frightening frequency, delivered many eulogies to 'dear departed souls'. Only last weekend, for example, I was among a few distinguished persons (I was the aberration!) who spoke at the funeral of Randolph Rawlins. Those who knew Randy, a man of great intellect, would understand why one iconoclast found it easy to pay tribute to another.

Randy never traded on the fact that he was ex-President Ray Robinson's brother-in-law. He was a hard-working, hard-drinking journalist in his day-the glory days of newsrooms, many say. He was a scholar to whom students like me could turn to for information one cannot easily access nowadays, not even on the Internet.

He was a specialist in Latin American affairs, fluent in Spanish (how many times did he correct my pronunciation of Chavez?), someone whose opinions were informed and valued. They don't make them like Randy any more.

Anyway, here I was answering questions about Panday even as he waited in the departure lounge of political life. It felt somewhat awkward commenting on a situation like that. Reminded me of a snowy parade square at Sandhurst in early January, 1965, when, as a junior officer cadet, I was among those who rehearsed for Sir Winston Churchill's funeral even as Britain's great wartime leader lay dying in London. He expired, eventually, on January 24.

Coincidence? Maybe the demise-dates match up, but the men didn't-not by a long stretch. Besides the chalk-and-cheese comparison (well, to be fair, Churchill was racist), the British warlord who had first led the country from 1940, went on to lose the post-war, 1945 elections. He regained power in 1951, but by 1953, at age 78, he suffered the biggest of a series of strokes. He stood down as Prime Minister in 1955, making way for Sir Anthony Eden. He was 80.

Panday failed to listen to those who advised that he should enjoy his winter years, that he should make way for 'young blood' to take the UNC forward. But the lure of office, the trappings of power-security detail, life in the palace he condemned, police escort everywhere he goes-were too seductive for him to gracefully bow out.

Now he finds himself stripped of all vestiges of power, a bitter old 'geezer' consigned not just to the back-bench in Parliament, but to the political outhouse of the party's mansion in which he once occupied the state-room. He now knows what it's like to be in the political graveyard, the burial ground he boasted of having consigned so many to, I being the first of his 'victims'.

Panday believes that life outside of Parliament spells political death. Ever since PNM-dropout Roy Richardson made him a member of the Senate back in 1972, he believed that Red House was the be-all and end-all of the good life.

Meanwhile, this 'ghost' (well, I must be...the man buried me 30-odd years ago!) has gone on to lead a rewarding, fulfilling, peaceful and enjoyable life. I was born of humble parents, lived a simple life (even when I was in Parliament), and achieved so much, I am contented. Being a ghost must be the essence of the good life.

So adios, Pancho. Enjoy purgatory for what is left of your miserable life. As you stew watching the woman who engineered your downfall, think of names like Sonnylal Sookoo, Imam Shah (not related to me), Frank Seepersad, Caine, Cummings and Ramtahal (forgot their first names), a few among the hundreds who hoisted you on their shoulders back in 1974. They were proud to have you as their leader back then. You repaid them by grinding their faces in faeces. Now it's your turn to be spat and shat upon.

Hey, I am not having the proverbial last laugh. I'm just taking you for an eerie ride down memory lane where the ghosts you created will haunt you in your political afterlife.

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