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Raffique Shah


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Sat still stirring religious intolerance

By Raffique Shah
May 31, 2018

Sat Maharaj can manufacture a controversy in the calmest situation. He knows that the fundamental rule for staying alive in public life, and more importantly looking lively even though you may be half-dead is to get embroiled in "kuchoor", as Indians would say, and do the most outrageous things to command media attention.

Through the decades that he has been head of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Sat has adopted the image of appearing to be Lord Rama's representative in this country, a powerful force in religion, education, politics and life in general. He has arrogated unto himself near-divine powers.

Most of all, by manipulating the media with practiced ease, he has commandeered coverage that prime ministers and politicians yearn for, would have their financiers pay big bucks for—and he gets it for free.

Evidence of this is what you are reading now: I am devoting an entire column to this "burrokeet", which is creole for a Carnival character which portrays a man playing an ass, as Sat does and has done all his life.

Take the latest storm he has stirred, an unholy war over a young Muslim woman being barred from entering the Lakshmi Girls High School wearing a hijab. In a country that is bleeding with crime, counting murders by the hour, robberies by the minute, and rampant lawlessness that straddles race and class lines, you'd think a hijab is the least of our worries.

Not when Sat is involved: after the trainee teacher posted her plight on the Internet, which exposed Sat's bigotry, he slammed into her—no hijab on my property! His property happens to be a secondary school that is funded by taxpayers of this country, who include Muslims, Hindus, Christians and members of a host of other faiths.

The conflict quickly escalated when prominent persons and organisations added their voices, almost unanimously condemning the Maha Sabha's stance.

Sat was ready for them, but especially for UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Armed with the Hindu equivalent of a battle club, he went live on the Maha Sabha's radio and television stations threatening to end her political career by withdrawing the "Hindu vote". Again, displaying delusions of divinity, he repeatedly vowed that Kamla would "pay a hell of a price" for criticising him. I note that up to the time of writing this, no other member of the Maha Sabha has made any statement or comment on the issue.

Now, the uninformed listening to Sat's threat to withdraw the Hindu vote from Kamla's UNC might think that the incumbent Opposition Leader's "dogs dead", as Trinis would say, in the next elections. If she does suffer defeat in the local government elections due in 2019, it would not be because of Sat's perceived power over how Hindus vote.

What are the facts? In 1976, when he was already head of the Maha Sabha, in his second foray into the electoral arena, Sat contested the heavily-Hindu Chaguanas constituency on a DLP ticket. He suffered a humiliating defeat, mustering a mere 480 votes out of 9,000. Five years earlier (1971), when the main opposition parties boycotted the election, and Sat's Guru and father-in-law Bhadase Maharaj fielded candidates to legitimise it, Bhadase gave Sat the surest of Hindu seats, St Augustine. Sat lost it to the PNM—the only time the PNM won St Augustine.

To further debunk Sat's spurious claim of the Maha Sabha controlling the Hindu vote, Bhadase, who was the main founder of the religious organisation, also lost his deposit in St Augustine in 1966, polling 943 votes out of 9,400, losing to the DLP's John Bharath, Vasant's father. And his death-blow came in 1971 in another Hindu stronghold, Oropouche, where, again, the PNM won for the first and only time.

To crown off Sat's delusions of divinity, sometime post 2000 (I think), he publicly associated with Patrick Manning and the PNM. He failed to take any Hindu votes with him.

In fact, I argue that there is no such entity as "the Hindu vote". There is an Indo-Trinidadian vote that comprises Hindus (by far the largest number), Muslims and Christians. While they do not vote as a block, they tend to go with whatever Indian-led party is popular in an election, or where the popular leader takes them.

For example, working backwards, in 2015 and 2010 they will have supported Kamla, hence the People's Partnership. Before that, Basdeo Panday was "the Man", from as far back as 1976, and even when he merged with Karl Hudson-Phillips and Ray Robinson to form the NAR in 1986, they went with him. It was the only election in which the mass of Indians voted for an Afro prime minister (Robinson).

When Panday and his crew walked out of the NAR in 1988, most of the Indian supporters went with them.

Bhadase, Sat and the Maha Sabha were there through all of the above. Indeed, they pre-dated those parties and mergers. But at no point did they influence the elections the way Sat suggests.

While he and his colleagues can take credit for the establishment and expansion of Hindu schools, especially secondary schools, that have come a long way in a relatively short time, their impact in the political arena has been unimpressive.

Sat should spend his winter years chalking up some dharma- and karma-points, rather than fulminating like a madman, taxing his ailing ticker, stirring the seeds of religious intolerance and racial disharmony.

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