Preparing the Way for Kamla – Pt 2

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 11, 2018


Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeOn January 29, 2011 after the People’s Partnership government was elected, I participated in a conference on multiculturalism that was sponsored by the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Trinidad and Tobago. Kamla and Sat were thick as thieves then and Kamla’s government decided that multiculturalism would be T&T’s cultural policy.

I argued: “Any society that aspires to be a cohesive national entity must be willing to accept all of its history; not just parts of it. And herein lies the problem that no policy of multiculturalism can fix: a proper estimation of Dr. Eric Williams in our national development. It is precisely the inability of most of our Indian population to accept the totality of our history and the heterogeneous nature of our origins that prevent them from acknowledging Dr. Williams’ status as the father of the nation.”

“We may question aspects of his stewardship but we cannot contest the fact that he was there at the beginning and led us during the first thirty years of our national existence….It was so for George Washington as it was for Jawaharlal Nehru. This is why Dr. Williams was indebted to Nehru (Tagore and Gandhi) for so much intellectually and politically. Washington and Nehru were not the fathers of their respective nations because they were white or Indian, but because they were there at the crucial moment when their nations were born and were responsible for nurturing their societies at that formative moment.” (See “The Limitations of Multiculturalism in Trinidad and Tobago,” and “Eric Williams: Man of Culture” in Colin Palmer, The Legacy of Dr. Eric Williams.).

On Tuesday I traveled to Philippine to get Kamla’s take on my thesis, particularly in light of her statement about “No more Mother India,” etc. She welcomed me to her home with her characteristic grace and said she always believed in and accepted Williams’ status as the Father of the Nation but wanted to qualify my statement. She felt I did not acknowledge the contributions the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), under the leadership of Dr. Rudranath Capildeo, made in shaping our national constitution.

Kamla pointed out that Section Four of our constitution, “The Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms,” came as a direct result of DLP’s intervention and Capildeo’s insistence that minority rights be enshrined in our constitution. Williams, she emphasized, was “ably aided and abetted by the members of the Opposition in crafting that document which made it an all-inclusive.”

While Kamla recognized Williams as the Father of the Nation, she believed it necessary to modify the adoration embodied in that encomium to include the contributions that Indo-Trinbagonians made to that sacred document. I could live with this necessary addendum, which places the strength of our constitution into its larger national context.

Kamla was troubled by my second proposition about “the inability of most of our Indian population to accept the totality of our history.” She cringed a bit when I read those words.

“Why specify the Indians?” she queried. “What about the Africans?”

I explained to her I was speaking at a conference that was sponsored by an organization that is dedicated to fighting for the human rights of Indians in the diaspora and India. Therefore, my discussion was about Indians in T&T and GOPIO’s stated goal to rectify the advantages that seemingly redounded to Africans in the land.

Regaining her momentarily disturbed stolidity, Kamla indicated that the patriotism that I ascribed to Africans, by inference, was not as unwavering as I made it out to be, and at that period of national beginnings each group was groping in the dark seeking the best route to nationhood.

Kamla seemed to suggest that while Africans in the urban areas were more assertive about their nationalism, rural Indians may have been less vocal but were equally committed to the national enterprise. She conceded that over the last 25 years Indo-Trinbagonians feel (or are feeling) a greater sense of belonging and possession of the land, “a greater sense of oneness with their fellow Trinbagonians” as she puts it.

As I listened to Kamla’s rumination, I could not help but think of a passage from Derek Walcott’s Nobel Lecture. On seeing a memorable performance of the Ramleela in Felicity, he remarked: “I had recently adapted the Odyssey for a theatre in England, presuming that the audience knew the trials of Odysseus, hero of another Asia Minor epic, while nobody in Trinidad knew any more than I did about Rama, Kali, Shiva, and Vishnu, apart from the Indians, a phrase I use pervertedly because that is the kind of remark you can still hear in Trinidad: ‘apart from the Indians.'”

As I left Kamla, I wasn’t sure if Kamla was thinking of the passage quoted above or two other lines of Walcott’s poetry, “Farewell, green fields,/Farewell, ye happy groves” (“Ruins of a Great House.”)

I remain confident that the challenge of the present generation of politicians is to chart a future that says, “Together with the Indians,” and the determination to proclaim this truth loudly. Kamla said it best at the St. Joseph Presbyterian Church: “Strength is in unity. We live together as brothers, or perish as fools” (Express, May 28).

5 thoughts on “Preparing the Way for Kamla – Pt 2”

  1. Professor, I can never forget your article on Alexander Hamilton.. I can remember hearing Pat Buchanan promoting his book on Hamilton on the radio, “Oh, he was the greatest American, etc. etc.” But never once uttered that Hamilton was a Caribbean man… like you taught us. Yes, we do appreciate you very much, Professor.

    But, Kamla…… there is too much documentation on her to ‘rebrand’ her for public consumption..

  2. Aye Prof.
    As a man who headed an org. that represented African People in Trinidad and Tobago(NAEAP)..

    Can ‘we’ sit back and watch the players in the media ‘pimp’ this Rasta City/Muslim war.. when literally Black Brothers, Cousins, Uncils and Nephews are killing off each other and they don’t even know why..

    Anyway, I think the architects behind this ‘play’ need to be carefull that it won’t turn ‘Racial’..

    Only in Trinidad can an this fool play Rastafari like this.. Go cook a roti nah..

    And Professor, this one say, “I is the baddies Indian’ in central..

    Pure madness..

  3. I am not sure that we can treat this as a matter of intellectual honesty coming from someone who was a prime minister or someone who wants to chart the course of historical development for a country such as ours. Kamla’s quote as stated by Dr. Cudjoe can be used as an assessed value only if mitigated by prevailing facts. The quote “Strength is in unity. We live together as brothers, or perish as fools” (Express, May 28). is a truism. But I’m skeptical, if the orator does not live by example.

    The daily media is flooded with quotes attributed to the UNC leader’s concerns for every decision made by the present government. Her concerns or point of views are always in opposition, never a competing proposal to outwit the plans that she is criticizing. This deficit on her part does not make her an attractive candidate outside the Indian community. It is evident, based on the narrative written by the professor that her concerns are only on ‘equity’ and narrating a directive that promotes the Indian. Not because something good is said of the African means that an equal story be repeated of the Indian. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. There are many good things that are readily found in the Indian community that may not be as visible in the African community, and vice versa.

    The racial politics that are practiced accentuates too much ‘tit for tat’, metooisms, ‘where is mine’, ‘where is my share’ and others ethnic guarantees that are demanded by competing political parties. In areas of business, education, law and agriculture – Indian predominates. That is a fact that cannot be denied. In areas of sports, arts and culture the African presence predominates. That too is factual. There should be no envy or grudging of one’s prowess if it lies and their ability to do it better than another. The politics of our country seems to put more emphasis on what they think they “didn’t get” than on making it possible for all to “get”. With such heavy emphasis on “what we didn’t get” the politics, no matter how masked it tries to appear almost always become racial and ethnicised.

    We need to see the good in a person first before we tout the ethnic background that developed that goodness. If politicians were to emphasize that as a necessary quality then we might be able to present a development void of racial overtones and racial scrutiny that is so prevalent in today’s politician such as Kamla. It is for this reason I take everything coming from Kamla
    ‘with a grain of salt’.

  4. It is a basic fact that in any nation or society, ethnicities want to see themselves represented in positions of power.
    In the USA; for example, African Americans have struggled for and demanded recognition and representation in every sphere even though they comprise only fifteen percent of the total population. The USA lawmakers have facilitated African Americans through programs like affirmative action and in some institutions, the quota system.
    In T&T the PNM has contrived and plotted over the years to exclude Indians from positions of power. There is ample evidence to support this fact, beginning with the political scheming to disqualify two Indians from assuming the leadership of the PNM after the death of Eric Williams.
    It is true that Rowley, following the leadership of Kamla’s last government, has made efforts to diversify his Cabinet, much to the dismay of traditional PNMites.
    We live in a country where the PM, the President, the Chief of Police, the Chief Justice, the President of UWI, the majority of Permanent Secretaries and many more key positions are held by Africans.
    Is this phenomenon a mere coincidence in a nation in which Africans are a minority?

Comments are closed.