By Raffique Shah
April 25, 2010
‘DID you hear the Prime Minister lashing out at you on the PNM platform last night?’ It was the kind of telephone calls and greetings I received repeatedly over the past week. I informed my ‘informants’ that I did hear Mr Manning mention my name, among others, as he attempted to give PNM supporters ‘History lessons’. As a columnist who writes on political issues, I need to stay tuned to the ranting on the hustings if I am to write informed comments.
On PNM platforms, Mr Manning gave ill-informed versions of the 1970 Black Power movement and the army mutiny that I led on April 21 that year. He also made reference to my one intervention in electoral politics (1976-81)-a nasty experience, one that has kept me wary of electoral politics and most politicians ever since.
In both instances, the PM was short on the facts surrounding the events, which signalled to me that he himself needs to be taught vital lessons in local history. On the Black Power movement, for example, he suggested the locals were merely aping what was happening in America where Trinidad-born Stokely Carmichael led the ‘Charge of the Black Brigade’.
He failed to mention that when the protest-movement erupted here eight years after independence, the then prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, had failed to deliver the country from racism and neo-colonialism. Our economy was still controlled from abroad. Foreigners owned the oil and sugar industries, as well as other lucrative sub-sectors like merchandising and manufacturing. Non-Whites could hardly rise above the shop-floor in the commercial sector. They were excluded from the banking and finance sectors except if they were ‘fair skinned’ or had fairy godfathers.
Manning is oblivious to the fact that official unemployment stood at 25 per cent while the real numbers suggested at least 45 per cent of young people had no jobs-even those who had GCE ‘O’ Levels or skills’ certification. It was against that background that small groups were formed to demand social and economic justice. They would all come together under the banner of the NJAC, led by Geddes Granger (later Makandal Daaga), and daily demonstrations numbered from 5,000 to 50,000 angry young people.
It was also in the above circumstances that the majority of soldiers mutinied at Teteron Barracks when Williams declared a state of emergency and locked up leaders of the mass movement. The young lieutenants and our troops refused to be used to suppress, and possibly kill, our own people whose only crime was to justifiably seek social and economic equity.
As this column appears in print, the rebels’ brotherhood of 40 years ago will be enjoying our annual ‘camp’ at Mayaro. We are all 60 years-plus now, we have lost a few good men over the years, but we remain solidly one when it comes to what we stood for back in 1970. Mr Prime Minister, we are unrepentant mutineers. We stood for a cause then that remains valid today. And we upheld the highest revolutionary principles by not engaging in wanton slaughter of innocent-and maybe not-so-innocent-people, which we had the firepower to do.
But why am I revealing all of this to the PM? If he wishes to educate his party members and supporters in the true history of this country, starting from the turn of the 19th Century, he can hire me (and others who are versed in the subject) to do the needful. I shall charge a fee, of course. But I assure him it won’t be anything as outrageous as what his government pays Bob Linquist or Calder Hart or sundry other foreign ‘consultants’ for less than nothing.
I am not thin-skinned when it comes to being named on platforms, having lived a colourful life, and, like it or not, I am a public figure. In fact, when Basdeo Panday was still alive (politically), he could not resist calling my name in vain on almost every platform. You see where that got him? Thou shalt not call the lord’s (‘Carlti’ was my calypso sobriquet!) name in vain!
I am not offended when the PM calls my name on his platforms-as long as he sticks with the facts. Yes, I was a proud mutineer, and even prouder that I stood up to Panday when it mattered. Manning should learn this other piece of history. It was the PNM that was responsible for foisting Panday on the sugar workers.
In an interview with Owen Baptiste’s People magazine, reproduced in the book Crisis, Panday confessed to being invited to lead the All Trinidad union by stalwart PNMite Rampartap Singh. He also collaborated with then PNM point-man in the South, Errol Mahabir.
Now that Panday is dead politically, Manning is in mourning. For as long as the ‘great divider’ remained in charge of the opposition, he, Manning, was guaranteed the position of Prime Minister.
In the upcoming elections, Manning faces an uncertain future. It is why the party resurrected the ghost of Dr Williams, even as it seeks to denigrate Daaga and Errol McLeod. ‘Mac’ and ‘Mak’ are capable of defending themselves. But Manning should stick with geology and let those of us who lived history-nay, made history-deal with that subject.