‘How fortunate for leaders that men do not think’

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, December 23rd 2007

Trini PeopleThe voice of the people, we are often reminded, is the voice of God. My rejoinder to this scriptural interpretation of democracy is: the masses so often prove to be asses, one wonders if God has any influence in secular matters like elections, party affiliations, and worst of all, in leaders people choose to anoint or lionise. Six weeks ago close to 200,000 Trinidadians chose Basdeo Panday and the UNC to represent them in Parliament. In fact, a few years ago twice that many among the electorate not only voted him into power, but hoisted him on their shoulders as Prime Minister and paraded him as a lion-king, exemplar supreme.

Last Monday, at the widely telecast ceremonial opening of Parliament, this exemplar exposed himself for what he always was-a cane-defecating Indian without class, as my one-time journalist friend Kishore Tiwary used to say, laughing raucously. That Panday and most of his minions chose not to extend the courtesy of a handshake to the House Speaker can be overlooked. Politics is not an arena in which class comes before crassness. If anything, Speaker Sinanan might have been surprised that Winston “Gypsy” Peters and Nizam Baksh refused to follow the puerility of their boss. I was not. I know these two men personally, and they have always been gentlemen.

It was when Prime Minister Patrick Manning “put God out of his thoughts”, as he likes to say, and crossed the chamber to extend courtesies to members of the opposition, that Bas bared his “bumsee” for all to see. He knew that act of wiping his hand with a kerchief immediately after shaking the PM’s had a most unpleasant connotation. It signalled that Manning was not just a political enemy, but worse an untouchable, someone beneath his caste-a “chamar”, or as many of his supporters would say, “Rawan”.

While most sober people saw Panday’s behaviour as disgraceful, you can bet that his supporters would have reacted otherwise. For them, his was a class act for which he should be commended, not condemned. Panday, consigned to opposition for the remainder of his political life, cannot come to terms with the reality that he lost the general elections by a wide margin, that he will never sleep in the $148 million mansion he had hoped to occupy. His call for civil disobedience in a bid to remove the government is the desperate cry of a man drowning in his own filth. He forgets he had his chance five weeks ago, not five years-and he failed.

Shifting to South Africa, those who follow world politics will have noted the way disgraced former deputy president, Jacob Zuma, was lionised by his supporters. Here’s a man who, like Panday, faces serious allegations of corruption, and who recently stood trial for rape. You’d think that someone with that kind of baggage would be hiding out in the jungle hoping for relief in the jaws a hungry lion. Instead, politics being what it is, Zuma stormed into the ANC’s party congress like a hero and had thousands of mindless people chanting his sullied name as if he were Nelson Mandela.

According to media reports, during his trial for rape Zuma accused the victim of “looking to be raped” based on the way she dressed. When it turned out that the woman was HIV positive, Zuma said he had a shower after sex-his idea of protection against the deadly affliction. Based on these statements, any sensible person would deem this man a buffoon if not outright mad. If he was some ordinary young man from Soweto, he would have been jailed for life, or locked away in some mental asylum. Zuma also faces the prospect of being charged with corruption in a matter in which other accused have already been found guilty and jailed (sounds familiar?).

Yet there he was, amidst a throng of singing, ululating supporters, basking in adulation that eclipsed President Thabo Mbeki’s. When the vote for leadership of the ANC was taken, Zuma won by a landslide! It did not matter to his mindless supporters, many of them women, that he had escaped jail for rape only because of who he was. Or that he showed contempt for all women based on his statements during the trial. Worse, this lunatic has found a cure for AIDS-in the shower! Further, he might well be arrested shortly, tried for corruption, and possibly face a prison term. As far as his supporters are concerned, Zuma is the man.

Last week, too, South Koreans elected one Lee Myung Bak as their new president. Lee, like Zuma and Panday, is also the subject of investigations into corruption. I have mentioned three cases of leaders who, if they reflect the “voice of God”, do nothing to enhance His stature. In fact, all three, and so many more, epitomise Adolf Hitler’s concept of leaders and followers. The man who came closest to destroying the world as we know it, and that with significant support from most Germans, once said: “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.” How true, Adolf and Panday and Zuma.

3 Responses to “‘How fortunate for leaders that men do not think’”


  • Raffique, you begin by saying the voice of the people is the voice of God. That is a fallacy. History supports me on this. Today is Christmas Day. The man whose birthday we celebrate today was crucified by the voice of the people who shouted to crucify him and to let go Barrabas. Christ was sent by God. I wonder who sent the words from the people’s mouth when they called for Christ’s crucifixion.
    A side note- I see where you talk about people bumsee and that some people would have lapped up Panday’s bumsee baring. Well, remember when Sparrow bared his Grenadian bumsee for the whole Trini world in the Savannah? Well, the same Sparrow was given a Doctorate by our own UWI for his contribution to the development of the art form in T&T. Can’t remember hearing you complain about that. So, which is the worse bumsee baring?

  • According to Biblical History Jesus was crucified by the voices of some of the people, persuaded so to do by the Chief Priests and the Elders, Matthew 27:20. This was no different than the current day enactment of Chief Politicians and social elders persuading segments of the population of Trinidad and Tobago to choose the convict over the unconvicted. In fact, the situation is frightengly analogous.

    It is indeed fortunate for the decrepit leadership pervasive among third world societies that the impetus behind our thoughts gets more traction from mirror reflections than from thoughtful introspection. When we in Trinidad and Tobago come to the consensus that it is more productive to put our nation before our silly prejudices, ethnic, religious or however based, that is when we will achieve developed nation status.

    I see that Raffique shares my conviction, vis a vis the message that Panday was deceptively trying to transmit when he wiped his hands after making physical contact with Manning. And those who relished this act of status confirmation will make themselves known by their sophomoric attempts to remove deep scrutiny and analysis of Panday’s behaviour. It is what it is, and I hope those in and of Trinidad and Tobago who, regardless of their differences expect a higher standard of diplomacy and courtesy from their political and parliamentary leadership imprint this image into their minds unto infinity.

    The Mighty Sparrow was a Calypsonian and entertainer, not a former and aspiring leader of a Nation. I daresay his baring his bumsie in public, whether metaphorical or actual, is far less dangerous to Trinidad and Tobago than replicated conduct by a potential national leader. If anything, presenting these two situations as though they merit the same level of consternation proves Raffique’s thesis that it is, indeed, “fortunate for leaders that men do not think”.

  • Since you concur with Raffique’s thesis, why rue what the people have decided time and time again since 1976, Ruel?
    Raffique is an old soldier, an officer at that, who lost his commission and nearly his life, for the same damn reason, his failure to grasp that in military life and military life is not that different from life in a serious political body, to be an effective leader one must have followers who do NOT reason why, who instead just do or die.
    Ruel, trust me here, I know Raffique, personally. Because of that knowledge, over the years I’ve grown to understand, even sympathize with, him and his espoused views, especially of Basdeo Panday. You might not be aware but he’s suffering from a serious case of tabanca, ever since he was “outfoxed” by three men, two still alive: one is Dr. Eric Williams; one is Sir Ellis Clarke; the third is The Silver Fox himself. I take it you know who of the three is the dead one?

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