Rumshop Politics

By Raffique Shah
January 29, 2011

Raffique ShahDURING the formative years of the United Labour Front (ULF), circa 1975/76, I learned some harsh lessons in “politics by vaps” courtesy an often-tipsy Basdeo Panday. Those occurrences come to mind as I watch amazing scenes played out on the national stage. Since the lead actress is Panday’s successor, Prime Minister and UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who has publicly stated that Bas is her “political guru”, maybe there is a nexus between what happened so many moons ago and what is happening today.

Without going into details of how the ULF was almost stillborn, or attempting to debunk the myth that Panday alone founded the party, I shall relate incidents that are relevant to today’s muddled politics. Before the ULF formally became a political party in March 1976, it was an alliance of four vibrant trade unions. The principal leaders were George Weekes, Panday, Joe Young and me. In many ways, not the least being my age (I was not yet 30), I was the baby among veterans.

Weekes, a father figure to me, persuaded me to sacrifice some principles I held firmly to, on the altar of what he saw as political progress. I saw it as political expediency, but “PG” (as Weekes was fondly called) had me commit myself to the embryonic ULF. Before the labour group morphed into a political party, “PG”, Bas, Joe and I would hold meetings with our union supporters in districts like Barrackpore, Penal, Rio Claro—mostly in Central Trinidad and the Deep South.

It was customary after such meetings that we would stop off at some village rum shop. I was never a drinker of note: one or two drinks of rum-and-coke were my limit. “PG” was more seasoned, and Bas more adventuresome. By this I mean Bas did not consume much alcohol, but two or three drinks would send him into the tipsy zone. Anything more than that, we’d be looking for Vishnu (his nephew) to drive his Kingswood, to ensure he reached home safely.

At every village rum shop, one is sure to encounter a “mayor” or other spokesperson, who, sufficiently plied with liquor, would expatiate. One or two such characters would come to our table and reel out their ideas, some worthy, others gibberish or rum-driven-tatah. But as good leaders, we would listen. Bas, however, would often take these exchanges several steps higher.

“My brother!” he would say, “You sound like a very intelligent man. What’s your name? Where do you live?” “John Singh, sir! I live in Lengua!” the now excited drunk would respond. “John, come to my office tomorrow…I want to interview you…you seem to be a good candidate for county council elections!” The drunk, buoyed by Panday’s liquor-fuelled praises and invitation, would show his appreciation by offering to replenish our supplies.

Multiply the scene described above by 100, and you get a better picture of our plight. General elections were more than a year away, and no one knew when local elections (called county councils then) would be called. But Bas was already sharing “seats” in rum shops. George and I treated his foibles as “rum talk”, paying little attention to his promises. Only later would they return to haunt us when some of these characters actually turned up for screening as candidates.

In instances, Panday insisted that these sometimes-dubious characters be accepted by the ULF’s screening committee, or he would take his marbles and walk. His attitude brought the party to the brink of collapse before the 1976 general elections. He would wreak more havoc by the time local elections came around in 1977. He saddled us with candidates whose only merit, if it could be so described, was their blind loyalty to Bas. Less than a year later, I had had enough of his shenanigans, and the rest is history. I never looked back, and he kept moving forward.

In today’s confusing tragedy of errors that seems to be a fixture in the UNC-led coalition government, I wonder if what we are witnessing is not a replay of a 35-year-old comedy. What criteria are being used to appoint persons to some of the most critical positions in the State apparatus? I do not wish to beat up on Reshmi Ramnarine, since hers is not the only questionable Government appointment. In fact, I feel sorry for her. Clearly, she is the victim of horrendous intra-coalition bungling.

I rather suspect that much the way Bas screened drunks in rum shops, certain powerful People’s Partnership officials are interviewing potential office holders at cocktail parties. Everybody is high like the proverbial kite, and someone on higher heights says, “Come and see me in my office tomorrow, darling! You look eminently suitable for the position of ambassador to the Pitcairn Islands or Tokelau.” How else does one explain some of the appointments the Government has made thus far? Possession of a party card? Texture of hair or colour of skin? Or how much money one is prepared to plough into the People’s Partnership’s coffers?

Whatever methods they are using in appointing persons to sensitive or strategic positions, clearly there are no logical guidelines. This seeming chaos at the highest levels of government has led to embarrassment, to minister after minister having to change tunes before they are even sung, to withdraw appointments, to apologise almost every week, as I wrote in my last column.

When the People’s Partnership got rid of Patrick Manning, I thought, “Good riddance!” Now I wonder about that.

13 Responses to “Rumshop Politics”


  • A genuine article which is reflective of how much of our past we are prepared to let go. For Kamla to refer to Bas as her guru belies how well she has learnt from the individual viewed as an institution unto himself. It is not much different from the other side as I can remember Eric Williams time when he chose to surround himself with people whom he can manage. It is amazing to read this article as I can recall one of my friends Ralph Khan, deceased stating exactly the same as the contents of this article.

    • Good one Raff. They have to do much better than the now defunct PNM. The only party to be over 50 years old in T&T.

  • As thought provoking as always. I musty say that rumshop politics is practiced all over the world. It might be referred to in different terms in other places but it is the same. One might call it networking, but going to functions and meeting people and getting to know them and including them in your network and being a known item in others network is normal. And we must never forget that we would always pick someone we know over an unknown even though the unknown might have a better CV than the known.

  • Sounds like the man A.N.R described to the Commission. Finally we took his marbles and he ran. So long Bas.

  • The word “know” has many meanings. In the Biblical sense, it means knowing a person sexually. I wonder, having given that preamble, how well did anyone in a decision making capacity “know” Ms. Reshmi Ramnarine? And did those person or persons know her in the Biblical sense?
    Being an old woman, who saw much and heard much, I would say that the former(or present) guru could not hold his liquor at all. I did not encounter him until the mid 1980’s. I went on a march to Charlie King Junction with McLeod’s group. I was not comfortable in the party t-shirt because I either look like a coat hanger with boobs if I get a big one, or something stuffed if its medium. Nonetheless, I needed the education. When we arrived at the big wooden house where the speeches were going to be made addressing both the crowd inside and the people in the street outside, they began passing out drinks. I got water or lemonade or something. Bas had a glass and poured it half full of whisky, which he chugged down, smacked his lips, got red in the face and poured another. I was sure he had had some prior to this, and was aready sort of stoned, someone, I think it was the late Paul Eugene, tried to hold back the liquor, but Bas got angry. I dismissed him instantly as a leader of anything. Later in that decade, when Desmond Tutu came to TnT and there as a mass in the Jean Pierre Complex, he was leader of the opposition, the fractions were ceasing to add up to one by then, and he behaved very badly about his seating. All the white folks(Do we still seat white members of the Diplomatic Corps in the front row/) were exchanging glances.
    If this was the sort of tutelage Ms. Kamla had, (she has said she like her rum, Ah does take a drink, so what?) her appointments must begin to make sense. Drunks can argue for hours to prove they are right. I know a guy who is the strong silent type, until he has a drink, then you can’t shut him up.

    Someone named Jessamy suggested in one of the papers today that a policy be set that would govern appointments to highlly sensitive posts. Whatever the criteria is, we have to stop appearing as if we appointing a motley crew from the rumshop, or the the people that we “know” in the Biblical sense.I know showing “meat” seems to be the in thing for people who do not realize that some fashions should not be created beyond a size 6. The picture of Ms. Reshmi( I really like her name, one of the little kids I worked with in the orphanage 4 years ago had that name, and I had forgoten what it was, until now)in one of the papers yesterday, seemd to suggest that the B she got the job with was NOT brains. For the slow-witted, there are three other B’s butt, belly button and breasts.
    Rum is rightly named a demon. It messes with your mind. When I travelled up and down the EC doing training, I learnt NEVER to even have a glass of wine until Thursday evening. A woman alone, staying in the best hotels in the CAribbean could cause talk. Kamla and Reshmi need to understand when the people are distrustful, disgusted and as women, shamed in our womanliness.
    Some sober seeming appointments would be welcome.

  • seems like anybody that ever had an agenda against the previous ragime were ensrined for selection anil radio mouter (sports) gypsy singer (culture) shogum protesters (nappa) kadees protest around square minister against hangings (though his followers then were for)and so on if this is not vaps then what is?

  • Friend from Canada just e-mailed me quering an alleged plot to bring down the PP government, published n CAribbean News. I sent him to read the real ppaers, including this one.

  • One must be made to understand that Mr Panday orchestrated the PP victory in the last election. It was his plan to make everyone believe that he was incapable of leading and he was losing favor with party colleagues. Thus paving the way for a UNC coalition victory. It was well orchestrated. They are now in power. Remember which party is in power and who is the Prime Minister. Panday is the real master blaster. His party rules even if he is not sitting in the seat. Running things from the side. Remember politics is dirty. It is all about power. Panday is the winner. Believe it or not.

  • raf boy you still suffering from being dished from ulf .take ah hike and write something to move t&t on.you only trying to make kamla and pp look bad so those pnm sycophants go make you look good
    take some salts and purge your thoughts.every time you write an article you seem only condemning.write about to put an end to the murders and murderers you appeal to.

  • The continuing saga of Rashmi RAmnarine, and what Kamla knew continues to unfold. Now here is a simple test of when a politician is lying. Watch their eyes, especially during press conferences. Liars blink more while fabricating a story that when telling the truth. I first obsered this during the Watergate Hearings when John Dean was testifying. He blinked constantly during his cross examination. I told my colleagues,(these hearings were allowed into classrooms in the USA, so I took my TV to school to watch history) and pointed out to my students that truth-tellers have a steady gaze. Liars blink a lot because they have to remember the story previously told and stick to the scrips.Its an uncontrollable reaction.

    No matter the threats to Camini and Co at the Express, by those who would think she is betraying her race in this mess, the journalists of TnT MUST keep digging for the truth. If the PNM people justly call for probing further, the PP ers would say its sour grapes, so journalists have a doubly difficult task. To surmount the challenge of “race betrayal” and threats,(people with something to hide love that red herring); and to fearlessly pursue the truth no matter where it leads.
    Is it not funny that no one has accused Andy, Cleavon and others of race betrayal, because they took higher paying jobs with the peepee-ers? Afro Trinis are comfortable in their skins, politically, both as people and newspapermen Others raise that spectre, and whip journalists in their temples in their own language, for standing up for Trinidad and Tobago.
    You Go, Camini and Omatie. I salute you!

  • “No matter the threats to Camini and Co at the Express, by those who would think she is betraying her race in this mess, the journalists of TnT MUST keep digging for the truth.”

    There is no evidence that any threats were made against these journalists. There are also no rumours of threats.
    This is the sort of divisive garbage that some people spout for whatever reason.

  • TMan:You took a nap for three weeks? Or was the Express lying when it reported this to the media and police? I have no problem with people appointing themselves as spokespersons for a specific group, but veritas is critical.
    The article in the Express was written by Akiel Simon. Go check. It was a hacking and offensive name calling experience that was widely reported. So, unless you were the hacker and name caller, and meant it as a lovenote, you cannot know that it did not happen. This is what I mean when I say Trinidadians as commenters on these pages, do not think.At least you could research this. The police were allegedly looking into the incidents.

  • “When the People’s Partnership got rid of Patrick Manning, I thought, “Good riddance!” Now I wonder about that.”
    No Uncle Shah , getting rid of Manning the clown, and his politically constipated party , was not a bad idea really, it is just that one cannot expect much tangible results , when one places ‘square pegs in round holes.’
    Unfortunately, this is what best describes the PP regime and is supported my the numerous amounts of missteps since May 24th 2010.
    Let the distraction continue. ‘ah tell you!,’ a major oil rich Caribbean nation , of underachieving, cosmopolitan folks , are still discussing which race is better than the other , who messed up our country more since white hazel eye Massa departed, and who deserves more economic / political spoils ,while major earth shattering evens are taking place regionally ,and globally.
    Let’s wish our people well.

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