Autocracy, not democracy

By Raffique Shah
June 16, 2024

Raffique ShahWell before I thought about writing a column on the internal elections in the United National Congress, I deliberately decided that I will not focus on individual candidates but more on the process. In demo­cracies such as ours, there are always several interest groups that comprise the backbone of the parties which differ very little on critical issues such as the economic policies, crime and punishment, education and so on.

Indeed, if you didn’t know the individuals involved in running for office, you would think they were “liming partners” who are provoking each other in what could be rum-shop talk. The battle in the UNC pits Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who had led since she booted Basdeo Panday out of contention from any office just before the 2010 general election, against members who had been her loyal supporters before they seemed to have ­fallen out.

In past battles for leadership and other key positions in the UNC the verbal exchanges came close to hostility. More often than not, relations between the contestant who ran against the leader’s team did not fare well after the leader won and all but banished them from the chosen few who run the party and, by extension, the Cabinet. There was no way therefore I could write on the internal elections of the UNC without delving into the autocrats who masquerade as democrats.

Therein lie the fallacies of what form of government we have, what system the majority of citizens want, taking us a full circle to: a people get the government they deserve.

Let me linger a bit in the hierarchy of the UNC, that was Basdeo Panday’s third bid to own a party.

Now, among the thousands of mostly Indians who had gathered at the Aranjuez Savannah to give birth to a party that was shaped and moulded by Panday’s hands, there were possibilities then of fashioning of a truly democratic organisation. Remember these thousands assembled, as all present in Aranjuez boast of to this day and which Panday’s apostles agreed with, few of them had seen the document (the constitution and presumably the policy and programme) before. So, they knew not what they begat except that Panday was their leader, and whatever came out of his mouth were the commandments that b-Jesus Humphrey blessed with his holy aura.

It was also on that fateful day in 1988 they sacrificed unity under ANR Robinson and the NAR that had put them in commanding power for the first time since Indians arrived here many moons ago.

I don’t know who dunnit. Panday told me that Robinson wanted to dominate the Indians who had delivered their votes in truckloads and that election of 1986 when they swept the polls, 33-3. Ray Robinson told me it was Panday who promoted a heavily Indian tainted agenda, while “that man Humphrey” who seemed to have been Panday’s spiritual leader touted the idea of a Trinity dollar.

“My government was never more embarrassed,” shouted Ray in a mood that I had never seen in him before. We were sitting in a kind of alcove that was a feature of Whitehall. “But you knew Humphrey was hung-up on the Trinity,” I said.

I raised my hand, signalling to him to allow me to speak, “He not only designed the Trinity dollar, but we had four leaders in the United Labour Front—George Weekes, Panday, Joe Young, and me. So he neatly sliced Young’s head off the portrait to be left with the holy three, where agnostic I, completed the trinity.”

But I was dumb to politics, never really fit in. Fleshing out the ULF in 1975, some of us daydreamed about collective leadership that could comprise three or thirty not-so-wise men who surely would be better than one autocrat. But here is the thing, the masses wanted an autocrat. They demanded that. The formula which we used to win ten seats, wipe out all other opposition and entered Parliament with the first among equals, Basdeo Panday, leading us into a new dawn in Parliament that they rejected. They demanded that Panday be the maximum leader.

I quietly stepped aside, then stepped down and walked out the door behind which old DLP and other Ps would continue to reign. New politics was dead before it was born, thanks to Panday, Humphrey, et al.

As I write, I don’t know what the results of the UNC internal elections would be. They are voting today. Kamla is likely to remain the lame-turkey leader by default as the members merrily vote their way into opposition forever and forever. There is nothing more to write about the UNC internals. The chosen few who are granted titles that mean nothing will continue to support her.

The stench of decaying flesh is what the UNC leaves behind…

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