By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 26, 2012
Question: If Trinidad and Tobago were one hundred percent Hindus, would our response to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar kissing President Pratibha Patil’s toes elicit a different response? I suspect it would. But only thirty five percent of Trinidad and Tobago’s population are Hindus and therein lays the conundrum. Such a move calls for a better understanding among the population and a more sensitive response from the PM in terms of her act of piety or respect as she calls it.
Kamla certainly understands her religious duties. However, a sense of proportion may have been more appropriate under the circumstances. That she is Hindu is undeniable. However, what she seems to forget, at least as the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, a Christian, Muslim and Hindu state primarily, is that she has obligations which demand that she be sensitive to the religious cross currents within her nation.
As I indicated previously, I have no problems with our prime minister returning to her fatherland (or is it motherland?) or kissing the toes of her favorite guru. There is a fine line between religion and patriotism of which any leader must be cognizant. If Persad-Bissessar’s religious beliefs demand that she kisses the toes of one of her religious leaders then that’s alright by me. Christ washed the feet of his disciples and would have kissed their feet to demonstrate that a leader is no greater than her followers and that service implies humility and respect for others. It suggests that she who leads must be willing to serve.
I am also aware that the Western/African sensibility of many Trinbagonians are at variance-or at any rate different- from those of an Eastern sensibility and sometimes what seems appropriate for a person of African/Western sensibility may appear in-appropriate for someone of Eastern sensibility or of the Hindu religion. Although Rudder celebrates the meeting of the Ganges and the Nile in our little isle he forgot the unbridgeable gap that exists among religion, culture and even sensibility.
So that even though I respect Persad-Bissessar’s fealty to her religion, I am not sure that she is equally as sensitive to the religious persuasions of her other constituents, particularly in a state in which people of different religions seek to dwell together in harmony. The Greeks used to say, and it is something that my mother picked up in her day to day living, that beauty lies in doing “everything in proportion.” Her plebian interpretation of that phrase reduced itself to “Nothing in excess.”
So that my problem does not lie so much in Persad-Bissessar kissing the toes of her elder and presumably one of her religious leaders. What I have problems with is her seeming inability to understand the implications of what she did. So that when Keith Rowley, the leader of the Opposition, reminds her that “when she stands in from of the Head of Government or as Head of State, she must stand there proud, representing the people of Trinidad and Tobago. No subservience of big state; small state” he is reminding her of the desirability of seeking “the golden mean” in everything that she does, particular when she represents Trinbagonians overseas.
The Greeks believed that beauty consisted of three ingredients: symmetry, proportion, and harmony. They believed that one should strive to achieve the middle ground in everything that one does. My mother would say: “Nothing in excess.” Although courage is a desirable virtue if it is taken to excess it can become recklessness. Where courage is deficient an individual can be accused of being a coward. No matter how noble our cause, the key to correct behavior lays in seeking a workable balance.
When Rowley reminds Persad-Bissessar about the need to balance religion and patriotism, tempered with an understanding of history, and a proportionality of response he was not seeking to create mischief (a favorite descriptive term of the UNC-lead coalition with regard to Rowley) but was trying only to inject some basic Tobago commonsense into the diplomatic mix; a reminder that she should not ignore the various needs of the community that she serves.
In her imperiousness Persad-Bissessar would not hear of it. In her queenly un-wisdom she pronounces: “She makes no apologies or excuses whatsoever for showing respect to her elders, including President Patil.” What Persad-Bissessar may have missed is that in international diplomacy and inter-state relations there are no elders as there are no juniors. At least in theory, each nation is supposed to be equal.
And the beautiful thing about this scenario is this: those who a few years ago were presumed to be elders in the world are finding out that the world turns and elders and juniors are relative terms. It all depends on the historical perspective you bring to things. In this context, it is not wise to pronounce India (or the Indian prime minister) or the Indian President an elder and thereby relegate ourselves to junior partner in interstate relationships.
Relationships among states are always changing. The Indian Revolt of 1857 told the British that the Indians were not enamored by their rule. In 1875 when Egypt teetered on the edge of insolvency, the British government took over the Suez Canal and ruled it until Nasser threw them out in 1956 which effectively signaled the end of the British Empire. Thereafter, one saw the rise of the United States which may be on the cusp of losing its leadership of the free world.
Trinbagonians are extraordinarily tolerant people. We are cognizant of the delicate state in which our Hindu Prime Minister finds herself sometimes. I am sure that a little more humility on her part would assuage many misgivings we may have from time to time even when it arises from her acts of piety. All we ask is that she strives to achieve a sense of proportionality and to understand where some of us are coming from.
“Everything in proportion;” it is all that we ask.