Kamla’s Delicate Dance

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 26, 2012

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeQuestion: 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.

18 Responses to “Kamla’s Delicate Dance”


  • One of the best responses to this “affair”.
    I am pleasantly surprised by Cudjoe’s measured and responsible analysis of this controversy.

    • What I would like to know is, with the argument forwarded for the kissing of the feet (which she did not actually do, she bent to touch them and was stopped) why the other Hindus in the delegation did not show the same respect – if respect was indeed being shown and not a last-minute remembrance of a “real Indian” practice performed by an “acting Indian”, as the Indian newspapers have dubbed it.
      Nothing wrong with doing it out of personal respect for the individual, with the overwhelming gratitude of being chosen to be lauded in such circumstances driving a grateful response, but just man up and say so – doh bring religion and culture into it – if it was me, I would simply say it was me – I would not be casting around for any excuse for doing it – I did it because I felt it was right to do in the moment, and I am sorry if others feel otherwise, punto finale! Let’s move on….

  • You’ve just got a huge chip on your shoulder, my African brother. Jealousy, ignorance and greed is endemic to your race. You cannot bear to see a non-African running your country. As oppressive as your views are, try be a Trinidadian first, then an African. Were the Hindus creating an uproar when Manning was trying to twin the country’s African heritage with Nigeria?
    You are just a typical ignorant, blame slavery and colonialism, black man. Get over yourself and move on. Tell Rowley to do the same!

    • Bantu Imbele Tutu, your argument, like your pretentious ‘African name’, is base and baseless; it is as patently false as a three dollar bill; and as perfidious as Indians in camouflage, wearing rasta dread locks raping Indian women; blaming it on Black men, and tearfully appealing for refugee status in Canada.

      Given your unenviable lack in basic decorum, elemental reasoning and class, it must, nonetheless be for you, just another glorious day in paradise.

      A broch tzu dir!

      Shalom!

    • If the writer has a chip, clearly you have a cement block – oh wait, is that your head?

  • Do not try to make our PM look like a fool. She knows exactly what she was about. She is steeped in Hindu traditions and practices. Do you share Nantamb’s view in today’s Express?
    T&T is officially a multicultural society and on this basis alone her pujaying/goar lagaying her elder in the person of the President of India can be justified. You do not understand the nuances of Indian cultural practices because you see every thing and every body through Afro-centric lenses. You are not in the intellectual class of the PM so stay away from things that you not understand especially things Indian.
    Her visit to India will bring huge benefits to T&T.

    • What would really clarify the issue, is for Mr Basdeo Panday to reveal if Mrs Bisessar ever also “pujaying/goar lagaying” to him when he was, undoubtedly, her leader in the UNC. I am sure that we Afro-Centrists would be enlightened.

    • You seem to be a devout Hindu?
      Just wondering about your first name, “Stephen”?
      Did you acquire it to exploit opportunities in the Christian (Presbyterian) society?

  • When Queen Kamla defends herself by saying that she will not back down from her act of kissing the feet of the President of India, she is telling us one of two things or both: she is either saying that her religion is more important than her prime ministership or that we, who criticize her do not understand the importance of her religious beliefs. Each and everyone of us who espouses our beliefs in God or graven images or religion have a right, guaranteed by the constitution to serve or be conversant with the practices which ensures that our right to congregate and serve the almighty or murtis are protected as long as in so doing we do NOT dis-respect the same rights of another citizen. If she is saying that we do not understand her religion, then she is also saying that in everything we do in international affairs we MUST by her reasoning put ourself in order of importance. Therefore by her reasoning, India will always be greater and better and must be placed ahead of Trinidad and Tobago, so we MUST take a back seat to India. She is also saying that we should “respect” and be subservient to The U.S, Canada, England, France etc. If these arguments hold true then we MUST expect our beloved prime minister to represent values that sixty five percent of Trinidadians may not be conversant with or do not hold true to our beliefs system. The question then to ask then is, how are we to know that when she goes overseas her loyalty lies with the citizenry of Trinidad and Tobago?. Look! no one is trying to bash anyone else’s religion here, but we do not in the execution of our duties and amongst others call upon our God or graven images to come into the conversation or workplace to be of service to us or our fellow guests or workforce. Queen Kamla has some more explaining to do.

  • http://www.thedailyherald.com/regional/2-news/24171-jlp-ready-to-support-portias-caribbean-court-of-justice-bid-.html

    Ain’t this something folks? Jamaica is about to leave tribally confused T&T, in de dust once more, when it comes to progressive politics. Two days after 66 year old Sistaz P’s victory, and the woman is about to transform her country into a Republic, and start the process of finally eradicating, the anachronistic Privy Council, for the regional body.
    As for T&T, we still prefer to give the middle finger to the Trini based ,highly paid ,Caribbean Court of Justice,in favor of our much adored Eurocentric Privy Council , and yet are in overdrive to bring back barbarian hanging , via Capital Punishment.
    Ironies of ironies,that more civilized Britian, banned all forms of Capital punishments, decades ago, but will yet choose to adjudicate in cases, to decide if T&T citizens, should suffer that fate. Yeah ,Gale Ann Benson , Skerret, and Abdul Malik ,RIP!

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Why_was_the_death_penalty_banned_in_England

    What an immoral, sad bunch indeed! A Trini , female led country, as machoistic ,tough fronting ledership , knows fully well ,of the class, and race discriminatory nature, of this system where poor , desperate ,mainly Indo , and Afro Trinis will see the hang man’s noose, while wealthy white color cronies , will walk freely ,since they have the means. Britiania , for not condeming this backward country, but will uphold a system, as it brings much needed monies, into their coffers, and provide a means of having a strangle hold over subservient subjects of COLOR.
    Oh yes, we were on the subject of de competing PNM vs UNC PM’s, still fighting , to see who love the ancestrial lands more , or possess a better grip on opaque cultures. Let the stupid political distractions continue, say some!

  • What, exactly, is the religous status of the woman whose feet Mrs Persad-Besessar attempted to touch. It is my understanding that the lady is the president of India, a political figure. Why should a Trinidad hindu have to touch the feet of an Indian hindu? If we elect a Chinese Prime Minister, and he chooses to visit China, can we expect him to kowtow before the Chinese head of state?
    The President of India is not a religous figure. She has been a politician all her adult life. What is the religous basis for our Prime Minister making obeisance before her.
    It is not my understanding that The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a vasal state of India. We do not have to pay them tribute, nor do our Prime Minister have to make any sign of obeisance before their president!

  • How does touching the feet of someone equate to ‘kissing’ the feet? Are con artistes deliberately trying to hoodwink the nation in their profound ignorance of Hindu traditions?

  • To those ardent fans of Her Majesty Queen K, who often tend to miss the big picture, to what a true nationalist/patriotic leader is, and so repeatedly resort to over the top defensiveness, when an occasional critic ,throws a jab her way , here is the problem , as I see it.
    It was Her Majesty Queen K , just like American Prez Barrack Obama, who came to office, promising to bring the nation together, under a new banner of change , economic transparency,and honest government , with progressive policies in the tow.
    However ,what have we seen amidst repeted blunders, and that unwholesome penchant for looking over the sholder into the Trini past like Lot’s wife? Sat Maharaj still have the ear of the PM , and stinking up the joint ,re attacks on wistle blower , Principal Sita Gajadharsingh Nanga,for daring to expose ,neo racist, discriminatory activities, against kids from Kinky head Afro nation.
    Therein a state supported entitity, is viewed as unsavory to TUTTA , and a regime , led by Her Majesty , and anti genocidal crier , Dr Goopiesingh ,appearing to be powerless to do anything .
    We won’t linger too much , on that infamous recently concluded curfew, and State of the Emergency , which to many citizens appeared to be flawed , since it was racially skewed against only poor low caste Afro Trini citizens , while contaners carded for chicken farmers in central are left unchecked . Not surprising , enemies of the government, feels justified in claiming that it was a failure to curb crimes, seeing that 5000 folks were arrested, and 4,990 freed due to lack of evidence. All the while the deer in the headlight , clueless, Canadian Police Commissioner,foreigh expert, and Tethron former head huncho Field Marshall Sandy , a la National Sec Minister, both parroting the line that all is fine in, in la la land. Go figure! Where is the job plans many wants to know, and what does political alliance mean, some voters are enquiring?
    As to the subject at hand Uncle Obama has yet to visit Kenya, and does not hesitate to call out the continent for their failure to address socio political issues that inhibit that continent, but as to her Majesty ? Well ….you fill in de blanks. Sorry Irvor , we can talk until de cows comes home , but ethno – cultural triumphalism, must run it course, in T&T , my friend. However, three years from now , the electorate will have their opportunity to speak again , yes?
    We wish our usually comatose people well.

  • What did Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his Satyagraha? ‘Politics and Religion are inseparable’. Respect for our fellow beings are expressed and perceived in many ways e.g. the US royalty hug, Japanese and Koreans bow, the English tend to curtsy to HRH, etc. Leave it alone, damn it! Focus on the policies and progress of nationhood building in T&T.

    • There is a lot more to the personality of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi than his cultist care to admit. Quoting him might be interesting but certainly not definitive.
      ‘Politics and Religion are inseparable’ would help to explain the blood letting of the post independance partition of the sub-continent. Is T&T to look forwards to a similar episode?

  • http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/PLANE_TALK-138241624.html

    Yeah Loyal Trini, we will quit focusing on your PM’s 15 day extravaganza to ancestrial India , at a cost of $10 million to Taxpayers ,in efforts to kiss the big toe of another female ,neo imperilist ,elite ,like herself.
    Instead ,we would look on in horror ,at the PNM styled, policies ,she and her regime ,wish to dabble in, while advocating changes across our nation , hummm?
    Clueless , uncaring ,PNM political maniacs, loved their blimp ,and now equally clueless, pseudo progressive ,PP Euro Adoring folks, are intreauge by their expensive spy plane drones? Let me guess, the company we purchase this from is also Canadian.
    “US royalty hug?” Who exactly is this comedian ,folks? Quite smoking dat religious opium pipe ,you were brought up on in Chickland , or Aranguez, Loyal Trini. 26 years of life ,in Canada, as a fake Refugee , now grateful ,1st world citizen, hould change your thinking,on global realities , yes?
    No buddy , a simple hand shake , or kiss on the cheek, would have surfice , re that visit. Her spending what , 50 million Rupies ,to purchase a colorful Sari,to visit India,was over de top ,when a decent Trini made outfit, designed ,by our own , now internationally famous,Project Runnaway , fashionista , Ana Ayong – Chee, would have aided business, as well as tourism, and in Anna’s particular case, maybe boost ,her much desired ,movie career- a la future ,more exotic ,Bollywood projects, hmmm!
    Well, you catch my drift.
    Where are the Trini Patriots folks? Sorry Loyal Trini , you and similar unobjective others, do not qualify. Just too much apologetic gyrating to the tribal elites, agreed?
    Luv Humanity!

  • If we are to believe the likes of Kamla, Stephen Kangal and those who view her kissing the feet of the President of India as a matter of “respect”, while most pragmatic thinking Trinidadians have a problem with that explanation, it can be said that we “do not see eye to eye”. Putting it another way, there appears to be a big problem with Hindu governance when it comes to acts or behaviour that occur in contradiction with their set or historically accepted modes of behaviour or thinking. There is a similar case in Trinidad that no one is addressing which can be viewed from the same perspective and like Kamla is yet to address
    the practicality of the situation. The case of Dr. Gopeesingh coming to gripes with Sat Maharaj and objectively speaking to truth is terribly lacking and one in which he has not forterightly dealt with to an amicable conclusion. He has not been forced to state his feelings on the matter as Kamla who had to admit her “respect” for the Indian President but his actions so far amounts top the same thing. When he had to speak on a similar matter dealing with ASJA he had little or no hesitation in stating his opinions but he is yet to say a word publicly about Sat Maharaj’s behaviour. One would suspect that Gopeesingh’s lack of clarity on Sat’s behaviour has nothing to do with his objectives as Minister of Education and everything to do with him being a Hindu. This leaves us to wonder out aloud ‘why when it comes to a hindu parliamentarian criticising a hindu official there is such a reluctance?’. If the answer to such a behaviour pans out to be true, then we in Trinidad and Tobago MUST be careful in electing hindus to high office because there is a limit to which their ability effectively criticise those whom they have “respect” for seriously hampers the oath of their office. Christian office holders do NOT have this problem because they see their oath of office as higher than any religious belief or practice can effect their judgement. Or another way to look at it, there is a separation of religious behaviour and the functioning of one’s duties in the christians way of thinking. I think that practical reasoning has been expressed by many in this blog and in the media why the “respect” defense cannot be accepted yet it’s supporters continue to push it as though it is a credible answer for such wanting behaviour.

  • Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela understood the non-violence approach of Gandhi in trying to solve their respective civil rights movement and apartheid diseases ruining their land at the time. Are you going to hold them responsible for the blood letting in their lands today? Are they not mere mortals of men as you and I? or would you prefer me to quote George Washington for definitives? Mandela hugs world leaders up to today. Isn’t he apolgetic and receive apologies likewise. Look at how the S.Koreans bow to the Japanese, do they bare any grudge today as to the enslavement they experienced in the past? Obama gave Merkel a big hug does that solve black/white problem today? Keep looking for the Trini Patriots and you would understand that a prophet is never recognised in his own kingdom. Bye to paraochialism rampant in T&T!

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