By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Septeber 04, 2012
It was there for all to see. The PP had its own independence function at Woodford Square while the PNM conducted its own at Balisier House. Even die-hard PNMites were offended by such disunity. One of my nieces exclaimed: “Why dey dividing up the nation like that? It’s de worse Independence I ever see.”
She did not take time to explain to whom she was referring when she used the colloquial “dey” but she seemed ready to incite all and sundry in her condemnation. Perhaps, she was alluding to sentiments buried deeply within the national soul which could not render the adequate verbal equivalence.
To me, the sight to two Independence celebrations demonstrated how fractured our nation has become. On the other hand, it may be that I have been hiding behind an illusion of unity that remains an elusive butterfly of hope. I might have thought that unity was there but I, too, might have been deluded.
In previous columns I have sought to dissect the two-nation syndrome that exists in Trinidad and Tobago but I have always seen it as a part of our inheritance, not necessarily a bad thing, but a definite hindrance to our going forward as a nation.
Yet, a question remains: Can we go forward as we are doing, emphasizing the divisions in our nation, or resolve unto ourselves that it is better to come together in unity than to gradually die our daily deaths of division?
The immediate response is to blame one group at the expense of the other rather than to look at each person in the face and ask if each of us is playing his part in cementing national unity even as we celebrate our differences.
In this article, I do not wish to defend the PNM or castigate the PP. This is not the time for that. Rather, it is a time for sober reflection; a moment to ask if this is where we want to be and does the present scenario bode well for the future.
Whatever we might say of ourselves as a nation, we have kept the peace over the century before the achievement of national Independence. The question thus becomes, how can we secure the peace in the next fifty years after the celebration of our golden anniversary of Independence? How do we do small things and make small gestures to build on the social capital that we have accumulated over the last 150 years?
Are we willing to squander that achievement in a moment of pique and chupidness?
Our present dilemma may be relatively easy to solve if we had the good-will to do so and if we started on the premise that events such as national Independence belong to the nation rather than the party in power.
To me, national consolidation seems more important than narrow political one-up-man-ship; legacy and remembrance more crucial than instantaneous flamboyance dubiously achieved. The latter is gained by virtue of one’s present political position and the fancy (or is it fantasy?) of the moment. It’s but a fleeting achievement.
In the UK and other places we call certain practices convention. They are accepted as part of the fabric of national life. Whether one is a Tory or Labor, one knows that when one messes up one takes his leave of absence. No one has to ask him to so. One also knows that national celebrations belong to the nation rather than the political party that happens to be in power.
One knows there is a greater glory call Britannia. English people accept the contributions that a Tony Benn or Winston Churchill make to the nation even though no one disputes that Churchill is the greater national figure if only because he guided the nation at a very important moment of its development.
So why don’t we simply put together a national committee consisting of members of the PNM, the PP and some outside national figures who are worthy of respect to come up with truly national ceremonies which all of us can buy into.
And let us plan it from early. A month or so before, let us know the content of the program; what the traffic arrangements are; and who is likely to be doing what. We should not walk into Port of Spain on the morning of August 31st and find the town locked down, no previous announcement having been made about anything.
It might be that our citizens are striving for unity more than we care to acknowledge. The average man on the street wants to support the PNM, the PP or even the COP and is willing to behave in the most partisan manner during elections or even when he is discussing politics on his home turf.
However, the average Trinbagonian knows that we live in a tiny community -not more than 1.3 million souls- who simply have to live together in unity, tolerance, and yes, love. It was not for nothing that Dr. Williams gave our nation three watch words: discipline, production, tolerance.
Today, those words may sound as empty partisan declarations but how in the world can a nation of multiple peoples and religions go forward if we do not stress the virtues of discipline, production and tolerance. And just in case we forget, inherent in the words discipline, production and tolerance is a deep respect for one another and a willingness to recognize that whether Hindu or Christian, Orisha or Islam, we are all stamped with the beauty of our humanity that have been nurtured by a soil called Trinidad and Tobago.
Respecting such a provenance demands that we cling to what we have rather than aspire to alien gods that may prove destructive in the end; hence the necessity to cling to the sentiments: “Together we aspire; so that, together, we may achieve a sense of national unity and purpose.”
Christian doxology suggests, “So it was in the beginning; so shall it be until the end.”
This is a worthy lesson to remember.