Race in our politics

By Raffique Shah
January 13, 2013

Raffique ShahHILTON Sandy’s Calcutta ship gaffe may well sink the stalwart’s personal political pirogue—after the elections, not before. The furore his Freudian slip has triggered would hardly influence the outcome of the THA election. Battle lines were drawn long before polling day was named, and I sense that the “swing votes” in Tobago hardly make a difference. So Sandy’s punishment for a thinly veiled racial innuendo must come from his party since the electorate, at least a significant number of them, are not offended by it.

Sure, Sandy was a fool to say on a platform what he had on his mind or what he thought would galvanise more Tobagonians to vote PNM. But that only makes him stupider than so many others who, over the years, have used the race card in pursuing their political ambitions and agendas. Race in politics may be as an explosive cocktail in many multi-ethnic societies, but not in Trinidad and Tobago. Here, it’s as useful a tool as the promotion of unity. Indeed, the two seemingly polarised positions often coexist quite comfortably.

The People’s Partnership promotes itself as the most integrated administration in the history of the country, and outwardly it is. The ethnic mix in the Cabinet and in most upper-level appointments supports its claim to fame. However, it has ruthlessly savaged a significant number of appointees based solely on their ethnicity or their perceived political allegiances. I shall not enunciate the names of victims I personally know or know of, or those I’ve heard or read of.

In many instances that I allude to, ministers and other high government officials have acted as “judge, jury and executioner”, firing or terminating persons without due process. They know that even if their victims have grounds to challenge their dismissal, they are hardly likely to seek redress in court because of the tedious process and the cost.

If we compare this racial and political vindictiveness with Sandy’s stupidity, it might well be akin to the elephant and the ant. But Sandy’s big-and-loose mouth has landed him in a lot more trouble than racially driven government ministers whose high-handedness goes unnoticed by the public. In fact, in several instances of racially motivated dismissals, Government has quietly settled with the victims, paying out significant sums to those who sought justice, but having the recipients bound by confidentiality clauses.

While the People’s Partnership Government is culpable in this regard, it is not the only administration that used race in politics. There were several high-profiled dismissals or failures to appoint that occurred during the Patrick Manning era that were successfully challenged in court. Interestingly, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, as a legal practitioner, earned quite a reputation as advocate in those matters.

Race in politics in this country is not new. It was always the not-so-secret weapon to rally the tribes, especially during elections and mostly in core ethnic communities like Laventille, Morvant, Penal and Caroni. Such interventions pre-date the PNM and the PDP/DLP in 1956, but because greater power was at stake from 1961, the modern Afro-and Indo-based parties perfected the art of appealing to people’s base instincts.

Mark you, this surreptitious war was hardly waged in public except on rare occasions when, as happened with Sandy, something on the mind slipped from the tongue. There were politicians who did not give a damn and openly used the epithets “nigger” and “coolie”. I remember hearing from older people in the 1970s about Bhadase Maharaj’s disregard for niceties, his frequent, open use of “nigger” even as his mainly Afro-thugs hovered around his meetings. What a thing!

Eric Williams, scholar that he was, was more subtle. His use of “recalcitrant minority” to brand Indians probably had to be translated before it was understood by ordinary Beharrys. I should add that I have heard of another context in which the term was used, suggesting that Williams did not target Indians as a race—I don’t know the truth of it.

The events of 1970 attempted, with limited success, to cast race in politics into the dustbin of history under the banner, “Indians and Africans, Unite!”. In their immediate aftermath, there was the forging of an alliance between Ray Robinson’s ACDC and Vernon Jamadar’s DLP—a hint of unity between the two races. But NJAC stayed aloof and the alliance did not contest the 1971 general elections, leaving Williams and Bhadase to make a mockery of the democratic process.

Race in politics persisted post-1976 in spite of my own best efforts (and those of other notable persons) through the multi-ethnic ULF (check the names of our candidates and frontline activists if you doubt me). But two factors scuttled that forward move. During an election-eve motorcade in the East-West Corridor, pockets of inebriated Indians, feeling a surge of power, shouted at mainly-Afro people on the roadside, “We comin’ for allyuh ar** on Monday!”

The motorcade was on Saturday. By sun-up Sunday morning, PNM foot soldiers were knocking on Afro-doors in enclaves across the Corridor: “Yuh want to wake up with an Indian PM on Tuesday?” Whatever outside chance the ULF had, evaporated in the race-fog.

Then there was Basdeo Panday’s split personality. One night he would deliver an appeal for racial harmony such as you have never heard. You would cry for the beloved country. One week later (certainly after the split in the party), Panday would unleash insults so strongly that you would cry blood for your cussed country!

Between then and now, from the NAR to the PP, real patriots have chased the crooked shadow of national unity—with little success. For sure, no monolithic Indian or African-based party will ever win power on its own again. But we have not destroyed the race bogey, whatever our pretensions, however sanctimonious we may portray ourselves as we savage Sandy.

18 thoughts on “Race in our politics”

  1. That’s it, I am starting a petition forthwith ,to make revisionism into a crime,both domestically, and amongst the coridors of powers- a la UN Security Council.
    Dis is now getting from’ bad to worst ,’as my luving Tobago Granny would often say .
    Here we have Uncle Shah jumping into de fray, oh ‘AfroBuddahSunGOd,’ , have mercy on our twisted souls.
    Talk about a stretch to make Indo Trinis into some form of victim in this country folk! It just ain’t funny anymore.
    An Afrikan get’s a house in Central , or any such Indo dominated enclave-on former STATe lands,mind you-and race baiters , comes out of the woodwork , to cry gerrymandering , by Afrikan politicians , in efforts to steal seats-and how ridiculous indeed!
    An over zealous , but observant Tobagonian lament publicly, about what he percieve as invasions in his peaceful island, and he has committed the worst crime of the century. Go figure!
    By the way,dem Lavantille , Caranage, MOrvant, Gonzales, and Boug MAlatrese folks ,wish they had such reverse gerrymandering problem, ennnnt?
    Let the fact speak for them selves.

  2. This was a better written article that seeks to lend balance to the national discourse on the issue of ethnicity. The earth does its own correction every eight years in other to keep the planet in balance. The politics of this world has seen a sort of “balance” from time to time. Nelson Mandela rise from Robin island prison to the corridors of power. Gandhi’s use of “satyagraha” to bring to its knees the mighty British Empire. The rise of black folks from the dog attacks of Alabama to the Presidency of the United States.

    In Trinidad there has been some correction to the preponderance of racism under the PNM as a matter of historical record. The “recalcitrants” are now assuming the mantel of power and working to bring “balance” to the national discourse. This is the scope of a nation going through the process of maturity. Panday sought to achieve diversity in governance and so it behooves the PP a combination of NAR/UNC politicians to aim for the same. Achieving “balance” in governance is always challenging but the PP is better suited than the PNM to achieve this. No one wants a nation that is diverse to become a chiefly ethnocentric pariah in this 21st century. Yes there will be more supporters of the PP occupying positions of power but was it not the writer of this article who in a previous article felt the PP should consolidate power. Besides Rowley’s failure to act decisively and immediately against Sandy’s statements shows that the PNM still has a long way to go in embracing and appreciating TnT diversity…

  3. If you are serious about diversity Mamboo, then there is the East West corridors , no? They need Hindu temples as well, no? Homogenious Tobago, would not be dragged into Trinidad’s ‘Labasse, Berbice/Essequibo rive, and Lagoon tribalist politics ,’thank you very much.
    You ,and similar others ,keep making these repeated silly / rediculous comparisons, of Black , vs Racist white Jim Crow America, Apathied , divided South Afrika, and colonial India-thus implying that T&T,under Afrikan leadership ,subjected your tribe to similar situations- and how preposterous.
    To bolster the lies, “you alls,” likewise ,enjoy regurgitating the stupid notions, that every success that was obtained by your tribe , was due solely to your own culturally superior effort, work habits, astuteness, and hard work initiatives,and again ,how reduculous!
    Once more , I assert,that the people of Tobago are saying , and justifiably so,they do not accept these backward notions of politics, and who can blame them?
    It is obviously this sentiments, that Sandy was tapping into , but lacked the political savvyness ,to articulate his views , perhaps naively unaware of the ways de enemy would capitalize on them. That’s his call. His first job now should be to fire all his political handlers, and hire a PR firm ,if it ain’t too late.
    As for Rowley, I have said it once , twice , and it is worth repeating oftrade vez:-Uncle Rowley ‘ aka de Mason Hall kid,will never become PM , under this PNM as presently constituted, and the reasons are obvious for even de blind to see:-A. Too many enemies within/”snakes in de Balisier,”that blames him for the demise of their political god – Patrick Manning. In addition, too many enemies from without, even though the ungrateful bastards -who were stuck in de political wilderness, with their historical 10 seat victories -won’t admit that they would not be “eating a food ,”sitting in the drivers seat, unless he had aided them , by putting Patios / Hart head on a platter, for them to consume.
    Some so called intellectuals, sees Internal Self Government, as the panacea for all the ills that are experienced by memebers en la Island ward. I say no , as ‘one cannot be half pregnant.’
    Only a fool would believe that Tobago would be allowed to pass seperate ,unconstitutional laws ,that can inevitably , go contrary to those that still govern our Twin Republic, and trust me , de historically maligned folks of Tobago , ain’t no fool- or are they? Time would tell- talk about ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place.’We wish dem well! Well, what do you know , I celebrate another birthday in aha few days , and de folks from Tobago , might make history, and have ‘Herm Majestick Queen K ,’to thank? To think I was contemplating going to Demerara , and purchase a few acres of land, and why , when Tobago……! Neal , quit dreaming ehhhhh? I luv this land.

  4. Have to agree that this article throws a balanced perspective as to how race is used in an opportunistic manner that literally co-exists with Unity in Trinidad. Compare this to the reception the PM got coming out of a church at Plymouth to the votes Jack Warner received in Chaguanas in a national election. A paradigm shift from parochial mentality in one ‘T’ in comparison to political maturity in another ‘T’, according to Shah that the swing votes will hardly make a difference. Mamoo is quite correct that it takes little axes to fall big trees in the case of the motives of true and inspired leadership as exemplified by Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther Jr. What may be the Freudian slip of the tongue is literally a dangerous weapon where hot coals are needed (Isaiah) to ‘sear’ in order to recoil the harm rendered. The harm in executing slavery has been corrected over time, as there is now the self-correction employed for the ‘recalcitrants’. Maybe another Freudian slip from Eric Williams. In 1948 Jews that were scattered all over the world have got their homeland in Israel. Regardless of the norm used in achieving power in whatever part of the world there always seem to be a self-correction process to ensue and that seems to be the same right here in T&T. The creed of today becomes the deed of tomorrow.

    1. When will “tomorrow” come? Action needed now.
      By the way, Mandela only succeeded in reolacing one despotic government with another.

  5. Attended a PNM rally in Tobago where Rowley was the keynote speaker.
    His speech was truly presented in the spirit of wagangness, meandering, thundering,criticizing, complaining,rationalizing, apologizing,slandering,distorting…worst of all was his total disregard for the truth and his continual spinning of the facts to hoodwink Tobagonians….assuming that they were stupid.
    Primeministerial material, he is not.

  6. Loyal Trini, you just wasted about a thousand words , and I have absolutely no concepting of what you are trying to say . Maybe it’s Indians are the equivalent of Jews, Trinis are a grown up , post racial bunch ,starting two years ago since de emergence of the PP, and this can be attested by the fact that your PM was cheered in Plymouth?
    Maybe you are saying , that your hero Gandhi ,was a great hero,and his peaceful overturs could have worked, even if the British were French , and India was Algeria?
    Someday you would have to explain to me why he placed his tail between his legs , like a Trini Zandolr, and ran from South Afrika.
    Freudian slips, swing votes, recalcitrants, executing slaves little ax?
    Oh AfroBuddahSunGod , what is this kid Loyal Trini,blabbering about?
    “If the PP lost this election, blood will flow in de streets like blood, ” Her Majestic Queen K
    ” Dis is our time.” Basdeo Panday
    Are those two quotes Feudian enough for you?
    Well, what do you know? No one said Nation building was going to be easy, ennnnt?

  7. Once again Shah has given us a fair assessment of race in our politics. Some commentators have praised him yet others have damned him. I want Shah to know his writings are stirring our citizens to be aware and to respond to the sociopolitical issues in T&T. Hopefully, this can lead to serious discussions and trigger changes in T&T.

  8. It is refreshing to witness the almost total condemnation of Sandy’s statement.
    What would be even more refreshing is a similar reaction from Indo Trinidad leaders when the shoe is on the other foot.

  9. Attacking individuals maybe the solutions to some as opposed to debating issues that bring about maturity and better understanding for all. The beginning of the writing of the ‘Satyagraha’ was when Gandhi was imprisoned in South Africa, the vision expressed at the time, when released, go back to his homeland and liberate his people from the exploitive Imperialism. Mandela was imprisoned in his own homeland but did not wilt during his years of imprisonment, but realized that non-violence as practised by Gandhi was the way to achieve the policies of the ANC and the liberation of his people. Have we learnt much from the 1970 or 1990 revolutions in T&T? when in 2013 a blogger is calling for ‘blood will flow in de streets’. This is exactly what and why Obama is fighting the NRA when in the 1970s (practically overnight) there was a change of leadership towards hardliners for this Association compared to the sobering principles of the founding fathers. Thoughts precedes actions and if insipid, scurrilous and demeaning comments are what is manifesting itelf against bloggers on this site then we deserve the end product. AfroBuddahSunGod, your energy should be channeled as to why should a major industry like Caroni be shut down when the best converter of solar energy into potential energy (sugar cane plant) be destroyed in the process? Where is the vision?

  10. Loyal Trini,did you not see the statement ,”blood will flow in the streets,” in quotes? That usually mean , the blogger in question ,was repeating what someone else said before , in effort to build his point. In that case ,it was your Prime Minister , who did a Sandy fearmongering , jig and dance,in the hope that undecided voters ,take the hint, and vote accordingly. I notice that you conveniently forgot to decry the other – dis is our time quote ,that was made by Uncle Basdeo, huh?
    Loyal Trini , if you wish to know why Caroni was gutted , then shut down , then simply ask your political father in Basdeo Pandy. It was all part of his country hating , pro victimization ploy. It just feels much better when they can tell de world , like you are trying to do now, dat African destroyed our industry to give houses for their tribes .Thank goodness for American, Grenadian , Vincy , and Latin American farmers , else Trinis would not have any thing to eat, since the folks who got 99 percent of our state lands , after de demise of our sugar and rice industry , ain’t planting food any more , as they are daily selling out said lands ,to disappear to far off places , such as Cannada , and USA.You should know.
    Did I read you correctly about sugar turning to solar energy , or some concoction? Quit drinking that tasteless , watery Canadian maple syrup my friend ,at his Trinidad , ain’t progressive, Brazil, where citizens pride themselves in real patriotism, industriousness , and the like.Google the word Ethanol .Brazil in 2010 was the world largest exporter. Presently along with the USA , the are numbers 1& 2 in production.
    Your country in contrast ,is a backward country , that is principally led by shortsighted ,visionless folks. 100 years from now we would be having this same discussion, as we wobble along the road to nowhere. By then oil and gas would be long gone ,and Tobago would be a full independent , industrial country-thanks to their own initiatives , not disingenuous folks from big brother Trinidad. I wish you well.

  11. Your diatribe reflects how inebriated you are with your own concoctions. Good luck in your quest in ‘destroying’ this beautiful land of T&T that offers so much for so many including you.

  12. Tell me Loyal Trini,are you likewise appalled, not of course ,by de fact that since 1962 , Long suffering Tobagonians , have to deal with sub par transport , between our two islands , but more de fact that this fellow tribalist ,cannot get home with his European friends ,to mama England?


    Ohhhhh ‘AfrobuddahSunGod,’ dat resides in our hearts,just how long must these good folks of Tobago , be subjected to this pathetic state of affairs, even in an era of alleged change,hmmmm?
    Let’s wish dem well, huh?
    Well, as my wise Tobago Granny used to say , “de longest rope , must have an end,” ennnnt?

  13. Post 1962, How did Eric Williams referred to people in Victoria and St. Patrick? From 1975, PNM managers placed in Caroni (1975) Ltd, what did they achieve? closing down the sugar industry because of the commodity trading price of sugar on the international market? Where’s the vision for scaling down from international and regional supply to domestic supply? You speak about food production? In 1988 T&T was importing 90,000.000 lbs. of rice, Caroni set about Phase 1, 11 and 111 rice production and was using what was a pollutant distillery waste in the Caroni river as a natural irrigant and fertilizer, did we buy that technology? No, it was home brew! The import of rice would have been reduced by 10,000,000 lbs. What’s the situation now? You have the gall to tell me that we need the food import from the small islands to sustain our lives? Tell me the story about the local cocoa industry and the subsequent shutting down of such, not to mention citrus, dairy, beef etc. The plan was deliberate to amass everything under the umbrella of sugar rather than setting up separate cost centres. Now you talk about transport? what happened to the railway transport in Trinidad and now talk of mono rail? My Cedros Gran pappy use to say ‘keep your mouth where it belongs’!

  14. All plausible grouses on your part Loyal Trini, and who can argue with you , just like you , and more than 80 % of big brother Trinidad can’t dismiss my disgust over de pathetic state of affairs , throughout my Island ward,Tobago. Thank you very much for nada.
    Now dat was de good part, but here is where we part company, mi amigo. Who do you hold ,as solely responsible ,for the ugliness, we both lament about on ‘dis here blogosphere?’
    To you it’s only Afrikan people ,and their alleged racist, pro discriminatory leaders.
    Not dat it ain’t easy to understand, for someone as astute as I am,mind you.
    It’s part of your cultural upbringing , to not point fingers at your own kind, but look outwards to de other . Take de demise of Caroni,por ejemplo, does Uncle Basdeo, your self proclaimed liberator, gets any blame , for taking our Indo Trini cousins for a ride/using same for personal aggrandization?
    The fact that desperate Caroni workers, were encouraged to invest all their penshions ,only in de Hindu Credit Union, as opposed to our National Unit Trust ,by de likes of Basdeo, and Sat Maharaj , is of no concern to you ,as an unscrupulous , social bandit CEO Harinarine , wreck havoc , only to escape like a bandit , back to his lavish ranch in South beach Florida, and maybe Costa rica. You and similar, white color apologist , would try to justify it, by pointing at selective issues that pertain to de Clico debacle.
    Your father of de nation Basdeo , since emerging as a politician, can idly boast of maybe six achievements during his foray, and here they are:-1. Removing a steel cock from de roof of our Red House Parliament, 2.Blocking a race track, a la ‘Houses before horses,’mantra, 3.Changing de names of 500 streets across Trinidad, to make them more reflective of his people,4.Ensuring that de ANR led NAR , only last one term, 5.Become the only Parliamentarian in the last 2 centuries ,to ever get suspended for playing computer games , and checking his foreign stocks , in defiance of repeatd orders of sitting Speaker of a House.6. Reminding us of his concept of politics, with de Quote – ” politics , has a morality ,all of it’s own.” Go figure!
    The problem with all these nonsensical distractions my friend should be obvious. Nothing constructive ever occurred over the past 50 years of our country’s political life – particularly in Tobago, and similar neglected sectors across our Twin republic.
    Self serving elites on both sides of the so called racial/ ethnic divide, we’re too busy squabbling over inconsequential issues , while the people’s business fail. No one held dem greedy business leeches hands to de fire, as they too help destroy our country
    It’s 2013 , and election day in historically neglected Tobago. Should we be optimistic, with the hope that a new era has arrived? Maybe , and time would tell.
    Let’s see if the good folks of Tobago are buying.
    Keep de faith my friend, as ‘we aspire , and hopefully achieve’respective goals – yes , together.
    It’s a beautiful life, yes?
    Long live de people of Tobago, and more importantly , de Republic of T&T, Si?

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