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IS HCU HEAD FORMING NEW POLITICAL PARTY?

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Harry Harnarine, President of the Hindu Credit Union, may have positioned himself, whether intentionally or not, to be the head of a possible new political party to replace the United National Congress as the country's main Party in Opposition. Already Harnarine has emerged as the principal figure outside of Government to champion the battle against the uncomfortable crime situation in Trinidad and Tobago. Harnarine's attention grabbing leadership of marches and/or rallies against crime, as well as his tactical retreat from holding an anti-crime march in Laventille on Saturday against the declared wishes of a prominent member of the Laventille Council of Elders, made good political sense.

In turn, his meeting instead with the Laventille Elders in an attempt to find common ground also made sense. In the process, by his being prepared to meet with the Elders and present to and discuss with them his 13-point plan to deal with crime, he may have won some measure of support not only in Laventille but in other sensitive areas of the country. By Sunday, the head of the Council of Elders, Selwyn Sandy, had not only joined Harnarine in a National Rally Against Crime in Woodford Square which had been organised by the Hindu Credit Union, but addressed the rally as well. But politically intentioned or not, the HCU President has not conveyed a leaning toward any particular ideology. However, to use this to dismiss Harnarine as a potential political force may be reckless as neither the ruling People's National Movement nor the Opposition United National Congress has an ideology, each preferring instead the politics of pragmatism.

Meanwhile, for Harnarine to head a new political grouping which, even prior to the next General Election, constitutionally due in 2007, can be viewed across the country as an effective replacement for the UNC, he will need the support of some of the UNC Members of Parliament. There is precedent for this. The British Empire Workers and Citizens Home Rule Party (popularly known as the Butler Party) which had won six seats in the then Legislative Council in the 1950 General Election, saw two of its elected Members of Parliament Mitra Sinanan and Ashford Sinanan moving across to the newly formed People's Democratic Party (PDP) led by Bhadase Sagan Maraj. Should the HCU President form a political party, the clear casualty will be the United National Congress which, apart from matters which cannot be discussed at this time in this column has short-sightedly blunted Government efforts to have the Police Reform Bills passed. In turn, the public had been encouraged by Government, albeit mistakenly so, to view the Bills not only as anti-crime legislation, but critical to the fight against crime.

The battle to excise the cancer of crime has an emotive appeal in Trinidad and Tobago, where with the continuously expanded use of burglar bars as a device to protect homes and householders from bandits, there is the growing perception that it is the law-abiding who are tacit house-bound prisoners. This while bandits appear free to roam and pounce. So that any sustained public campaign, such as the one launched by Harnarine and his Hindu Credit Union, will have an admitted appeal to law abiding community audiences. Whether they will be prepared to follow Harnarine politically is another matter. Three of the country's majors, who had gone on to head political parties Dr Eric Williams, Bhadase Sagan Maraj and Tubal Uriah Butler had launched their careers on the basis of issues which had broad based appeal. Each issue or combination of issues had an effective rallying appeal suited to the particular period of the country's history.

The targetting of the issue or issues by Williams, Maraj and Butler, as events demonstrated, proved effective in whipping up mass political support. It should be emphasised that the issues, even as today's spectre of rising serious crimes, were genuine and needed to be dealt with. With Uriah Butler, his grappling with the social issues would provide him with a desired platform on which to found a political party. Butler had challenged the horrendous exploitation of workers in the oil as well as the sugar industry. Workers in both industries were then being paid less than subsistence wages 56 cents a day in the oil industry and 30-36 cents a day in the sugar industry. It had been a cruel grinding and dismissal of the working class. The June 19, 1937 explosion of worker anger in the social revolution led by Tubal Uriah Butler would lead to better wages and salaries to workers across Trinidad and Tobago; to persons of non European descent accessing better paying jobs and being part of the management structure in both oil and sugar, and six years later to policemen becoming commissioned officers for the first time.

It would lead to Butler's later founding of the British Empire Workers and Citizens Home Rule Party and his, tacitly, becoming the first leader of The Opposition in the country's Legislature. And this, notwithstanding, the then British Colonial Governor, Sir Hubert Rance, plotted successfully to deny Butler his rightful place. Bhadase Sagan Maraj's becoming Leader of the Legislative Council, following on the September 24 election, had been assisted by several factors. Undoubtedly, the principal factor had been his dramatic resignation from the Legislature on Friday, April 15, 1955 in protest against the clearly immoral one-year extension of the life of the Legislature and his subsequent winning back of the Tunapuna seat in the bye-election which followed.

Admittedly, his successful efforts at having the majority of the nation's Hindus come under the umbrella of the Sanatan Dharma Mahasabha, of which he was President General, and his being President General of the All Trinidad Sugar Estates' and Factory Workers' Trade Union had helped in galvanising support for him and the Party he had founded, the People's Democratic Party. But it had been the Sagan's principled resignation from the Legislature and his victory at the polls in the by-election that had brought him to national attention. Dr Williams' platform had been his unrelenting opposition to colonialism and his desire to rid Trinidad and Tobago and the region of colonial rule. Today the vexing problem is how to exorcise the demon of rising crime.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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