By RIA TAITT
Some members of the United National Congress (UNC) are having difficulty with what they see as the moral ambiguity of political leader Basdeo Panday. Party members have expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that Panday has been endorsing and encouraging Fyzabad MP Chandresh Sharma's defiance of the UNC caucus, while severely criticising Pointe-a-Pierre MP Gillian Lucky on the same basis. Sharma, sources said, defied a decision of the caucus two weeks ago that he should leave the Parliament peacefully if asked to do so by Speaker Barry Sinanan. It was agreed by the caucus that there was nothing to be gained by being obstinate. The caucus supported Sharma's decision to make his speech on why he chose not to apologise. But the position of the caucus was that once this was done, he should walk quietly when called upon by Sinanan. Sharma refused to go, even after police officers were directed to evict him, although he was egged on by Panday, sources said.
Sources noted that Panday continued to support Sharma during the run up to last Friday's sitting when Sharma, by his own admission, said that the party had advised him not to go to Parliament, but that he was intent on going. Noting that Panday's position was that he would support Sharma in whatever he decided, the source said: "Sharma had already defied the party the week before. And here he was saying that the party has advised me to do one thing but I am not listening. The leader is encouraging the same indiscipline that he attacked Gillian Lucky for. You cannot have one law for Lucky and another for Sharma," the source stated. Sharma eventually obeyed the party's mandate and did not go to the Parliament on Friday.
The source also noted that Lucky in her defence had always argued that her signing of the Report of the Privileges Committee predated the decision of the caucus that its two MPs on the Privileges Committee should not sign the document. Sources observed that Panday's apparent inconsistency in treating with the two MPs was in fact a demonstration and implementation of his statement that "politics had a morality of its own." "It is all about political expediency. It has nothing to do with right or wrong," another source noted. Another example of Panday's inconsistency was cited. Sources stated that the committee established by the executive to deal with the Lucky/Khan issue had mandated its chairman, Dr Tim Gopeesingh to invite Lucky to meet with the committee "in a spirit of reconciliation."
However, within one week of that mandate being given, Gopeesingh went at a Monday night meeting in Pointe-a-Pierre and severely attacked Lucky. Sources said it was felt that this prejudiced the position of the chairman and the committee in achieving any reconciliation with Lucky and Fuad Khan. When this was pointed out at the caucus, Panday responded by saying that Gopeesingh was acting on his (Panday's) instructions. In fact this meant that Panday was saying one thing to the caucus and giving Gopeesingh different instructions. Sources yesterday drew attention to the statements made by St Augustine MP Winston Dookeran at the Indian Arrival Day dinner of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha. Dookeran stated that a crisis had emerged in the leadership of the country.
"The method to win political suppport on all sides of the political equation is archaic, dangerous and unworthy. The political platform on which we perform cannot work," Dookeran said. He added: "If we continue to have maximum leaders, too many young men and women who want to contribute will stay away for fear of being publicly chastised just because they have independent thought and strong points of view." UNC party insiders also recalled the events that led to the break with the UNC's former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.
Returning from a trip to England in 2001 Panday had publicly announced UNC party elections to elect an executive committee to run the party's affairs and said he would take no part and support no individuals in the campaign for the various offices. Maharaj contested the position of deputy political leader but Panday allegedly secretly supported Carlos John for the post of deputy leader. In the end Maharaj won, but Panday tossed out the results of the executive elections declaring them null and void. The fallout from that led to the virtual collapse of the UNC in office and Panday had to call new general elections which resulted in an 18-18 tie which Robinson settled by naming Patrick Manning Prime Minister. The following year the PNM was voted into office with a majority.
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