by Susanne Mills
It appears that in the din of the war of words provoked by last week's senior doctors' "sick out"; a typically reckless Basdeo Panday comment went completely unnoticed. Yet the United National Congress leader's incredible admission could have had an effect on the economic, psychological and political well being of the nation as grim as the lack of public medical services had on the physical health of the country's citizens.
Panday's statement, according to newspaper reports — which Panday has not refuted — came in the form of a response to a question posed by a businessman at a luncheon hosted by several east-west corridor chambers of commerce. Panday, at the head table as a guest speaker, was asked if he had considered any other form of action to provoke new elections. (One assumes the person asking the question meant behaviour in addition to the UNC supreme chieftain's usual cursing of President Arthur NR Robinson and his accusing the latter of being in league with the People's National Movement.)
Panday's glib, provocative retort to the merchant's query was that he had once considered using violence to bring about a general election, but that he had then rejected the thought. That Panday would conceive of using violence to force the PNM to call an election is crazy enough, that he would admit his notion is just plain astounding.
Sure, our ex-Prime Minister likes to dramatise, make the world his stage; utter idiotic remarks just to create a sensation; spin the truth; play agent provocateur, but wasn't talking about violence going a bit too far, even for the UNC leader?
Hadn't Panday been the very one warning ad nauseum about the consequences the present delicate political situation were having on the economic stability of the country? How could he thus, confess that he considered use of force a viable and acceptable way to procure a general election?
Just what sort of violence and how much would have been agreeable to Panday, considered by him sufficient coercion to get the People's National Movement to give up Government?
Perhaps the UNC leader would have liked us to go the route of Guyana: Indo against Afro, shedding blood for him and his boys and girls of the UNC in the street, fighting for the oligarchy to play golf again; to return to the days of Johnny Walker Blue at the La Fantasie poolside; to travel back to a realm where bicycles, according to UNC MP Carlos John, cost more than $23,000.
Or maybe he envisaged himself a General Sharon sending his troops into Port-of-Spain and its environs to rid the country of all PNM supporters and their "terrorist" leader, Patrick Manning. Maybe his imaginings led him to conclude he, Panday was a Hindu outcast in his own land and he thus, fancied dispatching a suicide bomber to blow up maxi-taxi passengers.
I suppose we can be grateful for minute mercies, thankful that Panday rejected his remarkably ridiculous mental meandering, though I suspect that our former PM abandoned his plans after he remembered that not even an attempted coup could provoke the people of TT into a revolution against their government. I also assume that his rich friends convinced him that violence would only weaken their economic strength.
Panday never told his audience last Wednesday why he had never executed his mad agenda. He did however, ask them if they had any suggestions for bringing about an election.
None in attendance seemed to have one or dared give any. Fortunately for Panday, I am in a position and of a disposition, to share with him a few of my ideas.
I would to Panday recommend that the UNC ready itself for an election within the next few months because the PNM can survive no longer than September. I would be calmly targeting the many weaknesses of the present administration, responsibly demanding from it, complete accountability.
I would not be shouting vulgar half-truths or complete falsehoods from public platforms. Indeed, I would not be ranting at all because the PNM's worst enemy is its leader and his penchant for sticking his foot evenly in his mouth.
I would leave Prime Minister Manning to annoy the populace, not add to the people's general irritation at and disgust with politicians by misbehaving. I would definitely not let Manning look better than me.
I certainly would not curse the President because the result of the next poll might just be 18-18 again. And I would not continue to give spurious legal reasoning in support of my argument that the President acted illegally by appointing Manning.
I would not accuse everybody else of breaking the Crowne Plaza accord when it was I who had done so. Indeed, I would try to make people forget about that agreement altogether.
I would do all of this even as I constantly reminded Manning he did not command the majority in Parliament and needed to call an election before trying to pass a budget in a House that had no Speaker.
But that's me. I am no quixotic, reckless leader of a party. I have nothing to lose by waiting for September to come. So employing violence or admitting that I had contemplated using it as a manoeuvre to get what I want is not an option.
The worrying thing about Panday's disclosure is that it means he has no problem indulging in Machiavellian fantasies of bringing the PNM Government down by any means necessary and that even if he has discarded violence, he may be contemplating other equally dangerous methods to provoke an election. It is for this reason that many questioned the timing of the doctors' sudden sick out action. Non-UNC supporters made it clear they smelt a political rat that had been sent by the UNC to bite the PNM, to nibble at its authority, to undermine the country's stability. Of more concern is that Panday can now not change his wanton ways and that those around him seem bent on pleasing him by behaving as he does, by mouthing the same nonsense as he does, even as they position themselves to take his place.
It is now clearer than ever that UNC supporters need to lop off the current head of the party and those in his immediate circle and replace them with more rational, modern leadership. If they do not the UNC's headaches will soon be greater than trying to press Patrick Manning into an early announcement of a general election because the Rising Sun may get a mandate from the population, which they dislike, one that places them in opposition for five years. That is, if Panday's thoughts, words and actions do not destroy the party, altogether.
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