With the general election just over the horizon, it is not propitious that the country’s two major parties have already played the race card. The United National Congress did so blatantly at its Mid-Centre Mall rally on February 19, alleging several PNM conspiracies aimed at putting “high-profile Indians”, behind bars. Then, on February 24 in Parliament, Prime Minister Patrick Manning gave his now infamous explanation as to why he took heart surgery in Cuba — to avoid the political fallout in case he died under a UNC surgeon’s knife. Now Mr Manning may just have been making a political observation. Since every political issue in this society is seen through racial lens, then the death of a PNM politician at the hands of an Indo doctor would indeed be interpreted in some quarters as an assassination (although Mr Manning grossly overestimates his own importance if he really believes that such a scenario would lead to civil war).
But, by the same token, Mr Manning should have known that his very statement would be seen in some quarters as an accusation that all Indo-Trinidadian doctors are UNC supporters. So, however Mr Manning meant it, his statement was quite foolish. Now fuel has been added to the fire with PNM assistant general secretary Rose Janniere alleging that she was refused medical treatment by an anaesthetist because of her political allegiance. “The experience validates in no small way the Prime Minister’s concerns,” said Janniere. Indeed. It is, in fact, quite coincidental that Ms Janniere should have had this experience just before the Prime Minister’s statement. Unless it was this very incident which informed his statement, in which case the incident was the cause, not a validation, of it. But Ms Janniere has omitted to shed any light on that possibility.
She also did not reveal the race of the surgeon who told her that the anaesthetist refused to treat her because of her political allegiance. This, surely, would colour the public’s interpretation of her account. The automatic assumption is that the anaesthetist is Indo-Trinidadian. If the surgeon was also Indo-Trinidadian, however, then that would have mitigated the racial implications of Ms Janniere’s statement since, by her own account, the surgeon was very distressed at his colleague’s refusal to treat her. If the surgeon was Afro-Trinidadian, however, then the question arises as to why an Indo anaesthetist would so readily reveal his political bias to someone of another race — thus either mitigating the racial factor again or, more likely, casting doubt on Ms Janniere’s account.
The Medical Board will now have to investigate the allegations, but the political damage is already irreparable. If the Board finds that Ms Janniere’s story is true, then it will bolster the propaganda that Indo doctors are UNC supporters and Indos in general are racially biased. And, if the Board finds no support for Ms Janniere’s allegations, then they will be accused of a cover-up by PNM supporters while UNC supporters will see the allegations as another PNM plot to denigrate Indians. It is a pity that Mr Manning did not engage his brain before putting his mouth in gear. We only hope that, as has usually been the case when politicians play with race, the good sense of the general populace will prevail.
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