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The Exaggeration of Panday's Death
Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2005

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe

It is said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. One may not like Basdeo Panday but he is not called the sly, political fox for nothing. He has been in the political game for the past forty years, played with the best and so he knows the game much better than many persons around. Panday has had no profession other than that of politics. He breathes, eats, sleeps and salivates politics. In other words, Panday has politics in his blood; he even argues that politics has its own morality. He is always testing the waters; always wants to know where he is; who friends and rivals are; what their ambitions are; and, most importantly, can they to be trusted.

Recently, a band of businessmen and university academics, feeling that he is wounded politically and that his hold on his party is slipping, decided that the time to strike is now. Winston Dookeran believes that his having served in Mr. Robinson's government and being a former Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago give him the necessary credentials to become the new leader of the UNC. However, many wonder if he possesses the street instincts that a leader in Trinidad and Tobago requires to really lead.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar has also shown her hands. She wishes to stop Mr. Dookeran because she and a few others believe that he really isn't entitled to the leadership position. This position clashes with that of Mr. Yet Ming who seems to be solidly in Mr. Dookeran's club. In the background, looms Dr. Bhoe Tewarie who is pushing the candidacy of Mr. Winston Dookeran whom he believes, sooner or later, will falter and he would emerge as the rightful heir of the UNC. If all this sounds strange, one only has to remember that most of the persons involved in this political intrigue were once part of the National Alliance for Reconstruction which they believe is now ripe for reformation. Indeed, when Panday was forced out of the NAR, it was thought that Dr. Tewarie would be able to deliver the Hindu vote thereby making Basdeo Panday irrelevant. They did not count on the loyalty of Indians to stand solidly behind the fox.

But politics is a strange thing. In 1973, PNM annual convention, Dr. Eric Williams, the leader of the party, announced he was leaving politics and going back into private life. Therefore, he asked the convention to choose a successor. The convention was adjourned. Following the adjournment, Karl Hudson Philip offered his candidacy for the leadership position although neither Errol Mahabir nor Kamaludin Mohammed, two outstanding members of the party, submitted their nominations for the position. In this period, party groups loyal to Dr. Williams urged his to remain as the leader of the party. Lots of voluntary organizations were involved and there was a general consensus that Dr. Williams could not leave the party at that moment of instability.

When the Convention re-convened, Mr. Francis Prevatt, the Chairman of the party, offered a resolution asking Dr. Williams to stay on the job until the party found another leader. Until this day, there remain serious doubts about who the author of that resolution was. It might have been authored by Dr. Williams himself. Among other things, the resolution requested that Dr. Williams be given enough time to choose a successor whom he could groom for the leadership and that he, as leader, be mandated to maintain the overall harmonious relationship and integration of the races and continue to work to develop the disadvantaged groups of the country. It was a master stroke. It worked. Karl did not know what struck him.

Here, of course, was a classic case of Machiavellian politics: the attempt to bend the will of the party to his view by fair means or foul. Dr. Williams was not above such Machiavellian politics as Panday is not above such politics today. I do not know who Mr. Panday has spoke to or who he is in cahoots with. But he knows the game: you wait, you smoke them out; you seek to find out the ambitions of men and then you know how to move. Karl showed his ambition and as Mark Anthony would say of Brutus in Julius Caesar, "Karl was an honorable man."

Today, I can confidentially report that Basdeo Panday wil reemerge as the leader of the UNC. When he is re-elected, I am pretty sure that the political careers of the Mr. Yet Ming, Dr. Tewarie, Mr. Dookeran and that cadre of persons would be shortened. A seasoned politician does not just walk off the playground and give up his jersey. Those who wish to contest his hold on the party must demonstrate that they command a loyal base within the party. Today, the only opposition to Mr. Panday within the UNC comes form the remnants of the NAR and that is not good enough to move Mr. Panday from the leadership of the party he created.

To be sure, there is a stark difference between the PNM and the UNC. The PNM is a well-ordered and disciplined party that has been in existence for the past 49 years. Over the years three different leaders have emerged in orderly fashion. On the other hand, the UNC remains a disoriented party with its roots solidly located in Central and South Trinidad. Panday's insistence that he is the boss reminds us that the UNC has been unable to develop party structures or even stick to its constitution which lead Mr. Dookeran and his supporters to believe that they could use UNC chaos to further their agenda. No doubt, they will swear that they only desire to make the UNC a stronger, more democratic party.

Mr. Panday will remain the absolute monarch of his party. Unless ill-health befalls him-and I hope it does not-- he will remain the leader of the UNC until that fateful day occurs. And, as he used to say to Mr. Manning when he was the PM, while "I am here; you will remain there." Mr. Manning will remain the head of the PNM and the government and Mr. Panday will continue to be the Leader of the Opposition and leader of the UNC. All of us will have to wait to see what fate awaits Mr. Dookeran and his band of adventurous men.

Meanwhile, in the words of Mark Twain, the report of Mr. Panday's political death is an exaggeration. It is entirely premature. The ambitions of the petty men around him will have to be contained for a while longer.

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