By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 21, 2011
A month ago the People’s Partnership (PP) celebrated its first anniversary. Its members party fuh so. Such was their glee that Kamla even found time to stick it to Orville London and the THA. Like all-conquering heroes and monarchs of everything they surveyed, not even the lowly CEPEP was beyond the grasps of their craven ways. They wanted it all. PP was not only of T&T; it envisaged itself as the all-embracing spirit of the society.
On that same weekend the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago celebrated the centenary of the birth of Dr. Eric Williams, the Father of the Nation. Not one member of the PP hierarchy attended, suggesting that Dr. Williams may be the Father of the African nation; not the Indian nation. Why bother to respect and honor Dr. Williams’ contributions to the nation.
In spite of its talk of interracial unity, the PP has not embraced the whole society. It continues to use its African members to feign interracial solidarity and fires any black person in the Public Service who supports the PNM. It remains convinced that T&T history began on May 24, 2010. Any political activity before then is without significance. Within this scenario, Dr. Williams is depicted as anti-Indian.
Such a position is without any foundation. If PP’s political hierarchy had attend the Banks’ centenary celebration they would have heard the brave words of Colin Palmer, former Dodge Professor of History at Princeton University, who argued that while Dr. Williams was alive he may have belonged to the PNM. In death, he belongs to the nation in the same way that Winston Churchill, a member of the Conservative Party while he lived, is revered as one of England’s noblest statesmen. This is an intellectual subtlety that members of the PP will have to learn.
It is difficult for many in the PP to see Dr. Williams in any but racial terms . If the PP’s hierarchy attended the Bank’s function they would have received, gratis, a booklet containing three speeches Dr. Williams delivered on the “great Trinity of India’s Nationalist figures”: Mahatma Gandhi (1959) and Rabindranath Tagore (1961) and Jawaharlal Nehru (1964). Long before many members of the PP were born Dr. Williams ruminated about the importance of these nationalist figures and the lessons of their lives for our young nation.
Dr. William’s essay on Nehru described Nehru’s anti-colonist tendencies and refuted some of his critics as he defended Nehru’s approach to economic development: “One can always find so-called socialists or communists ready to attack every nationalist movement, as if a nationalist movement is born, nurtured and carried into victory to put into effect not the ideas which it presented to the people in the heat of battle but the ideas of armchair theoreticians, many of them far away whilst the battle was on.”
Dr. Williams also acknowledged his spiritual kinship with Nehru, “a man who was at one and the same time a national symbol, a philosopher or anti-colonialism and a student of world history.” He may have used this essay also to respond to C.L.R. James’s criticism of his leadership articulated in PNM Go Forth, renamed Party Politics in the West Indies (1962).
Dr. Williams described Gandhi as “one of the most gifted human beings who ever lived.” This was high praise indeed. He sought to demonstrate that inherent in Gandhi’s teaching of the simple crafts was a conception of education. Gandhi also saw social studies as “an indispensable prerequisite of good citizenship,” a message that is still relevant today. He believed that an acquaintance with Gandhi’s life “to whatever degree, can only lead to the enrichment of ours.”
Dr. Williams admired Tagore’s aesthetic sensibility, his participation in India’s nationalist movement, and the breath of his internationalist concerns. In one of his most philosophical essays, Dr. Williams said of Tagore’s work: “I seek to penetrate, for the benefit of our own people, the political significance of Tagore’s poetry, dramas and novels in order to draw lessons for our society in the West Indies.”
In his critique of the poetry of Nicolas Guillen, Jacques Roumain, Jean Brierre and Luis Palos Matos, four Caribbean poets, he argued: “It is wholly false to think that communist ideology has a monopoly on the theory of racial equality.” Interestingly enough, he uses similar lines from Walt Whitman in “Four Poets of the Greater Caribbean” (1952) that he used in his essay on Tagore.
Tagore represented “one of the best examples…of the role of the intellectual in the Nationalist Movement in colonial counties.” As an intellectual at the head of a nationalist movement, Dr. Williams drew on Tagore’s inspiration to deal with the demands of our nationalist movement. In 1959, at the International Conference of Negro Writers and Artists in Rome, Dr. Williams spelt out the functions of the political leader as a man of culture in the presence of scholar-activists such as Frantz Fanon, Jean Price-Mars, Cheikh Anta Diop, Sekou Toure and Leopold Senghor.
Although Dr. Williams never articulated his religious beliefs, his conception of the Godhead was closer to that of Tagore who prayed that “he may never lose the bliss of the touch of the One in the play of the many.” In his final submission to oneness of the world, Tagore declared: “I have come to the brink of eternity from which nothing can vanish-no hope, no happiness, no vision of a face seen through tears. Oh dip my emptied life into the ocean, plunge it into the deepest fullness. Let me for once feel that lost sweet touch in the allness of the universe.”
The PP will have to revise their interpretation of our mutual past if they hope to create a united society. They will also have to accept Dr. Williams’s contribution to the nation. Like Dr. Williams, they will have to join in the struggle to immunize our nation from the poison of racial hatred. It’s a lesson that Dr. Williams tried to teach the nation.