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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 07 Jan 96

Dear Mr Panday


Welcome home. I expect that you are now busy catching up on the newspapers - quietly I hope, with your feet up and a cup of coffee nearby - your precious minutes before you resume your rigorous schedule tomorrow (or have you plunged straight in?). And the country also feels it can relax it has come through another crisis. You must remember right after you were appointed Prime Minister your government was formed in a sea of question marks over the coalition, the meaning of national unity, the credentials of your cabinet. One public figure expressed alarm at all the Indians being sworn in (what will happen to the black people of this country?). Then Humphrey’s comment on the Jamaat provided fodder for weeks. Some of the concerns (raised presumably on behalf of the people) were manifestations of hysteria bred by the uncertainty that change brings, others legitimate.


One journalist (embodying Trinidad picong which I respect because it may be the element in our psyche which saves us from going down the road of Bosnia) was the first to joke about no ducks being available in Central. He was also the first to respond to hysteria “As soon as racists from either camp raise their head I will deal with them.” But just as we were prepared to sail smoothly from Christmas to Carnival we had to stiffen with concern at your departure. We were in no mood to speculate. We wanted to buy our New Year’s dresses, and plan our limes. It was as if a country bruised from the effort of holding up during those three ungoverned, uncertain days, now looked up warily as if to say “what next?” If your Government was pronounced fragile at the outset what was going to happen now?


Little did you realise that in your absence the country decided to give you what you’d been calling for. As people in this country never fail to do in times of crisis, we banded together to survive. We sat silently in red in 1989 after our defeat in football, (I would like to think we got a national holiday not for “losing” but for our collective dignity in the face of defeat) we stood by the rule of law in 1990. (except for the looting - allow us our aberrations)  We may be fickle but we don’t play dirty when the chips are really down. This year our anxiety was replaced by something extraordinarily humane. It was as if a country, faced with losing you, tucked away her grievances and differences and responded to you as a human being.


As the week unfolded Editorials wished you God speed, told you to take care of yourself. (We monitored you closely. Telephone conversations were punctured with “Hold on - its about Mr Panday - let me just hear the news”) The picture that emerged was of a nation rallying behind not a party man but Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. And whenever that happens we reach a state of grace. Your struggle to remain well became our struggle. Because even in such a frightening personal moment, forced to confront the prospect of your mortality, you were brave. “See you next week.”


In the euphoria of your homecoming allow me a caveat from the Evita musical. “The people belong to no-one, they are fickle, can be manipulated...”. Manning must today remember that he too was once lauded when he became Prime Minister and in his honeymoon received like you today, the Express Individual of the Year award. (But you say you have not done anything yet to deserve it. But we are watching, we are waiting patiently) There was a time when he dimpled boyishly at the cameras. Today we hardly see his photograph, except when we read about his blunders, find his leadership of his party scorned. But I remember after the election results a stunned Manning said to his supporters “Don’t worry about me.” It may have been then that the people went home to their struggles to worry about themselves.


Still he was once Prime Minister - we flocked to hear him talk. But we love to crow when somebody is down. It’s virtually unheard off to give a man his due when he’s out, or to hold a hand out to an opponent who faces the surgeons knife. And this is where we fall flat on our faces. With our overwhelmingly gracelessness. It must breed bitterness, one day to be hounded with invitations and the paparazzi, to rush about on a full schedule and the next to sit in a room where the phone hardly rings.


Like a well made Carnival costume we bend this way and that, and follow the biggest brightest band. Every politician must be made aware of the insincerity of people. (And vice versa the people might retort) And this is where you can lead us - give us an example of grace, of sincerity, of bigness, of largess. Remember when Yitzshak Rabin was assassinated, his opposition leader stood on the platform, tears rolling down his face calling him “brother” his bitter enemy for years, Yasar Arafat openly mourning? Those men are statesmen.


And you must also know that your good health is necessary to the country. You have courage. Thomas Jefferson said that “One man with courage is a majority.” A century later there’s the example of Abraham Lincoln. After his cabinet voted “No” to emancipation, Lincoln raised his right hand and said “The ayes have it.”


You have a difficult time ahead. The PNM’s promise of “we care” was thrown back in their faces. In a developing country which is still in the hands of the IMF you are taking on poverty. The two virtually go hand in hand. But (I have said this before) a truly civilised country is measured by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens. And you have always had a great sense of timing. We are poised to climb another notch. Strike now. We are ready for the Statesman.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur