Hope still lit among the vanquished


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 13 Oct 02

As I write birds twitter somewhere close; monsoon rains darken our tropical light to a dove gray ringed by clear white light. The thundershower crescendos into a roar, hammering at rooftops, pavements, overflowing from drains and rivers, twisting branches, is punctuated by rolls of thunder, fades, stops, drips down crevices of galvanize, settles deep into the grass.

Falling as it is, in the aftermath of an election dimmed with the menace of racial polarisation, terrorism and corruption, washing away posters and pamphlets, the debris of the power hungry from the Aranguez Savannah, Woodford Square, from walls and electricity poles, one can’t help but think of the downpour as a divine symbol of renewal and cleansing.

Or, it could be a shower of blessings on a country that looks on astonished once again at itself — a people who themselves hadn’t realised the extent of their own maturity and tolerance, even as they stood on the brink, on the nail-biting race in which each vote in the marginals meant the difference between being the tribe in power and being out in the cold.

This election was like every other in this small democratic twin-island state; extraordinarily peaceful given its ethnic mix in roughly equal proportions of Indian and African Trinidadians.

Once again, on October 8, despite the unalloyed victorious shouts in Balisier house, and the stunned disbelieving silence of people walking away from Rienzi Complex, the trucks filled with supporters carrying flags whipping in the breeze into Port-of- Spain, and the retreat of others into the darkness of central Trinidad, there was no violence. Not one incident.

The newly-elected Prime Minister said now that the election was over, we should rid ourselves of animosity and the healing should start. The Opposition leader, despite his bravado of claiming at worst 18/18 and a heavy-hearted reference to “constitutional reform,” remembered his duty first and foremost as a Trinidadian. “Tomorrow we will all sit peacefully side by side, shoulder to shoulder in the same taxis and maxi taxis.”

The majority spoke or remained silent. The ones who could make the difference in the marginals, did. They sent messages — that accountability is necessary; corruption is unacceptable; people will not be brushed off with quips or diverted with promises; arrogance is noted. That they may be helpless and out of the loop in the everyday running of the country, but they still wield the enormous power to dethrone.

Despite this, perhaps because of this, no one could fail to be aware of the pathos of the Silver Fox taking his final bow on the stage at Rienzi Complex.

His epilogue was unconvincing, clearly even to himself. It was as if this defeat had swiftly, in one final, fatal stroke, taken the shine out of the silver, the agility out of the fox.

The 280,000 or so people voted for him mostly out of love – because, after all, didn’t he give them a place in the sun, and then throw it all away as his power-parched tribe drank greedily from the national coffers?

And now weren’t they horribly let down? Didn’t his single-minded pursuit of a high profile rainbow cabinet lead to the neglect of his core supporters — the ones still clambering out of rural poverty, requiring books and medicines, the cane cutters with burnt and calloused skin?

These people would never forget Basdeo Panday unleashed his rapier personality, his flambeau which demanded a formerly invisible group be seen, onto the nation; these people who had lived more as spectators of a sub culture, than mainstream participators for over 35 years of PNM rule.

But no one judged him harsher at that instant than he did himself. We were witnessing a singularly intimate moment in Panday’s life — that of his own reckoning — his place in history, the struggle, flare of victory, and finally his fatal stumbling into the minefields of power, corruption, arrogance, the failure to manage detractors. Standing there, the man who only two days before was likening himself to Mahatma Gandhi, now fended off the blows of defeat with his dwindled band of candidates behind him. (How failure scatters supporters, what a faithless business politics is, brimming with betrayal, ruthlessness, self interest).

Anybody watching him that night (except his enemies) could not fail to be moved at the suddenly vulnerable set of his shoulders, as if the weight of 40 years was pressing upon him; at the determined downward slant of his head, which did not, perhaps could not, look at the devastated faces around him, at the relief he sought by walking quickly, his arm in his wife’s, to the sanctuary of a closed office. I’m sure there are lessons to be learned there.

Meanwhile, there is rain, renewal and despite the fear of displacement felt by UNC supporters, there is the hope of being pulled into the centre, of being included, of becoming not sub-culture but part of this mainstream of all of humanity represented in these small islands. There is healing of a nation that has been battered by three successive elections in as many years.

And finally, there is trust, that this time round, our new Government will use not cosmetics, but real benchmarks of a sound health and education sector to make us all the people we can be.



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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur