That day is closer than Mary thinks


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Category: Trinidad Politics 25 Oct 09

Having lived in India and England for some time, and observed the strong political and religious allegiances that form the politics of these old countries, I find its obverse in Trinidad and Tobago both a blessing and a curse. It is, undeniably, good to live in a sapling hybrid country, where religious atavistic dogma (its attendant prejudice and loathing) is practically absent. A single person, my made-up friend can carry a name with connotations of every ethnic and religious group such as “Mary Maharaj Ali Peters.” It is likely that she is neither Hindu, Muslim nor Catholic. She may be a little of everything—or none of the above. She may be a staunch Seventh-Day Adventist or a Presbyterian who remembers her parents singing hymns in Hindi. She may look entirely Chinese, entirely Caucasian or African. She may look like a “Dougla,” or “Red.” She may even look East Indian. This absence of history means we don’t actually have “ethnic cleansing,” and everyone feels free to try on religions like we do costumes.

Unfortunately, the exact opposite happens to Mary Maharaj Ali Peters, when it comes to politics. Mary’s allegiances will, if she is an ordinary citizen (with no special connections or agenda), depend almost entirely on what she looks like. If she looks Indian, one will assume that “she is UNC;” If she looks African, people will assume “she is PNM.” If she falls outside of these parameters, (as does 20 per cent of our population), it is likely that she is COP, the nascent reincarnation of the NAR. Every time an election rolls around, our fictitious friend, Mary Maharaj Ali Peters, who embodies the essence of the people of this country, placidly absorbs a huge contradiction. She is free to be anything she wants culturally, but politically she is in a bind. Mary Maharaj Ali Peters is so used to fluidity in religion and culture, that she doesn’t see the necessity for conviction in politics.

She has accepted that the role of political parties is limited to jostling for demographic and ethnic ground—ironical when she herself embodies the racial fluidity of the country. Mary does not find anything unusual when her important friends, who have built wealth and careers from being close to party officials in power, use political support like an investment in the stock market. Mary Maharaj Ali Peters does not see that politics has anything to with her life. She loves the picong in Parliament. In a nation that loves the spectacle, she sees political debate as entertainment. The tragedy here is that she does not link anything in political life with that of her own. She does not see the battle in traffic, the policewoman who aggressively says: “You stupid or what?” when she tries to report a burglary; the rising price of food, or the fact that the eldest son cannot write properly after leaving school at 16 and is being tempted by petty drug pushers as a direct result of governance.

That day is closer than she thinks. On August 18th, 2006, Prime Minister Patrick Manning presented this draft constitution to Parliament. He informed us, then, that he had created a round table to prepare and put out this draft of a draft for public comment. Its members included himself as chairman, the AG, the Minister of Legal Affairs, the Minister of Planning and Development, the Minister of Public Administration and Information, Sir Ellis Clarke, Tajmool Hosein, QC, Dr Selwyn Ryan, Prof John La Guerre, Dr John Spence, and Assemblyman Anselm London. Before presenting the salient points of the Sir Ellis draft, the Prime Minister politely expressed his “appreciation” to the Principles of Fairness Committee, “a group of civic-minded citizens” who produced a draft constitution.  

Dr Selwyn Ryan has since resigned from the Prime Minister’s round table on constitution reform over the enormous power it would give, saying: “I am deeply worried about it, and I have lost. I have taken every opportunity to warn people about that constitution, the constitutional provisions relating to the President. “I felt that because of the architecture, I was being induced in a way to support a number of provisions with which I didn’t agree fundamentally." Dr Ryan had scarcely made his exit when, with a neat volte face, in steps another political scientist, Dr Hamid Ghany (who had been touting the alternative principles of fairness committee constitution) to replace him as chairman of the Prime Minister’s round table. Nobody knows who’s who in the upper echelons of politics, Mary. And who stands for what. And why. I’m not casting aspersions. All I’m telling Mary is that this gets curioser and curioser. 


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur