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Raffique Shah


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Oh, how the Mighty have fallen

April 16, 2006
By Raffique Shah

DORA Bridgemohansingh from Orange Valley was the sugar worker selected as a senator by Basdeo Panday, at our insistence, thus making history. I need point out that although we founders of the ULF were idealists, we unanimously nominated Panday as Opposition Leader after the party won that right. When he was removed a year later, it was not because of our "ambitions" or betrayal, but because of his breaches of our fundamental principles, among them our stance on racial integration of the society and his contemptuous disregard for democracy within the organisation, among his many political sins.

Very important to note, too, was our decision to limit the amount any individual or corporation could donate to the struggling organisation. It was set at $2,000, I believe. When Richard Jacobs, a member of the central committee and a candidate for the 1976 elections, proudly presented the committee with a Kirpalini cheque for $5,000, we rejected it and wrote a nice letter to the business magnate outlining our position.

One man still around who can verify this is Hans Hanoomansingh, who was a manager at the then biggest retail business in the country. We did not want anyone to be able to "buy" the party, such was our idealism. Instead, we had Panday and George Weekes borrow $10,000 from the then NCB, which was the grand sum (in addition to small personal donations) with which we battled the cash-laden PNM in 1976.

The original ULF broke up after Panday refused to attend meetings called to iron out our differences. We had the temerity to fire him, knowing that he had already captured the "Indian/DLP constituency" and in any electoral battle we'd be the losers. We were prepared to sacrifice our future in electoral politics on the altar of principles. Thus began another, sordid side of Panday's political career which would, almost 30 years later, land him in the courts facing several charges for misbehaviour in public office. It would also signal the entry of "financiers", opportunists and intellectuals-fools and "smartmen" who rushed in where angels feared to tread.

In 1978, we saw the entry into the political arena of people like Vishnu Ramlogan, Kusha Harracksingh, Winston Dookeran, Ranjit Singh and others, who were appointed by Panday either to the Senate or to represent his union on the board of Caroni. I should point out that when my union was first asked to nominate someone to Caroni's board, we put an ordinary cane farmer (Pran) from Lothian's. Soon, Panday would be cavorting with the likes of Motilal Moonan, one of the biggest contractors in the country, against whom Panday's union had earlier fought a bitter battle for workers' rights. Moonan even harboured thoughts of becoming President of the Republic!

To illustrate just how the original ULF had impacted on this country's politics, in our initial foray in 1976 we had won many hearts-if not votes-in the east-west corridor. Many were the non-Indians who attended our jam-packed meetings, what with a frontline battery of speakers like Weekes, Panday, Jacobs, James Millette, Joe Young, Clive Nunez, Allan Alexander, John Abraham and Errol McLeod I can go on and on. We used to be able to hold three major meetings a night without having speakers racing to venues.

Then there were the brave ones who stood as candidates in constituencies where they knew they would lose (barring a miracle), but they volunteered: Bill Ramrattan, Winston Edwards, Phyllis Maughn, Nuevo Diaz, David Abdulah, Joe George, Gerald Bryce and many, many others.

The "new" ULF was clearly Panday's party, and it has remained that way ever since (except for the brief merger within the NAR). All the intellectuals and financiers who joined with him did it on the clear understanding that he was boss, that when he asked them to jump, their only response would be: how high, Bas?

The aphrodisiac that is political power would first come his way via the NAR. But when Robinson gave him unbridled power in 1995 and he tasted life in the stratosphere, power among people whose only offer was money, tonnes of it, he no longer needed to drink anything to trigger bouts of stupor. Money, and the trappings of power, did the trick.

But smartman that he is, he never thought any rope had an end, certainly not for the immortal Bas. That's why, when he finally captured power, he behaved the way he did. And it's also why he found himself in the predicament he is in today. The UNC is no longer a monolithic party, fragmented as it is into camps aplenty. Add to that the possibility of his government being exposed in courts-here and in the USA-as being even more corrupt than the "old" PNM, I surmise that Bas wrote his epitaph from the day he entered the arena through "smartmanism" back in 1973. Oh, how the self-deluded mighty are falling ..

Pt I | Pt II | Pt III