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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gail Alexander’s excellent article in last Saturday’s T&T Guardian, on the three Independent Senators who voted with the government on the Constitution amendments, kicked over the final stone of the fiasco. In observing the debate (repeating myself a little), two things stood out: one, a narrative of panic and illegitimacy appeared reflexively, and was sustained for the duration. Two: the low standard of debate in the Parliament, public sphere and social media. Naturally, no names can be called now, except Trevor Sudama’s, whose contribution perfectly illustrated the character of the debate. This was a man who (with others) brought down an elected government, handed power to the People’s National Movement (PNM) to “stop corruption,” and who still feels entitled to prate about constitutional and political probity. (As for the quality of his arguments, well, if you want to find out about horse-racing, or the Constitution, don’t ask the horse, or the Sudama.)

Less atrociously, many of the contributions on the news, the Parliament channel and so forth, sounded strangely similar. They ventriloquised the initial kneejerk resistance not merely in content but also style and tone: high emotion, righteous indignation, offence at the temerity of the People’s Partnership (PP) for interfering with the Constitution. (I’m curious as to how many of the angry protesters outside Parliament, who remonstrated with Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir and Dr Rolph Balgobin, could articulate any analysis beyond a slogan.) Objections were based on surreal political tableaus, knife-edge numerical scenarios, even predictions of impending violence in the event of a reversal. All ignored that a similar constitutional crisis had already happened, and benefitted the PNM in 2001-2002, and nothing close had ensued. The population back then, as I recall, barrelled along in its bovine, bemused way. Once the reforms were passed last week, the newspapers reported acceptance, bleary resignation, even vague optimism from the indispensable religious and nonpolitical observers.

The resistance, such as it was, dissipated like froth, though the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) announced its lawsuit, and the PNM followed soon after. But the issue (the provenance of the reflexive resistance) remains in the aftermath. Why? An insight into the crux comes from something Senator Balgobin said, reported in Ms Alexander’s article: when he votes against the Government, he’s seen as wise. When he votes with, his ethnicity comes up immediately. This apparently is what is implied, or said outright on the PNM talkshows, which no one seems to report on, but which continue their ethnic agenda unabashedly, openly. Ethnicity itself isn’t the issue here, it’s merely a large flag for/of it. The issue is the way we live now, the conventions we unthinkingly follow, the way we do things, which are largely the result of PNM social engineering. The society has been warped over half-century to favour the PNM’s survival. We’ve come to accept much of this—political and practical—as normal. Many people would be scandalised to know that what they think is “reasonable” and “right-thinking” are perversions of the very notions.

This ranges from the bromides of what constitutes “culture,” or who more Trini than who, to what are appropriate public behaviour, and national symbols and signifiers. (See umpteen previous editions of this column.) Example, when the sitting Attorney General and the Maha Sabha began to agitate about the national awards (about a decade ago), first, as excluding Indo- Trinidadians (statistically provable); and second, that the symbol of the Trinity Cross might make it unacceptable to non- Christian Trinidadians, the responses were similar to what we’ve seen recently. (How dare you people protest? Who do you think you are? Citizens with rights?) In general, with the ad hoc configuration of institutions, civil service, police service and even NGOs over decades, a system of values developed. Institutions are made of people, who make value decisions which inform policy and action, like who gets national awards, who gets prosecuted, who gets a scholarship, or a pass. The Express’s editorial on February 4, 2007, headlined “Political directives in the Police Service”, spoke of then prime minister, Patrick Manning’s intervention in police business regarding the arrest of an employee, and the general fact of such interference.

Mr Manning also attempted to unseat a sitting chief justice—separation of powers? Whazzat? He openly intervened in the civil service to block promotions. His government openly discriminated against the Maha Sabha in the award of a radio license. Apropos, is it accidental that the only person to be prosecuted for failing to report a bank account on his integrity form is Basdeo Panday? What about the other people whose names were published in the papers for failing to file forms at all? Another editorial that same year, on January 18, was titled “PM must clear the air on Jamaat deal”—apparently the leader of the Jamaat had filed an affidavit in a court matter alleging that Mr Manning “had made an illegal deal with the Muslimeen leader in order to secure victory in the last (2002) general elections.” Did any of this augur a constitutional or governmental crisis? Town said nope. It appears that the logic and episteme that apply when the PNM is in power suddenly and radically changes when another party is in power. This is Orwellian doublethink, or good old-fashioned hypocrisy. And it has everything to do with the unthinking, decadent way we are encouraged to live: as a “festival society,” devoid of historical consciousness, always in anticipation of the next fete (according to Milla Riggio). This is true of the masses, the leaders, the State. But it wasn’t always that way. The notions that inform the slogans that pass for political debate came from somewhere. (To be continued) 


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