restoration troubles state of nerves
back is hardly the universal response since last Sunday, when
United National Congress devotees formally reconsecrated Basdeo
Panday as political leader.
Editorials and Street Talk, so far from welcoming
him back, marked his reconfirmation as a backward step for
the party and for the country.
The editorials expressed a widely-held fear of what Mr Pandays
implicit self-presentation as the next prime minister portends.
They see Mr Panday as aiding and abetting not just the certainty
of PNM victory, as expected by Patrick Manning, but also with
the size of majority that he covets.
According to conventional wisdom, then, Mr Panday is bad news
for his party and for the country.
Common-law or not, political leader of the UNC was always
the position entitlement Basdeo Panday was expected to hold.
Now that the Panday restoration has gone through the formality
of taking place, this is an outcome desired and needed both
by the man and the party.
He had never been far from the UNC high table. Elected chairman,
he was later acclaimed interim leader, even though deposed
as official Opposition Leader.
It had been his idea to give the party an access of renewal,
a chance to move on, with himself relegated to the status
of patron saint.
He had never, however, meant that to be seen as a ceremonial
Few UNC loyalists even tried to read his mind, let alone make
judgments or draw conclusions from what they read there.
They waited to hear him say what was on his mind. Then they
took that as the party line, as and when he said it.
Winston Dookeran and, initially, Jack Warner, assessed their
choices as either to love it, or leave it. Mr Warner taught
himself to love it.
Mr Dookeran never found love. He correctly judged the only
status available to himself inside the Panday UNC was that
of slaverynot even indentureship.
As always, UNC people have been too busy cherishing the past
and revering the received doctrine to notice any turning of
Unlike them, John La Guerre, a Panday watcher over decades,
suggested, in late 2005, that Mr Panday was capable of preserving
some dangerous illusions of his own.
can prevail over others because the leader is regarded as
the messiah, especially by believers, Prof La Guerre
wrote, referring to Mr Pandays triumph over would-be
But, he warned: Preoccupation with family feuds, personal
jealousies and tribal blood revenge will distract from the
larger goals of war.
took opposition politicians...from 1956 to 1996, to digest
this basic law of politics. Let us hope they can learn from
As a source of learning, history for Mr Panday is a book with
mixed messages. He continues to be impressed by the history
of the PNM.
He admires the discipline of the PNM. For him,
this quality is marked by keeping the partys dirty linen
in a Balisier House back-room dryer, rather than letting it
all hang out under the sun in the front yardfor the
media to see.
Enviously, he recognises the PNM as an institution.
He has a dream, he says, that the UNC will one
day achieve the status of an institution.
After 19 years, he lamented, the UNC still had trouble keeping
its house in order. In violation of its constitution, the
party has failed to hold a national congress every three months.
was always a crisis with which we have had to deal as a matter
of urgency, he said, conceding the reality that fire-fighting
emergencies overwhelm prescribed routines of regular party
For Basdeo Panday, however, the historical record of what
Dr La Guerre calls family feuds, personal jealousies
and tribal blood revenge holds less to learn from.
In prosecuting such internal struggles, Mr Panday
still endlessly expends political energies. Against in-party
critics, he deployed the famous attack word neemakaram.
To admonish political innocents around him, he issued the
worldly-wise, bully-pulpit preaching: Politics has a
morality of its own.
While still prime minister, in January, 2000, Mr Panday had
issued an enemies list that noticeably included nobody
in the opposition PNM, but such choice targets as Arthur NR
Robinson, Michael de la Bastide, Anthony Smart and Ken Gordon.
So important to Mr Panday are enemies that, where
they may not exist, he needs to invent them. Nor does the
record, in his later years, show unqualified success in effectively
eliminating the invented foes.
Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, enemy-in-chief of 2001, had earned
forgiveness by 2006. In 2007, Mr Maharaj earned credit as
leader of the defence team that brought Mr Panday his biggest
legal victory, the overturning of his integrity conviction.
In this election year, Winston Dookeran, leader of the UNC
faction that became Congress of the People, remains the most
potent enemy most recently invented by Mr Panday.
As if the rampaging, ruling PNM were not enough of a challenge!
As the La Guerre profile noted about Mr Pandays undying
spirit: The world could be collapsing around him, but
he would say, Lets move forward.
Mr Panday and the UNC, last week, resolved to move forward
together again, in defiance of fateful electoral signs of
another PNM triumph, and the sign-reading editorials.
Indeed, the sign-readers are not entirely committed to the
conventional wisdom that a united ruling party, with an unlimited
war chest, must roll like an irresistible force over divided
and tainted opposition choices.
Selwyn Ryan, last September, counselled the PNM against assuming
victory a foregone conclusion.
In December, Vishnu Bisram, director of the Nacta pollsters,
applied to T&T the lessons of the St Lucia election that
improbably restored former Prime Minister John Compton:
the government gets a handle on crime and cracks down on corruption,
we could see an upset at the next polls.
Confirmation now, that despite all his handicaps, Basdeo Panday
actually means to run as the UNCs long-distance champion,
only worsens the national nervous condition about the coming