Sunday 6th May, 2007

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Panday restoration troubles state of nerves

Welcome 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 Panday’s 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 position.

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 slavery—not even indentureship.

As always, UNC people have been too busy cherishing the past and revering the received doctrine to notice any turning of the world.

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.

“One can prevail over others because the leader is regarded as the messiah, especially by believers,” Prof La Guerre wrote, referring to Mr Panday’s triumph over would-be party challengers.

But, he warned: “Preoccupation with family feuds, personal jealousies and tribal blood revenge will distract from the larger goals of war.

“It took opposition politicians...from 1956 to 1996, to digest this basic law of politics. Let us hope they can learn from history.”

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 party’s dirty linen in a Balisier House back-room dryer, rather than letting it all hang out under the sun in the front yard—for 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.

“There 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 life.

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 Panday’s undying spirit: “The world could be collapsing around him, but he would say, ‘Let’s 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:

“Unless 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 UNC’s long-distance champion, only worsens the national nervous condition about the coming electoral race.

©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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