Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, according to media reports, intends to pursue the lawsuit against a United National Congress candidate in spite of the candidate’s public apology. Of course, it’s Dr Rowley’s prerogative to take whatever action he deems appropriate. He is after all the Prime Minister and his office ought to be respected.

But as usual, it’s the change from the dollar that makes the most noise. Politicians can’t seem to leave well enough alone. They must squeeze every last drop of emotional support from a mishap. Dr Rowley, without basis, implicated the leader of the UNC in the candidate’s careless ad-libs by concluding that the candidate was pleasing his political leader when he uttered the contemptuous statements.

The question I wish to ask is whether Rohan Sinanan was pleasing the leader of the PNM when he said that not all Indians in politics are corrupt…only Indians in the UNC… ). This statement runs deep. People’s ethnicity is embedded in their DNA and is as personal and precious as the blood that flows through their veins. If there’s one fundamental law of human nature that’s worth underscoring is—don’t trifle with people’s race.

What is unsettling about Minister Sinanan’s rant is that the Opposition Leader did not identify him by race but as a cabinet minister. It begs the question: Does Sinanan—an East Indian in an ostensibly Afro-Trinidad party—feel a need to overcompensate for his presence? Or was he using race to buy emotional support for his perceived monetary windfalls?

Many people have expressed the view that he delivered a precious gift to Dr Rowley. An East Indian demeaning all East Indians in politics in a political system that pits the two major races against each other. I have never heard an Afro-Trinidadian politician sell out his or her race for politics. That would be a mortal sin considering the brutal treatment of Africans throughout history and their struggle to rise to prominence. In fact, the Afro-Trinidadian members in the UNC stuck up for their people. There were even reports of a black caucus operating inside the UNC.

The “picky-head” comment from the UNC deputy leader was indeed unfortunate. She could have simply referred to the Afro-Trinidadians who feel neglected by the PNM. Then again, politicians switch parties not necessarily because they believe in the other party’s ideologies, but to use the platform to vent their personal vendettas.

I can’t help but feel that Sinanan’s nani and nana must be turning in their graves. After decades of trials and tribulations under colonialism, people of the East Indian diaspora made grave sacrifices for the betterment of their children.

For those who may choose to forget or wish to ignore—under colonialism, East Indians were virtually abandoned. On seeing their plight, the Canadian Presbyterian church, through its missionaries, established schools and institutions to liberate them following the end of East Indian Indentureship. Canadian Mission schools for Indians (CMI) was changed to the Canadian Mission (CM) schools when we gained independence in 1962.

A century later, the East Indian diaspora, propelled by audacious gumption, was able to break through an armour of abject poverty and (western) cultural stigmatisation to rise to prominence.

Corruption in government has nothing to do with race. Both the PNM and UNC grappled with allegations of misbehaviour while in office. The problem is our archaic Constitution which provides little or no provision for check and balance and transparency and as such, self-aggrandisement comes easy.

Based on media reports, Rohan Sinanan is seemingly the beneficiary of State-acquired lands for Government projects which fall under the purview of his ministry. Though it may seem suspicious, chances are, it could be above board. But had the same situation occur under a UNC-led government, would Dr Rowley have been so sober in his response? Hell no. You would have heard how many routes the road could have taken to avoid placing a bridge on a UNC member’s land.

I am no expert on human psychology, but from conversations I’ve heard, I believe that Rohan Sinanan’s “Indian” attack and the inaction of the Prime Minister to quell any potential fallout has agitated a significant number of “liberal” and “moderate” East- Indian voters into self-reflection.

Politics in T&T is seen by many as an avenue for “quick-cash” and upward mobility and does not necessarily attract the most intellectual and tactful people. A diplomatically-minded politician would use recriminatory tactics, not race talk, to tackle accusations of misbehaviour.

The thing about race talk in our highly polarised political culture (along ethnic lines), is that it is mercurial and deceptively seen as a weapon to stir-up turbulent emotions in voters. But not unlike a storm, the impact is hard to predict and control. Perhaps Rohan Sinanan’s race talk has served an unintended purpose, in that it blew emotional support in the other direction.

RP Joseph

San Fernando

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