(Trinidad Express) “Don’t shoot the messenger.”
That’s the defence which Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary general Sat Maharaj offered up for National Security Minister Jack Warner yesterday.
On Friday, Warner had dismissed the magnitude of a march inspired by the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) and joined by various forces against the Government, in stating: “Where was the diversity? Where were the East Indians, the mixed faces, the Chinese, the whites …where were the young people?”
Warner has already faced criticism from political analysts for questioning the ethnic make-up of the march.
But Maharaj defended the comments made by Warner on the march which drew thousands to the streets of downtown Port of Spain, and he, in turn, attacked PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley for “inciting division in the community”.
“Why blame the commentator? He was only commenting on the nature of the crowd,” said Maharaj.
During last week’s censure motion by the PNM against Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Warner had charged Rowley for attacking Ramlogan because of his race.
He said Indians were discriminated against for 30 years, and from 1956-1986, not a single Hindu sat in the Cabinet. And the SDMS had to go to the Privy Council to get a radio licence while Port of Spain Mayor Louis Lee Singh had his licence approved in three days by the PNM Government.
In response, Maharaj said the PNM is not reaching out to the Indian community.
“That is a fact. There is always this coded message, ‘South of the River’, which on its own had divided the country. The name ‘Partnership’ indicates the effort made to embrace the country. There are mis-steps but they are not as much as the PNM. We are not talking about Calder Hart any more. We are talking about Section 34,” he said.
Maharaj observed that the Government was only two and half years old, and any coalition would suffer from some sort of fragmentation, but “this does not mean the Government has to collapse”.
He said Rowley was only “inciting one side of the people”.
“How many trade unions were not there? Politicians came out from their graveyards to join. You organise a march on a Friday evening in Port of Spain…you already have a built-in audience of about 100 people. As a politician, I would have advised them of that time and go down Frederick Street; you will get the curiosity-seekers, you’d block traffic, which would have given strength to your march,” he said.
But Maharaj’s statement did not find agreement with former prime minister Basdeo Panday.
Panday described Warner’s statement as “extremely sad and unfortunate”.
“No one should stir up racial sentiments for political gain. That is dangerous. We can do without the racial feelings,” he said.
He told the Sunday Express he was not a “stupid coolie from San Juan” and believes the Government is clearly at a low point, and it is time to take stock.
He said the People’s Partnership’s tenure so far has been a “great disappointment” to the people for a Government which came into power with “tremendous support”.
On Friday’s march, Panday said: “It’s an exercise in futility, but numbers are not the point. What is relevant is that there was a march and people were dissatisfied. The Government should do well to listen to the message, or they will pay dearly for it. All over the world, dissatisfaction has led people to resort to violence.”
Former parliamentarian, soldier and 1970 mutineer Raffique Shah said he was not surprised by Warner’s comments. He observed that in Trinidad and Tobago, politics was driven by ethnic composition.
He said questions are being raised on the size of the march, but if 10,000 people turned up as suggested by Warner, it was “something to note”.
“It is very difficult to get 10,000 on a Friday midday to march. It was an exercise in futility. The Prime Minister is not moving either minister (Warner or Ramlogan). If they go, the Government will go because of the intricate nature of the relationships. But the demonstration made a statement,” said Shah.
“In comparison to 1970, 10,000 is significant. It was a power-shaking protest movement which shook the foundations of the then PNM government. On rare occasions, you see numbers like that. Outside of a political rally, people just don’t turn out to march like that. If you accept that 10,000 was the figure, it was significant. The Government should be concerned,” he told the Sunday Express.
A PNM source told the Express: “The PNM will not comment on race or the ethnic make-up of the march. It’s not something we do. The people will decide the make-up of the march, first, by their attendance and, second, by who they saw marching with them. It will not be what Jack Warner has said, so even responding to him is to validate his indignity and his nonsense about race. It should not be a debate after thousands took to the streets to affirm a position.”
When it comes to the Section 34 fiasco though, Sat Maharaj is of the view that “if one had to go, the entire 42 has to go, too”, referring to all those who passed the Bill.
“The entire Senate also has to go, too, because they all supported that Bill.”
“They are accusing the Attorney General of misleading them. If people are so foolish to be misled, they should not be in positions of authority. They all supported the Bill,” Maharaj told the Sunday Express.
Maharaj described Section 34 as a “mistake” but observed that governments have made many mistakes over the years.
Section 34 is a clause in the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act which, upon early proclamation on August 30, allowed several people, among them financiers of the United National Congress (UNC) Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson and former ministers Carlos John, Russell Huggins and Brian Kuei Tung, to apply to the courts to have their cases dismissed.
The early proclamation has raised questions about the Government’s integrity, a conspiracy to have these men walk free and a call by the Opposition for the heads of former minister of justice Herbert Volney, AG Ramlogan and Warner.
“It was a mistake. It was wrong to select one part to proclaim. The proclamation is where the mistake was made, and the Cabinet supported that. One man paid with his head,” Maharaj told the Sunday Express.