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Taking a ‘joke’ too far
Almost one year ago I interviewed the Minority Leader of the Tobago House of Assembly, Assemblyman Ashworth Jack, who told me—and which was carried in the Guardian—that the People’s National Movement would use the race card in the THA’s upcoming election.
At that time the date was not fixed and I thought to myself that Jack was playing politics as usual as is the modus operandi of most politicians. Of course the PNM denied any such proposal, and Jack alleged that while the PNM is defending its 12-year hold on the Assembly, it was not openly admitting it had adopted such a secret strategy.
Jack said PNM party activists were conducting an underground anti-Indo Trini campaign, visiting homes and claiming that if the Tobago Organisation of the People should win the subsequently announced January 21 polls, “Indians would take over the sister island” by buying up lands and so on.
Jack continued making the accusation straight up to the present day and, as expected, the PNM wasted no time in repeating its denial.
However, the whole game took an ominous turn when the PNM’s candidate for Belle Garden/Roxborough/Delaford and Deputy Chief Secretary of the THA, Assemblyman Hilton Sandy, told a PNM campaign meeting last Friday in part: “Be strong. Do not let anyone distract you; you are focused, you are on a good ship, because as I told another crew down the road there is a ship at Calcutta waiting to sail to Tobago…Calcutta ship is coming down for you.”
After the media “bussed the mark” the PNM rushed into damage-control mode and on Monday, Sandy, having been caught out, was made to apologise for what he said was a jocular remark which was taken out of context.
You know, there is a maxim which states that where there is smoke there is fire, and trying to take Sandy’s apology as a genuine act of contrition, I added, multiplied, subtracted and divided that “joke,” which incidentally was delivered at least twice by Sandy, and nowhere could I see the humour in the alleged attempt at jollification.
I don’t think there is anybody who likes political picong more than me; hence the reason why I try to attend political meetings of all the parties, where you get some choice rib-tickling remarks. But that Calcutta thing does not fall into that category. If it was really intended to be a joke it fell flat simply because of its utter distastefulness and it would surely give credibility to Jack’s allegation, made so long ago, and also those who are opposed to the PNM in this hotly contested race.
It was good that Sandy found the time to apologise, but given Jack’s and other TOP functionaries’ claim all along that the PNM was going to use the race bait, it is difficult for the anti-PNM forces to accept it in good faith. Another disturbing factor is that although he has since disassociated himself from the “joke,” the party’s political leader, Leader of the Opposition Keith Rowley, who was present at the meeting on Friday, only did so after the story broke in the media.
If I were Dr Rowley I would have immediately jumped onto the stage, snatched the microphone from my political colleague and right there and then strongly condemned that “joke” as totally inappropriate, and my great PNM would never be party to such divisive behaviour. Whether Sandy’s attempt at being a comic has done the PNM serious damage to its efforts to retain the assembly, January 21 is not too far way.
One thing is certain, though, that more contentious statements can be expected in the run-up to the polling date and in that mould the country is awaiting the evidence of the THA Chief Secretary, Orville London, owning several properties in Tobago and havingsome shares in a gas station, as claimed by National Security Minister Jack warner.
And Assemblyman Jack made another allegation on Monday: that the THA had bought surveillance equipment to spy on him. I think that Jack is wrong, because I cannot imagine who in Tobago would want to monitor the day-to-day activities of anyone on the island. I hope I am wrong in my assessment—but look at how Jack’s first allegation turned out…
• Clevon Raphael, a media consultant, has been a media practitioner for the past 49 years, 47 as a writer.
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