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Watch language on campaign trail

Published: 
Thursday, August 21, 2014

I don’t know what to make of that picture taken last week of former government minister Verna St Rose Greaves hands akimbo apparently blocking the path of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. 

Persad-Bissessar was on her way to Parliament to attend the nation’s business while St Rose Greaves was taking part in a protest demonstration outside the chamber in Port-of-Spain. At first glance, to me the newspapers’ photographs all looked menacing and before rushing to print and as I always say I do not like to jump to conclusions and would rather think it out before judging anybody, especially if my conclusions are wrong.

So I spoke with two newspaper photographers who told me that St Rose Greaves, deliberately put herself in the path of the PM while Persad-Bissessar smilingly ignored the obvious attempt by Verna to do whatever she deliberately sought to do.

One newspaper carried a shot in which one of the Prime Minister’s special branch detail actually placed himself between both women thereby allowing the Prime Minister to proceed without much hindrance. 

Another newspaper carried the picture with a caption saying “Former government minister Verna St Rose Greaves centre, makes body contact with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar outside the Parliament building.” I am sure that many readers would interpret this episode how they please and would have their own views on what transpired that day.

Now it is all well and good for citizens to engage themselves in legitimate protest over what they perceive to be violation of their rights or whatever issue they may have with the government or anyone for that matter. That is our undeniable right and with it comes a certain amount of decency and decorum respecting the rights of others and unless I am totally wrong, St Rose Greaves could have found another method of showing her displeasure.

I don’t know what grievance she had with Persad-Bissessar, if any at all, and for a former Cabinet member who once walked the corridor of power, she must have known better. In hindsight has she reconsidered her conduct on that occasion?

What if a supporter of the PP coalition was annoyed at what she did and decided to take matters in their own hands. What if a supporter of the PNM or a supporter of the other protesting groups were to following her example and did the same thing? Can you imagine what could have happened that day?

As I said, nobody is above criticism not even the government, but there is limit to what is permitted by a peaceful protest and some people told me if this was in some other country Rose St Greaves would have ended up in trouble with the law. Passion can run high on these occasions and it is very unwise for leaders (I don’t know what or who she was leading that day) to appear by words or actions to be enticing others to break the law.

It will take one incident like that to “work up” somebody to play the fool and in such a volatile situation any number can play. I would relate an incident that happened at Woodford Square one night some years ago at which former Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams was delivering an address. He was greeted on arrival by demonstrators who converged on both sides of his car while being driven into the venue. The same treatment was meted out to him on his departure.

As if on cue immediately after his car sped off a throng of police officers descended on the demonstrators armed with batons and started to share licks left, right and centre. Even reporters had to scamper, one of us being pinned on the steel railing outside the Knox Street library.

It was an incident I will never forget and I considered myself lucky not to have been beaten as there was no distinction made by the police between working journalists and the protesters. I am doing so only to warn politicians to be judicious with the choice of language on the campaign trail for the next general elections due by September next year.

Already the two major parties are holding what appears to be warm-up sessions in the build-up to their respective campaigns for the polls which are expected to be hotly contested. I, however, detect some unpleasant words are being used by certain politicians and again I am appealing to the guilty parties to desist from using potentially harmful statements, to debate issues and not personalities.

Picong is always welcome but please do not descend into the gutter and remember keep it clean as we all have a nation to build together.