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A faction within the United National Congress (UNC) is backing Trade and Industry Minister Vasant Bharath to challenge Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in the upcoming internal elections. The minister, Sunday Guardian understands, has the blessings of former leader Basdeo Panday and former party chairman Jack Warner. Bharath is quietly making inroads in Felicity, in Warner’s Chaguanas West constituency, and has been involved in small, low-key meet-and-greets with the residents since December.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has given her blessings to Bharath to start campaigning in Chagauanas West, in preparation for the 2015 general election. They speculate that unknowing to Persad-Bissessar, Warner has also given his blessings and support to Bharath since there is a plan for Warner to reunite with the UNC under new management.
People close to the unfolding situation requested anonymity, but said Warner “had to be aware” of the walkabouts as he (Warner) is a “hands-on representative” and is always aware of what was happening in his constituency. “Warner cannot say he does not know. Nothing goes on in his constituency that he does not know about,” one party insider said. As the party prepares not only for its own internal elections but for the 2015 general elections, the UNC is said to be looking at removing some ministers from the line-up.
One minister rumoured to get the axe is Minister of Tourism Stephen Cadiz. Sources said they were likely to lose the seat if Cadiz contests. “See? That ties in with what I’m saying. The minister (name called) walking in Jack constituency with Jack blessing, because Jack looking to try for Chaguanas East instead and give his blessings to (name called) to take over Chaguanas West,” he said.
Jack: That is foolish talk; Vasant don’t have what it takes
Contacted, Warner told the Sunday Guardian, “That is foolish talk. “You should not write any and every foolishness you hear. If, however, you do persist to write, then all I have to ask is that you quote what I have said.” When told that the information came from within the UNC, but outside of the alleged cabal, he then admitted that he had heard that Bharath was going to contest the leadership. “I am aware of that, but it will burn itself out,” he said.
Warner said he did not think Bharath had what it takes to take over the UNC. “Not in our collective lifetime,” he said.
Bharath had leadership aspirations in 2010
The Sunday Guardian understands that Bharath had leadership aspirations during the 2010 leadership elections. He was also being groomed by Panday for leadership, party sources said. Bharath, the Sunday Guardian was told, even withheld his support from Persad-Bissessar and only grudgingly voted against Panday.
In a brief telephone interview on Thursday, Panday said he too had heard the rumour that Bharath was going to toss his hat in the election ring. He said every politician had aspirations to become leader, but warned Bharath that the internal electoral machinery may be against him. “The ‘cabal’, if I may use that word, controls the ballot boxes, the transport of the ballot boxes, the storage of the ballot boxes after the election. It is very difficult to win against that,” he said.
“That is his biggest challenge,” he said. He said during the build-up to the 2010 election, he was never furnished with an electoral listing. “They were the ones in control,” he said. Panday said the internal elections were already overdue by a year, and it must be called before the end of this month. “I am concerned about the legality of last year’s postponement. The elections are overdue, and the question now is whether they are holding office legally,” he said.
Vasant: I have been walking in Chaguanas West
Trade Minister Vasant Bharath, meanwhile, confirmed that he has been walking about in Warner’s constituency for just under a month. In a telephone interview on Friday, Bharath said Warner was aware of his presence in the area and even promoted it during one of his (Warner’s) cottage meetings in the area. Bharath refused to comment on whether his presence in the area was an indictment on Warner’s representation.
“I have no comment to make on that. At the end of the day, I am on very good terms with every minister,” Bharath said. He also refused to comment on speculations that he would be contesting the internal leadership elections which is expected to be called sometime this year. “The date has not even been set yet,” he said. When told that the Sunday Guardian was informed that a faction within the party supported him for the leadership role, he said “that is news to me.”
He said the walkabouts were more to gather information for the Government as to where and who needed assistance in the area. “I have been walking around that area to assist the needy people.” In the last month, Bharath has provided health support for three children in the area, including one needing surgery for a cleft lip and palate. “I am simply lobbying on their behalf.” Bharath said he did not promote or advertise his mission in the Chaguanas West area, because it was not about politics but about getting the work done.
“There are many needy families in this area.” Bharath’s work is akin to that of a shadow minister. He said there was no sinister plan to hijack the constituency from Warner.
This is not Bharath’s first quiet constituency walkabout. He did political walks in the St Augustine area for almost one year before former MP for the area Winston Dookeran ran for the post. Due to the desire for a partnership, the situation was fraught with confusion over which party should be given which safe seat to fight. In the end, the COP’s Dookeran got the seat in front of Bharath. Bharath said his weekend walks will continue in the area.
...now Club 2014 formed
A new group within the UNC, which is calling itself Club 2014, is set to take over the leadership of the party from PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar. The group, which is made up of some key people in the UNC, has been formed to challenge Persad-Bissessar in the party’s upcoming internal elections. A date for the election is yet to be announced. The people who make up Club 2014, sources said, have information on the party’s internal election process.
The group is being fashioned after the now defunct Caucus for Love, Unity and Brotherhood (Club 88), which was established by Basdeo Panday. In 1988, Panday, along with Kelvin Ramnath (deceased), John Humphrey and Trevor Sudama were expelled from the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) after a disagreement with its leader ANR Robinson. Sources said Panday is also a part of Club 2014. After severing ties with the NAR, Panday then founded Club 88, which later became the UNC.