?It was just 29 months ago that Kamla Persad-Bissessar was fighting for her political life.
Sidelined by the UNC boys club on the brink of the 2007 general election, Persad-Bissessar publicly protested with her No Woman, No Cry dirge. That resolve seemingly sparked a tenacity and sense of purpose she had subdued for years, to the point of being teased as Basdeo Panday's ever-loyal political dulahin. Today, the self-same Persad-Bissessar is the prime ministerial candidate in a general election that, frankly, is hers to lose. It is the political Cinderella story of our times. It's the narrative of an ignored and sidestepped capable aspirant undone for years by a combination of her dull subservience to a declining leader and the heavy-roller impact of fiercely ambitious dragons. It is quite possibly the ultimate political comeback story in T&T's history–and it's far from finished.
Persad-Bissessar deserves credit for the quick-fire political union she is now heading, in spite of its patchwork and hastily crafted outlook. She brought her newly-minted stature and appeal to the negotiating table, although I hear Winston Dookeran was the chief architect of the final unity product. Dookeran, it was, who insisted on integral roles for Makandal Daaga, Ashworth Jack and Errol McLeod, and this represents a fundamental acknowledgment of the nuances of this diverse land. Daaga has an historic place in post-colonial T&T, his aborted people's revolution having given flesh and blood to the earlier war cries of nationalistic Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams. Current social scientists may well be uncharitable with respect to Daaga's contribution to the social and economic modernisation of our country.�
But Prime Minister Patrick Manning was malicious and offensive in questioning from where the opposition figures were able to "dredge him up." The vile remarks characterises naked and barren politicking about a vital social movement from which Manning, no doubt, also benefited. Indeed, the PNM should ideally now have made its peace with Daaga and saluted his courage, vision and purpose. In 1971, just after he quelled the protests, Dr Williams had responded to several of its campaign demands and moved to bolster the people's sector and widen working class participation. The Ashworth Jack pact offers a fresh start to meaningful Port-of-Spain-Scarborough relations, one which, hopefully, would redound in improved delivery of goods and services to the sister isle. Improvement of Tobago's infrastructure has, regrettably, not pre-empted the need for a little old lady of Caanan to travel to Port-of-Spain for a birth certificate. Nor has it obviated a Bon Accord businessman hopping across to resolve taxation or trade issues.
That's the regrettable aspect of the Orville London model of development, one which Jack would want to systematically improve. The accord with Mc Leod and the apparent non-aggression pact with trade unions represent an intriguing political development and mirrors deep frustration over what labour men insist is an anti-worker Manning agenda. Initiatives of the Manning administration have had the effect of uniting long-polarised unions and, with some clever footworks, some have been wooed–for the time being, at least–into the Persad-Bissessar camp. But she would be painfully aware that deals with unions are always difficult and brittle, especially in an uncertain economy. In all of this, Persad-Bissessar must be conscious that to whom much is given politically, much is expected. Her amalgamation has certain features of the National Alliance for Reconstruction romanticism of 1986, although it lacks much of the sheen and idealism. For one, there was insufficient time for the arrangement to be properly peddled. In addition, there are some current frontline players who are both tried and tired, and the platform chemistry is still to be distilled.
She has an urgent task of showcasing bright, new professionals–and now the half-baked, barely-literate "youth speakers" who open the batting on both PNM and UNC platforms. More than that, Persad-Bissessar must unravel specific policies and programmes to deal with the national humbugs, those which Manning have botched and mismanaged. She must, most urgently, abandon the lightweight lingo of her campaign meetings, which, according to some speculators, emerged from the big-bucks Barack Obama canvassers. For several crucial reasons, the Obama campaign was markedly different from Persad-Bissessar's candidacy, and so, too, is our political fabric. "Come, hold my hands" may be ideal prose for a Sunday evening children's party, but not for a new political leader with much to prove to a burdened nation. She has a clear and present responsibility to outline specific policy proposals, to put costs to them and to explain how they would improve the quality of life in a nation of violence, poverty and underdevelopment. These measures must embrace all the essential national trouble spots.
Time surely is not on Persad-Bissessar's side, especially as she wages war against Manning's recklessly negative campaign. The Prime Minister has still not told a befuddled electorate why the need to return to the polls at mid-term, nor has he said how governance would be improved with a further reshuffling of his already depleted pack of candidates. Staunch partisans aside, many people would prefer not hear Manning's damning remarks–that sometimes border on slander–on selected political foes. T&T is too badly afflicted by social and economic woes to permit an incumbent leader to grandstand with callous platform picong. A country dazed by an abrupt election campaign must insist on objective and reasoned analyses of the pressing issues.
But the larger responsibility is on the still untried Persad-Bissessar, who must urgently and clearly tell T&T how she can take us all to our fullest potential. In her initial leadership campaign, she must know she is on virtual national political trial each time she mounts the platform, and that she must carries the aspirations of her throngs of devotees. Yes, Kamla Persad-Bissessar must step up the tempo, become more focused and specific, and must espouse similar single-mindedness to that which has today made her a candidate for Prime Minister. She must, as chutney star Drupatee had rendered in a different setting, roll up the tassa.
Roll it up, roll it up...