When the 2020 general election bell rings, Tabaquite MP Dr Suruj Rambachan will not be an opponent on the political stage.
Rambachan bowed out recently after spending 52 years of his life in politics.
Rambachan, 70, will not seek re-election with the United National Congress (UNC), which he served and helped to build, but will be a mentor to the youth of the party under the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
He made the announcement two weeks ago at a political meeting hosted by the UNC in Gasparillo.
During his five decades in politics, Rambachan wore many hats—from ambassador to Brazil, MP, Chaguanas mayor, Senate minority leader, and deputy political leader of the UNC.
Rambachan was also assigned three ministerial portfolios during his 2010 to 2015 term under Persad-Bissessar—Foreign Affairs, Local Government, and Works and Infrastructure.
In 2014, he also acted as prime minister.
On Monday, the Sunday Guardian sat down with Rambachan at his constituency office in Gasparillo to talk about his political life, challenges, the UNC's missteps, and the way forward.
Hassanali: How would you describe your 52 years in politics?
Rambachan: It has been an exciting and satisfying 52 years. I also think that without power one is not able to help people in a very constructive way. I used power always for the benefit of the people. To me, that is very satisfying. I also know what it is not to be in office and not to have power. I would say those were some terrifying moments when people depended on you but you really could not deliver to them. The last four years the constituency of Tabaquite has been like that, where people expected the same level of performance and delivery between 2010 and 2015. The response of the Government has not been forthcoming.
What has been your most challenging task as a politician?
I don't see anything as a challenge but an opportunity to learn. If you approach life with an attitude of learning you will not be disappointed. When I lost the election in 1981 and 1990 I was not disappointed. If you see everything as a challenge you would become a complainant in life.
What was your lowest moment in politics?
When I was removed as Chaguanas Mayor in which Jack Warner and Ganga Singh had major roles to play. Believe it or not, that lasted two or three days and I was over that. I moved on. I went back to my consultancy and singing of Ramayan.
Were you part of a cabal in the People's Partnership Government?
Every prime minister, every political leader will have a group of advisers, and Kamla had a group of advisers. But this wasn't a cabal. She would have her close advisers. I would tell you something, she had an expanded group also. Kamla is one person who I have worked with who would sit at a table and ask everybody their opinion before she came to a conclusion or decision and you may not have agreed with it. Sometimes it led her to procrastinate. In the process of procrastination, I think the speed at which the decision should have been made may not have been made. I have had differences in her approaches and strategies.
You mentioned that the UNC needs to be revamped, do you think this should have been done before the 2015 general election?
The UNC started to rebrand the moment it lost the elections. Rebranding is a continuous process because it is a response to change.
With rebranding, do you think the UNC could win the 2020 general election?
We are fast approaching the case where we must have some kind of unity in the country. It has to be unity that will be sustainable. I personally don't believe that members of trade unions necessarily vote in block. I think the UNC can win in the next election. I think Persad-Bissessar has the capability to bring this great element together.
What was the UNC's biggest mistake leading up to the 2015 general election?
I think we allowed the population to believe lies. A lot of things were said about the UNC that was not true. The narrative that was created by the PNM and to some extent the labour movement about the UNC gained tremendous ground and took over from the performance of the party. There is no doubt in my mind we were a performing party. The PNM is interested in winning elections but they are poor in governance. You can say the opposite for the UNC. We are very good at governance, but we also need to know how to win elections and to stay in power.
What was the People's Partnership major faux pas during their tenure?
I think we suffered at times from the number of people who had to be removed from government. That was something that caused us some harm. I think we also needed to sell ourselves a little more to the population. What is interesting, people are beginning to see and compare our performance.
Do you think Persad-Bissessar is the best person to lead the UNC?
I believe she has the experience as a prime minister. Secondly, she is an intelligent person who I believe in my heart has learnt from her experiences. I don't think she will make the same mistakes. I think she is much tougher than she was in 2010 to 2015. This is why she has the courage to revamp the UNC even if that means that people are going to get hurt in the process or some people are not going to get their seats. I think she still has currency in terms of being a leader. People might argue that she lost a number of elections and that is also true. I think people are beginning to compare two leaders at this moment.
Do you think the older heads in the party should step aside and make room for new blood?
I don't want to speak for them. I can only speak for myself. I really wanted to give Kamla Persad-Bissessar the space to create the change. I wanted to set the example. I think I have done that. I think, though, that I have awaken a certain consciousness in the party and people. You must have a mix of experience and fresh ideas.
Do you think the PNM will come after you for the Point Fortin to San Fernando Highway, seeing that they have asked for a commission of enquiry into the project?
Why you say come after me? Everything is there in paper. Everything is there at Nidco and so on. I have no problems with them investigating the highway or anything like that. They spoke about the valuations, Nidco was in charge of the valuations. They were done by private treaty, a system that started under the PNM. Those acquisitions of properties started way before we took over the process of government. You don't begin to acquire properties when you start to build a highway. You begin to acquire properties way back.
So are you singing the mantra of Persad-Bissessar that your hands are clean and heart is pure in the highway project?
Yes, I did what I had to do. I know it was done above board.