Man does not live by bread alone; he also eats roti!

Man does not live by bread alone; he also eats roti!
Photo : Vasant Bharath

In the recent budget debate much was asked about tertiary education and national security. It appears that every UNC member has an interest in national security but avoids speaking for agriculture and culture. It seems to me that there is a psychological fear that when one identifies with agriculture and culture one runs the risk of being labelled ethno-centric or racist. Never mind that people who voted for you are farmers!

The presentation by MP Vidya Gayadeen-Gopeesingh was excellent. It was a well-researched presentation. She pointed to the importation of so many ground provisions, bananas and other vegetables that can be grown locally.

MP Gayadeen-Gopeesingh mentioned the failure of the government to patent the Moruga Scorpian pepper and the closure of Caroni Green by the PNM despite the fact that it was funded by the European Union and was making a profit.

The UNC has a duty to represent the interest of farmers of this country. It is not good enough to throw up a  person to present the UNC position on agriculture only because there is a budget debate. The UNC must place agriculture on the front burner in the making of policies to strengthen the economy.

I want to commend Vasant Bharrath for giving agriculture a facelift when he was a minister. One worker in the Ministry of Agriculture remarked: “It was the first time I felt proud to tell people that I was working in the Ministry of Agriculture.”

I must remind you of a former politician who was given the agriculture portfolio and he referred to it as the “Ministry of pumkin and bhagie.” ( I understand that the minister was incensed by the removal of two large chunks – Forestry and Fisheries- from his Ministry and hence his outburst.) This was an indictment against agriculture which needed a boosting. The remarks by the former minster only demonstrated the low status of agriculture in the community. One social activist pointed to me that agriculture is still viewed as a “coolie ting.”

Photo : MP Vidya-Gayadeen Gopeesingh

This brings me to another point- the choice of music played on the UNC Monday Night Forum. It is a barrage of soca and other creole music. The UNC platform avoids playing Indian music despite the audience being 90% Indians. (One person said 100% minus the Bell Man, Jearlean John and Wade Mark).

 Man does not live by bread alone; he also eats roti! Pride in one culture and ethnicity is the root of success. Despite its repeated failure in managing the country the PNM continues to survive because it never failed to identify with the heart-beat of its supporters. Pan, Kaiso, Parang, Carnival-these are the ingredients that nourishes the PNM.  A citizenry does not need only roads, houses and jobs.

Indian culture is marginalised in the school system. In every school there are music teachers but none to teach Indian music. There are scores of steel pans, drum sets and drums. One school has a harmonium, a dholak and a dhantal but no one to teach. Yet, the UNC MPs are going to shy away from speaking about the low budgetary allocation for Indian culture!

Recently I had the privilege to be invited to the National Tassarama Competition and was deeply impressed with the high level of performances by the contestants. When I enquired about funding from the Ministry of Culture and State Enterprises I was told there was none. I also learned from Dr Vijay Ramlal Rai, President of the Tassa Association, that it was not only the PNM that ignored funding of Tassarama but also the PPP during its tenure in office.

The UNC must heed the lessons they learned in the Chaguanas West by-election. What accounted for that 4 to 1 defeat? If the UNC has to move forward it must analyse this defeat? It was the biggest rejection by the heartland of the party. Felicity’s heart beat is Ramleela not Dance Hall and Soca. Felicity has its hero in Lakhan Karia, not Bob Marley and Buju Bantam.  Has the UNC ever played Lakhan Karia’s music on its platform at Cacandee Junction?

St Lucian-born Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, in his acceptance speech titled “The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory” for the Nobel Prize in 1992 spoke of “Felicity is a village in Trinidad on the edge of the Caroni Plain…” and the “epic dramatization of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana…”  Walcott also wrote: “The Sadhu of Couva” to highlight the struggles and determination of Seedas Sadhu to construct the Temple in the Sea amidst resistance from the colonial government. Do I need a Walcott to remind me of my history and heritage?

I am not at all advocating for an Indian party with only Indian music and agriculture as the only ministry of concern. I believe in a policy that would give equal opportunity to all cultural expressions. It would also bring to an end a culture of manipulation-changing names, conversion to Christianity and our dark skinned  girls latching on to a red man who can only afford a box of chicken and chip and a lodging in a 10 by 10 shack.