A leader is one who is disruptive, bold, daring and prepared to break ranks with society for his conviction; not one who is part of the status quo. Throughout history, from Napoleon to Mao, from Gandhi to Guevera, these leaders challenged the status quo to shape a new society that is more inclusive and embracing.
The early middle class in the Indian community of T&T was drawn from the Indo-Christian community. Sacrificing their dharma for an education and professional qualifications, these Indo-Christians made representations to improve the lot of the masses. George Fitz Patrick (1875-1920), President and founder of the EINA (East Indian National Association) and F.E.M. Hussein (1880-1936) were such individuals. Sarran Teelucksingh (1889-1945), an Anglican, served as President of the Sanatan Dharma Association, a fore runner to the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha.
Adrian Cola Rienzi’s (1905-72) middle-class background and his intellectual prowess saw him becoming a barrister and identifying with the struggles of the working class. In the 1930s Rienzi joined the labour protest and provided legal advice to T.U.B. Butler. Rienzi not only founded and served as President of the OWTU and the All Trinidad Sugar Estate and Factory Workers Trade Union but also led protests against the “literacy test,” a sinister intent of the creole society to deny Indians the franchise in the general elections of 1946.
The leader who, more than any other, came out and disrupted the status quo was Bhadase Sagan Maraj (1920-71). Maraj started his public life as President of the Caroni Indian Association in his 20s. By this time, he was an established businessman and well known for his generosity. In 1949 when Doon Pandit got his MBE, Maraj took the lead and organized a massive gathering at the Monarch Cinema in Tunapuna. In 1950 Maraj was elected a member of the Legislature representing the constituency of Tunapuna and in 1955 had formed the PDP-Progressive Democratic Party.
Bold and daring, Maraj merged the two major Hindu organizations – Sanatan Dharma Board of Control and the Sanatan Dharma Association- to form the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha in 1952 and immediately embarked on a school building program. Maraj also encouraged the building of mandirs across the land and made generous contributions. He also pioneered public celebration of Divali and Ramleela and later made representation for Divali to be granted a public holiday. When the Principal of St Augustine Campus of The UWI wanted to deny the celebration of Divali, Maraj intervened and the Principal had to give way.
Maraj was wealthy. Owner of racing pools and cinemas, and two sprawling mansions, Maraj could have ignored the high illiteracy rate among Indians and particularly Hindus and live in splendor and luxury. Instead, he rallied the Hindu community and launched a school building program. Interestingly, the individuals he brought to serve in the Maha Sabha’s executive were men of high social standing and worthy because he knew that he was not embarking on a game of hop scotch. Among them were Ram Suratsingh, Jang Bahadoorsingh, Simbhoonath Capildeo, Rampersad Bholai, Jankie Persad Sharma, Chanka Maharaj etc.
Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Ming, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, some of the leaders that led struggles against imperialist forces in the 20th century, were inspired by social justice and equal opportunity. Today their struggles continue to inspire social movements across the globe.
Regretfully, many people failed to overcome the Sugriva fever. Deprived of his kingdom for many years, Sugriva was engrossed in merriment and forget his promise made to Rama. In a similar manner, our politicians promise the electorate to serve them and on assuming office got derailed.
Hindus need to build a strong middle-class with a conviction to provide leadership in this rudderless ship of State. While we need the B.M.W., Prado and Range Rover and the occasional trip to Punta Cana and Cancun and other destinations, the stakes are too high to leave the management of the country in the hands of others who continue to do a terrible job.
Hindu leaders have to be more vocal on the many social ills affecting the society. Bhoe Tewarie, MP for Caroni, estimated that 25% of the 60,000 Hindu households are living below poverty line. Hunger, unemployment, rising cost of living, a failing education system and the destruction of the agricultural sector are real issues that cannot be ignored. Despite this reality, Hindu leadership utter not a single word of protest. This is an indictment against sanity and wellness!
Leadership means looking after the welfare of the wider community. To be absorbed in one welfare and ignore the wellbeing of the wider community is not Ramraj but Ravan Raj. Marking time and occupying office is not leadership but plain selfishness and incompetence.