Like Mahatma Gandhi, Basdeo Panday’s life was his message, one that permeated the nation-state of Trinidad and Tobago, and this fully evolved when he along with George Weekes, then President of the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), among others led the march from San Fernando to Port- of-Spain in the mid-1970’s with the emblem to knit oil and sugar workers aimed at promoting national unity for peace and bread.
It was really a national event in the realm of national politics, which was aimed to protest and as a show of solidarity against Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams and his People’s National Movement. The historical development of Panday’s maturity showed up and it, therefore, formed part of his input in the national political system. We must not forget in this march, the leaders were brutalised by the state arm of national security—the police. He was jailed as well.
Panday was not only a budding politician in the mid-seventies, despite the fact that he, along with Stephen Maharaj, a note- worthy and active politician, and internationally-acclaimed writer and internationalist journalist, and former confidante of Dr Williams, C.L.R.James joined hands together with the formation of the Workers and Farmers Party (WFP), which failed to get a single seat in the General Elections of 1966. Panday had fought the Naparima Constituency, but failed to get that seat, even though he was marketed as a young scholar ignoring the offer to study for a doctorate in economics in India from the British Council.
Panday has had a very chequered career in the pursuit of becoming Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago several years later, and the Office Door of the Prime Minister dawned on him in 1995, when he was called to sit in that office for just about six years. It could have been more years, but as nature would have it, it was not to be. It was a see saw entry and exit, and this caused severe consternation among his supporters.
In the Prime Minister’s office, Panday managed the country well with limited oil money and other forms of financial support. Panday’s demise on January 1, 2024 struck the main cord of the national populace, from all sectors of the national citizenry—academics, legal fraternity, business, politicians, religious, social, economic, trade unions, and the CARICOM leaders.
All of them proclaiming his demise as a serious loss to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Caribbean as a whole. The question we now ask ourselves: Would there be another Panday in the horizon?
For if Panday was still in the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministers would not played the fool in the distribution water and roads. Would Rohan Sinanan and Marvin Gonsalves survived the titan Panday. Especially when the national populace continuously protest for water and better roads. Panday was an innovative leader embedded with the humanitarian spirit of human kindness, and blessed with a spark of oratory, demonstrating strong leadership and absolute management of the task ahead in the pursuit of national development and nation building. He had commanded respect from all peoples at all times. But, he was not immune to criticisms and also had human failings as all mankind. He was not without faults.
In this hour of compassion, the nation has forgiven him. But he has left lessons for all whom to think that they will follow him from weakness to strength, knowledge to wisdom, and darkness to light. Besides being the first person of the Indian diaspora, the first person of the Hindu faith to hold that high office, and the first person to have a state funeral, these accolades speak much more than politicking.
It is about the man, his personality, his character, his wit, and our young scholars and students and academia should acquaint themselves of Panday’s thoughts, his messages for future generations. And the NALIS library and its satellite branches should be renamed, the Basdeo Panday Resource Library. And the Ministry of Education should incorporate his works in our classroom for study and as well as pioneers of our Independence.
May He Soul Rest In Peace.