“It was Bhadase Sagan Maraj that introduced Basdeo Panday to the All Trinidad Sugar Union,” said Ramdath Jagessar. “Panday was a loser. He fought the 1966 General Elections on a Workers and Farmers Party ticket and lost his deposit. He was frustrated and wanted to leave for India but Maraj rescued him. ‘Take this boy and let his work with you,’ Maraj said to Rampartap Singh, the President of the All Trinidad,” said Jagessar. With this Panday got a foothold in the All Trinidad and the rest is history. He said that the UNC and its predecessor, the ULF, were incarnations of the DLP and the original PDP that Bhadase founded in 1955.
Jagessar was the main presenter on the topic “Bhadase Sagan Maraj: Man, Saint or Devil? The Life and Times of Bhadase. Hosted by ICDN Wednesday Night Zoom, the program was chaired by Ariti Jankie, journalist and author.
Jagessar began his talk with the role that Maraj played in stemming the 1970 Black Power Uprising. “Thousands of urban blacks were marching about the streets of Port of Spain. The government was in panic mode. A plane was in standby to evacuate the Prime Minister, Ministers of Government and their families. A section of the army led by Raffique Shaw and Rex Lassalle had joined the urban protesters led by Makandal Daaga.”
The challenge for the leaders was to get the Indians to join the protest. Indians, more that 30% of the population, went about their daily struggles oblivious of what was happening and its impact on their lives. The marchers decided to march from Port of Spain along the Eastern Main Road and the Southern Main Road to San Fernando.
“At his residence in Champ Fleur, Bhadase, holding a rifle in his hands, stood at his gap with the gate wide open. The marchers came to a halt, more than 10,000 shouting ‘power to the people.’ ‘I dare anyone of you to enter my property and you would know what is power,’ said Maraj. The leaders of the march went silent. Bhadase took the riffle, laid it on the road and said: ‘I come to you in peace.’ Every man was silent.”
Bhadase warned the Indians not to join the march. His remarks were that ‘you would be replacing one black man with another.’ Only a handful of Indians participated in the Black Power marches -Ram Maharaj, Winston Lennard and Kenneth Parmasad- are three names that come to mind. The classified of the British High Commission recorded that the Indians went about their businesses unaware of what was happening.
“Had Maraj not stood up against the Black Power Trinidad would have experienced a blood bath,” said Jagessar. “The US Marines were ready to kick into action and Venezuelan soldiers were about the city guarding senior officials.”
Jagessar lamented that the government had failed to acknowledge the significant role Maraj played to save the country from a massacre. “For this he was never thanked or acknowledged,” said Jagessar.
Bhadase was a millionaire at age 30. He was successful in his bids to acquire assets from the bases in Waller Field and Chaguaramas. The scrap irons, jeeps and galvanize sheets had a ready market since there was an acute shortest of building materials immediately after the war.
“Maraj killed two birds with one stone. After uniting the two Sanatanist factions into the Maha Sabha, Maraj used the materials acquired at the bases to launch the Maha Sabha School building program. In less than three years, the Maha Sabha built more than 30 primary schools across the sugar belt,” said Jagessar.
Sat Sookdeo, businessman, said that his grandfather worked with Bhadase at the Chaguaramas base. “In Felicity the houses were ajoupas with mud floors and mud walls and the roofs were carat. It was the materials that Maraj acquired from the base that were used to construct the first set of wooden houses with galvanize roofs.”
Sat said that Maraj ended separate cooking and eating arrangements at yagyas. “Meals were prepared and served separately for Brahmins. It was Maraj that put an end to that anti-social practice. We must eat together as one people,” he instructed the people.
Responding to a listener who wondered if he was not presenting a sanitized version of Maraj, Jagessar was adamant that the society must first speak about the many misdeeds of Dr. Eric Williams among which was the removal of documents at the National Archives that became his daughter’s personal collection. He also made reference to a page torn from the Register of Marriage at the Red House.
“Maraj was never convicted of any crime. However, he once had an altercation with a police that came to his house in Caroni demanding a bribe from Maraj who had applied for a licence. Maraj proceeded to beat the officer after he was threatened with a gun,” said Jagessar. “Maraj was fined a small sum of money which he paid. That was the only conviction against Maraj.”
Jagessar underlined the philanthropist role of Bhadase. He said: “Bhadase gave out an average of $3,000 in charity to the scores that came to his house every day. No one ever left empty handed. Moneys were given for yagyas and wedding and other cultural and social activities.”
After uniting the sugar cane worker under a single union-All Trinidad Sugar Estate and Factory Workers Trade Union- Maraj called a strike for increased wages and better working conditions. During the strike Maraj paid money to workers to keep them on the picket line, thus forcing management to negotiate with the union.
Ariti Jankie said that Maraj was an inspiration to many. “My uncle Seecharan Bunsee of Mandingo, Princes Town deified Maraj and would carry a pistol on his waist. He was fearless and always ready to defend the weak.”