One man’s hero is another’s villain. This may apply to Christopher Columbus. To some he brought in train the conquistadors and the colonizers that resulted in the decimation of the Amerindians, the introduction of African slavery and the exploitation of indentured labourers and other social evils. But to Europeans and Spaniards in particular he was their hero. His discovery of the New World provided opportunities for Europeans to expand new settlements. The Church saw opportunities to bring the Gospel to the heathen populations of the world, thus saving them from eternal damnation.
This same logic can be applied to Dr. Eric Williams. He is certainly a hero to many who saw in him a messianic leader who led them to a level of social respectability in the modern world. He was also a scholar in his own right and the author of several academic texts on Caribbean history: History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago, From Columbus to Castro, Capitalism and Slavery and Inward Hunger, all compulsory reading for any student who wishes to have a better appreciation of the social forces that shaped the Caribbean.
For the vast majority of Indians, however, Dr. Eric Williams was a racist and spiteful human being that did everything to make life difficult for them. While a few Indians were used as ‘window dressing’ in his government, the vast majority felt discriminated under his rule. Dr. Williams seeded a culture of State discrimination that is very much alive today.
As head of a government Dr. Eric Williams excluded Hindus from his government. From 1956 to 1986, six general elections were held and six cabinets were appointed but not a single Hindu was included. Basdeo Panday was the first Hindu to be appointed a Cabinet Minister in Trinidad and Tobago when the NAR won the General Elections of 1986. Sadly, when he was being sworn into office there was not available a copy of the Bhagavad Gita at President House. The ceremony was suspended until a copy was located at the residence of a private citizen.
Dr. Eric Williams stopped the Maha Sabha’s school building program, denying the opening of several Hindu schools. He went on to refer to Hindu schools as cowsheds. Many schools under construction had to be aborted.
The ‘recalcitrant minority’ remarks made after the PNM’s defeat by the DLP in the Federal Elections of 1958 need not be repeated. This is now well known to the public. However, the role of the Marabuntas, a PoS gang that intimidated the Opposition, harassed and assaulted perceived DLP supporters, was played out in the 1961 General Elections with the tacit support of the police who failed to protect the victims, in this case the Indians. DLP’s public rallies were disrupted by Marabuntas with the police turning a blind eye, thus pushing Dr. Rudranath Calpideo to make the infamous ‘arm yourself’ statement.
The voting machine, introduced in the 1961 elections by the PNM government amidst objection by the Opposition and repeated in 1966 and 1971, was a dagger at the heart of the DLP. Fraud was suspected in the recording of the votes and when Dr. Rudranath Capildeo challenged the government to demonstrate how the voting machine can be manipulated, the foreign personnel overlooking the exercise fled the country hurriedly.
Voter padding through the national housing scheme-now HDC- continues unabated. The modus operandi of the HDC is building houses in marginal constituencies to give the PNM an electoral advantage. The EBC has debunked natural boundaries to enable the shifting of entire electoral districts to suit the PNM plot. The word ‘gerrymandering’ has become synonymous to the politics of the PNM!
The saga of the PNM and the philosophy of its founding father, Dr. Eric Williams, continues to reign supreme. The independent Commissions continue to be stacked with individuals who willingly implement the agenda of the PNM. However, anyone who attempts to disrupt the status quo is dealt with rapidly and furiously. A case in point was the dismissal of Nizam Mohammed, former Chair of Police Service Commission, when he raised concerns about the low representation of Indians in the senior ranks of the TTPS before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament. Strangely, when the best candidate emerges, the politicians intervenes to set their agenda, as in the case of Deodath Doolalchan’s bid for Commissioner of Police. Though emerging first by an independent body, Gary Griffith who came fifth was appointed Commissioner of Police.
Despite these many weaknesses of Dr. Eric Williams his devotees continue to worship him. As far as they know he was an angel, not the tyrant that was Christopher Columbus. Not surprisingly, many are keen on tearing down the one statue of Columbus but proudly naming public buildings after him- Dr. Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex and the Eric Williams Financial Complex. Not satisfied with those recognitions some are clamouring for the Piarco International Airport built by Basdeo Panday to be named after him.