From Ravi Maharaj
Basdeo Panday once told the story of one of his friends, a lifelong UNC supporter who was dying and hospitalized at the time. When Mr. Panday went to visit the man, he found him in a room surrounded by PNM paraphernalia, and the man himself was clad in a PNM t-shirt. When Mr. Panday asked the man why he chose to turn to the PNM at the end of his life, the man responded that it was because he would rather that death was coming for a PNM supporter rather than it take a UNC.
I’ll let you decide whether that story has any relevance today.
Basdeo Panday’s legacy is poised to outlive all of us still alive today, but for a man who never ran from controversy in his lifetime, I wonder how he will be remembered in the future. Even today, a week after his passing, but before his final rites are read, there is some debate about what a fitting tribute to the man should look like. As such, I thought I should weigh into the conversation, not because I know better than most, but if only to interject some new ideas into what has become a rather monotonous and boring recital.
I want to start with the big one, which is the Basdeo Panday International Airport, which despite being the name of the airport used by travellers for over a decade, the government doesn’t want to allocate the funds to erect a proper signboard for the thing. And I know there was talk of renaming it after Dr. Eric Williams recently, which gave me a thought because the truth of the matter is that Basdeo Panday was presented with a doctorate by UTT before his passing, meaning that this title ought to be included in the name of the airport as well. As such, any government that finds the money to erect this signage in the future should be sure to check that it reads as the “Dr. Basdeo Panday International Airport” in proper recognition of the man.
A similar mistake was made by the Maha Sabha, who despite their best well-meaning intentions to recognize Dr. Panday by renaming a high school in his honor, seemed to have made a slight error in their haste to do so when they chose the wrong one. As a trade union leader who worked alongside Bhadase Sagan Maraj to fight for the rights of the workers of Caroni 1975 Ltd. I can’t understand how the SMDS overlooks the opportunity to name the school which is actually located in Caroni after the man. Instead, they choose a school located in Penal, which by all accounts doesn’t really have any ties to Dr Panday outside of this choice. By renaming the Shiva Boys’ Hindu College in Caroni after Dr. Panday, not only would it have solidified his connection with the former Caroni workers and their families, but it would have also left the Vishnu Boys’ Hindu College open to be named after someone with a deeper connection to that school, but in hindsight, that may have also been the point of doing it this way.
Speaking about geographical connectivity, not only was Dr. Panday a Member of Parliament for the Constituency of Couva North from 1976 to 2010, but he remained their representative as a member of four political parties during that time. He was first elected under the ULF banner in 1976, only to dissolve that party when the NAR coalition was formed in 1986, then after a falling out he formed the Club 88 movement within Parliament, only to create the UNC to contest the 1991 general election and every subsequent one he faced. So imagine my absolute shock when it was announced that Dr. Panday’s body would be viewed at the Parliament and at SAPA, but not in the Couva North constituency, where he sat in office for over three decades. For the constituents of Couva North to not have the ability to view the body of the person they elected to represent them on nine separate occasions over the course of thirty-four years before he is sent off to eternal rest is insane and a national insult to those residents. And someone in the organizational process of this state-run event must be brought to answer for this debacle because there is no excuse for them not to have allocated one day over the weekend for viewing in Couva North, especially as nothing else was planned during those two days.
This brings me finally to the UNC and the elephant standing in the room ever since Dr. Panday’s death was first announced. While Kamla Persad Bissessar has borne the brunt of the blame for how Dr. Panday was treated in the UNC, history does not reflect this fact. Dr. Panday was plagued by dissent in the rank and file of the UNC since the internal election of 2001 which saw Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and his slate obliterate the one that was endorsed by Dr. Panday, and this trend would follow him throughout the decade until he finally allowed the party members to veto his leadership in 2010, which they did of their own free accord. It wasn’t Kamla Persad Bissessar who removed Basdeo Panday as Political Leader of the UNC, it was the financial membership of the party.
That having been said, Dr. Panday has always felt that this was a rejection of him as a leader and this is nothing further from the truth. He could have still played a role in the transition and future of the party, but after three decades, it was felt by all that new leadership was needed. But it was not the party that turned its back on Basdeo Panday, but rather Basdeo Panday who turned his back on the party, after being voted out as leader. If only he could have seen the way that the UNC as a party has banded together to celebrate and honor his life today, then he would know that he was always loved by the UNC, both by the new leadership and the membership. And it is this support that we see in the outpouring of love that has come from across the nation after his passing.
We the people who have known and loved Dr. Basdeo Panday will continue to struggle and fight as he taught us to do in building and developing a united nation for us all and our future generations. And it is our duty to remind all who come after us of the lasting legacy of a titan who gave his life to this cause and who showed us all the vision of the future that we are working towards.
Rest in Peace Dr. Basdeo Panday!
Long Live Mrs. Kamla Persad Bissessar!
Love Live the United National Congress!
Ravi Balgobin Maharaj
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