My association with Basdeo Panday dates back to 1978 when he was Opposition Leader and continued during the period when he was PM and Opposition Leader again until till his death. We always had a warm, respectful relationship during multiple personal engagements (in Trinidad, New York, Guyana, India) and countless phone conversations even when we did not share political viewpoints on his leadership and future of UNC. We spoke recently on contemporary politics and the future of the party he founded. He also informed me that he was working on his political memoir. In the last conversation, he indicated that he would continue his advocacy for constitutional change in his quest to effect lift socio-economic, political and cultural change particularly to raise the standard of living of the poorer class. He had given up hope in the UNC returning to government but supports a new alliance of small parties that he feels could make a difference in the next elections.
Bas and I were closely engaged thru 2000; he was the most charismatic and wittiest person I ever I met with no comparison in the Caribbean. He welcomed me in the PM residence and office and never bypassed me. However, we developed political differences in 2001 related to his handling of internal party executive elections and the tied general elections as well as the period right after he was unjustifiably removed from the PM position after the tied December election. He was advised not to call snap elections and instead reconcile with dissidents because he would not win as per several opinion surveys. And he became very upset when polls I conducted (as a neutral, objective professional) and published showed the UNC tying the PNM in the December 2001 elections. He was confident he could win without a united opposition. He also erred when he rejected advice not to sign a document authorizing President Robinson to choose the PM. He was advised by two lawyers (Ministers) in the then UNC government to sign the document assuring him that Robinson would select him as the PM. Authorizing Robinson to choose the PM was the political death knell of Panday. To his disappointment, Robinson selected Patrick Manning as PM when Panday, as the incumbent, did not lose the election and should have been sworn in to lead an interim government pending another election. It exposed the political immaturity and lack of legal skills of the lawyers associated with Panday. Those lawyers could not even successfully defend an innocent fowl thief.
Bas became even more enraged when subsequent polls I conducted and published revealed the PNM would win the October 2002 elections unless Panday reconciled with former cabinet and parliamentary colleagues. He was also told that unless he accommodated the dissidents, he would lose and never see the PM’s office again. Independent brokers also brought Panday and the dissidents together for a meeting in POS for reconciliation. Panday agreed to their return as candidates but after meeting financiers for the 2002 election he was advised to break the agreement. The consequences of rejecting the advice and the agreement with the dissidents are now well known. He embraced the wrong forces.
Our differences lasted a few years, and we reconnected at social events and met multiple times between 2003 and 2010 as he sought support to ward off threats to his leadership. He was his usual self very cordial and jovial. He accepted advice when his leadership of UNC was threatened from 2003 embracing dissidents of 2001 and was able to retain control through 2010. He was informed that polls showed he would lose to Kamla in the leadership contest. He was also frankly told that the UNC would not return to office under his leadership post 2001 in much the same way that analysts have been saying since 2016 that UNC would not return to office under present leadership and dispensation. Panday also forecasted that the PNM would win 2020 elections and it did. Almost everyone in T&T, including almost all of the MPs, is of the view that the UNC can’t win the next general elections unless there is complete transformation of the party. Latest surveys reveal UNC will not return to office in 2025 without major reforms.
There is much to be said for the compassionate attitude Panday demonstrated throughout his daily life and dealings with all persons. He was also terse and did not mince words, but he remained witty and spoke with wisdom bringing in his experience while serving as MP or in government. He spoke fearlessly about issues and the PNM government and UNC opposition.
He said today’s UNC is not the party he founded. Many UNC founding members and former stalwarts had approached Bas to rescue his party, but he did not show much interest. And he felt that internal elections in UNC are not democratic and is a futile exercise participating in them to challenge incumbent executives.
He noted that political respect in T&T has hit an unprecedented low with frequent use of derogatory and negative language in political discourse by opponents from both sides and in both islands. Instead of promoting mutual respect and racial harmony, many politicians adopted a consistently hostile and crude tone against each other, poking fun at names and making references to systems of servitude that has no relevance to debates. Politicians often attacked and vilified respected individuals. And Panday was critical of those who engaged in derogatory public discourse, such as making inappropriate comments in parliament, or on political platforms and social media, that only intensifies conflicts among opponents and members of competing ethnic groups.
He had agreed that a new political force away from PNM and UNC under current dispensation is needed for transformation of the country. He feels a new united force of mini parties under transformational visionary leadership can defeat both parties. When asked whether he would be willing to bring together parties and organizations or lead such a force, he said age is against it. When told that retired St Lucian former PM John Compton returned to the hustings at age 80 and won, he wittingly remarked the PM also died shortly thereafter in office.
Regrettably, Bas died as talks are underway to bring together politicians alienated from UNC and forces of the several minor parties.