The United National Congress (UNC) which has historically been an Indo-Trinidadian based political party in Trinidad and Tobago recently had its internal elections and most of the rhetoric based on who should be the next leader of the party was based on the notion of leadership. This contest of leadership was fought between the incumbent leader of the UNC who was also the nation’s first female Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and a longtime member of the party Mr. Vasant Bharath. The main contention was that the leadership of Kamla had continuously been unsuccessful to the UNC for many years failing to produce another win for UNC besides the one time she was elected and the one other time the previous Prime Minister Basdeo Panday had been elected. Neither one of these candidates was re-elected consecutively. The entire UNC base seemed galvanized and hotly debated whether Kamla should be removed for her “failures” and that perhaps someone new like Vasant should be given his chance in the sun. It’s apparent many people missed the whole point of the democratic exercise while PNM laughed all the way to the highest seat in parliament. The People’s National Movement (PNM) has been a party historically supported and founded by a majority Afro-Trinidadian base. However, the truth is, UNC has absolutely no direction, no strategy, no organization, no stance on key issues or policies and neither do they challenge the opposition because for its entire life UNC and its predecessor parties have been lacking a clear ideology which is inhibiting its path to recurring national political victory!
This year on the 10th August, 2020 the general elections held in Trinidad and Tobago gave a 22-19 result in favour of the PNM which elected Dr. Keith Rowley to the post of Prime Minister for a second time since the last time UNC under Kamla had won in 2010. Unlike the United States you can get elected in Trinidad and Tobago following a British parliamentary system repeatedly with no end in sight. To be fair, former PM Kamla held her own by bringing the UNC to a very closely held election. Many believed due to the governing style of PM Rowley over the last few years that UNC might easily find its way to victory. Victory seemed almost inevitable for UNC on election night as the people unanimously including both Indo-Trinidadians and Afro-Trinidadians were becoming very concerned because to be honest the state and economy of Trinidad and Tobago is tanking. However, like its leaders including PM Rowley regularly remind everyone, great is the PNM, and he is right. Unlike UNC, PNM has a game plan. It was strange to watch almost the entire map of Trinidad light up in the yellow color of UNC yet the result was still in favor of PNM. That’s because PNM knows how to use its time wisely when in power to calculate the boundaries and fill provinces with their voters, while places like Tobago are fully PNM country. UNC won’t even contest a seat in Tobago. The two seats in Tobago always go to PNM and why shouldn’t it? How can it ever be yellow when Tobagonians express clearly that they want “No Calcutta boat,” a narrative they never challenge.
The onus is not on whether Kamla is a better leader or Vasant should, they both have their merits, they have plenty of experience and Kamla has done her best over the years and made great strides as an estimable Indian woman and leader. The fault of the party losses does not lie with her neither does it lie with Vasant. The problem lies with UNC’s helter skelter ideology. UNC is deeply ideologically disorganized. Both of them are doomed to repeat the failures of UNC over and over again. Did people forget that Basdeo Panday also lead the UNC? How many times did he run? How many times was he elected? The UNC is running a failing political playbook because the real problem lies with the foundation of the Indian mentality in this country and it was that mentality that founded all of our institutions.
UNC fails for the following main reasons:
- They have no clear Indic Ideology.
- They have no stances on key issues with clear talking points like health, education, economy, governance strategy and other areas. For UNC, elections are just a big hamper giveaway. Fool the people with free things.
- They fail to address the concerns of their base, example, Indians/ Indo-Trinidadians would like their concerns about racism etc. to be addressed as well but UNC’s leaders are too coward to do it.
- They do not issues any challenges to the PNM. Why should voters vote for UNC? Why is UNC better for the country over PNM. Can we hear some reasons or is UNC afraid of PNM?
- They have no political strategy and hence no political direction.
Not only is UNC a party of no political strategy they have absolutely no standpoint on key political issues. They have no clear talking points. This is probably one of their biggest failures. This was more obvious during general elections and recently when both Kamla and Vasant laid out their grand political plan during internal elections. This grand plan for general elections consisted of mostly a set of free hand outs: free laptops and 50, 000 jobs that was the big plan. Nothing else. The great grand design of one candidate to become the party’s new leader included where they would place their new headquarters. Does anyone really care where UNC is going to put their new headquarters? This is not a key issue. Key issues include what is their stance on immigration, national security, health, education, works and transport, you know, all the things they appoint ministers for in the future? Many of these issues were not even addressed in the general election. How are they going to handle the current pandemic, how are they going to fix our crumbling health sector, what are they going to do the call to abolish the denominational schools? How are they going to fix the falling economy? Is this a surprise? Are we going to find out after we open the wrappings? Yes Kamla and UNC had a vision of 20 pledges for 2020 but it was not impressed upon people meanwhile I got a flyer for PNM’s construction plan nationally. So what looks better? UNC’s plan included all of the nice things we want to hear but they had no game plan to win. They were playing honesty and integrity while PNM was playing to win. UNC focuses on building highways and hospitals while PNM focuses on winning. Nothing is wrong with highways and hospitals, but if you want to serve the people your job is to win.
Another thing UNC does repeatedly is to deny and delegitimize the concerns of their base. How is UNC going to address concerns of racism against the Indian community that goes unrequited for years? What is UNC’s plan to create a greater ethnic balance in the government institutions with fairer representation for Indian people to get jobs and housing? All Indians aren’t rich you see them asking for assistance on TV every night. What is their plan to address the ethnic imbalance in the armed forces? Afro-Trinidadians constantly express their stances on issues of racism while our Indian leaders including UNC shy away from ever having to address this. Dr. Rowley repeatedly called Kamla a racist during elections but she barely responded or called him out for his transgressions. As soon as the other side throws the race word UNC leaders duck and we don’t see them coming up to breathe for days. The Reform Hindu School has been begging for years to be fixed by the government and the Ramai Trace Hindu School has been pleading to be built for the last five years. Why hasn’t the opposition called out the ruling political party for bigotry? Indian leaders freeze on the topic of racism leaving their flock to fend for themselves. Why are we electing these people to lead us? Meanwhile PNM ministers can laugh at the pholourie and bhaji people in parliament, make doubles comments and enjoy the freedom to do so without being labelled as racists.
In fact, not only does UNC does not represent the voice of its base, our Indian leaders use every opportunity to throw Indians under the bus. All their rhetoric is about how well they can serve the base that did not vote for them as though those people will magically change sides. When you become PM you become PM and must represent all the people that much is clear but you cannot deny the concerns of your base and forget about their needs and wants after an election is called. It is staggering how during the internal elections Kamla made a remark about the “mantra” of some in her party who say “we’ve come too far to turn black?” Why did Kamla choose to use the Hindu word mantra to make an association with racism? She might claim that mantra is widely used in the mainstream media around the world but in this country a great proportion of the people see it as a sacred word and so there is a greater consciousness to not use the word mantra in connection to racism. There is an even greater concern that not only is UNC good at throwing Indians under the bus it especially has no care for its Hindu voters. Hindu voters are loyal to UNC because Hindus know they have no other option. PNM will pander to minority Indian ethnic groups for votes but not Hindus. Hindus know they will get mistreated any side they turn, therefore, Hindus are treated as disposable assets by UNC. According to Kamla, Vasant Bharath put out an add stating that, “UNC must resist a culture of Indian loyalty.” It is clear that neither of them have any concerns for Indians, the very base they are appealing to for a vote is the ethnic group they want nothing at all to do with. They find every opportunity to insult and denigrate the Indian ethnic group. They are running a race on who can be less Indian while appealing to an Indian voter base. So if PNM shows concerns for its base and UNC is concerned for PNMs base who is concerned for UNC’s Indo-Trinidadian voter base? Both parties should be more accommodating to all voters but when PNM isn’t talking about diversity and UNC has to “resist a culture of Indian loyalty” who is representing the voice of the Indian diaspora? Indians and Indian Hindus have a right to ask UNC as its majority base for a fair share in the representation and the resources of Trinidad and Tobago.
The PNM party has run this country for about 50 years with at least 30 years uninterrupted since 1956 except for the one time Kamla and Basdeo were elected each from UNC and the NAR win by Robinson. This is bordering on an ideological dictatorship when only one party has run the country for so many decades. That is why Indians have to run businesses they know there is no comfortable government job waiting for them in a government office. If you can’t become a doctor you know you need to know how to make doubles. UNC is uncomfortable challenging the might of the PNM. They have decades of material of inaction to help Indo-Trinidadian communities, racist slander against Indians and yet do not use it to debate them. They would rather call each other racists, make petty remarks at the expense of their own party name and play third world politics. UNC needs to let people know why they should vote for UNC and UNC leaders. They need to tell people why PNM isn’t running the country properly and call them out on these running points or they are wasting voters’ time. Why do they think PNM stances are not right for the country? UNC wants to win an election while biting its own tail. Blank man is not an answer neither is it a stance on anything.
The PNM party does not as clearly express its own ideology but it is has a lot more political direction, organization and strategy to outwit and outmaneuver a win from UNC. There is no need for them to go any further. This is also why PNM does not have to outline any great plan or their stance on key issues since their base knows the result is that PNM will take care of its own all it has to do is win. PNM shows a clear election and political strategy to ensure their victories while UNC has none. PNM has direction, PNM issues challenges to the UNC all the time and expresses the concerns of their base. They also address the concerns of their base when it comes to freebies and especially free housing. After election PNM can ignore most of the UNC areas because UNC will never issue a challenge to them to do so and represent all the people fairly.
UNC needs change but not in leadership, just ideology or they will never win. No amount of leadership can save a sinking ship. They must organize, strategize and find direction in a clear ideology. They must represent all the people but they should not forget their base or take that base for granted. These base is the people who put them in power and keep them there.
The two times UNC won was by chance. UNC depends on winning by luck and chance. To them it’s a big game of roulette. They throw their chips in the air every election and hope it falls on the winning number. While Kamla has emerged the victorious leader once again for UNC the party will most likely struggle to win national elections as usual. If the people want a win they must now start asking their leaders the difficult questions. The base must stand up and challenge its leaders to do more for them by posing these questions. Why should you have our vote? What will you do for us? UNC’s base is also happy with the handouts, not the free handouts but things like lowering taxes. They know PNM will leather them with taxes once elected so they are just happy to elect UNC to ease the economic pressure. Even non Indo-Trinidadians knows PNMs taxes are “Indian tax,” as people call it. The base has a responsibility to ask for their due not just scraps.
This problem did not start with UNC it goes far back into our history long before Indians dreamt of even starting their own political party. In fact, it is a problem that has been building for a thousand years and a thousand before that. It is an ideological problem that has even Gandhi at the root of the cause. The funny thing is UNC can’t win an election because of Gandhi and leaders like him, but I will address that another time. Our leaders are failing us because they are no better than us and neither one knows any better. They cannot see further than the tip of their nose. They are in politics but they have no political common sense. We have no Indic ideology to guide Indo-Caribbean people to address their concerns, their wants and needs. However, we the people need to start holding these leaders accountable, if they want our vote they must start answering many of the questions I have put forth above. Our vote should not be for free neither should it be taken for granted. If they cannot address and refuse to address our concerns, then they really should step aside. If you are Guyanese or Surinamese and reading this please replace the above parties UNC, PNM with PPP, PNC respectively and so forth and this article will also apply to you. This problem while I have addressed it locally to Trinidad it is pervasive throughout the entire Caribbean. UNCs failure to procure wins in elections has never been with its leaders but its strategy, direction, stance on key policies, UNC Needs Ideological Change to win elections not Leadership Change.