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Dear editor: ‘Recalcitrant minority’ is example of phrase abused to suit sinister agenda

“[…] The phrase ‘recalcitrant minority’ is one such case, particularly as it relates to Trinbagonian politics. Often labelled as a discriminatory and hateful phrase by sections of our society, research on the word recalcitrant reveals that the word itself has no sinister connotation.

“How then did such a phrase become so malignant? […]”

In the following letter to the editor, Marc Edwards of ‘Knowledge4CitizenTT’ attempts to address the controversial phrase, ‘recalcitrant minority’ in the first of a two-part column:

Photo: Late former prime minister Dr Eric Williams.

Words are so easily abused and twisted to suit the agendas of any given speaker or writer. Very rarely are the power and the historical relevance of these ‘gems’ truly understood and appreciated.

Labels then, are incorrectly allocated as a result. The phrase ‘recalcitrant minority’ is one such case, particularly as it relates to Trinbagonian politics.

Often labelled as a discriminatory and hateful phrase by sections of our society, research on the word recalcitrant reveals that the word itself has no sinister connotation1. How then did such a phrase become so malignant?

Analysis of commonwealth political history provide some valuable insight, peculiarly as it relates to Jawaharlal Nehru and India’s journey to independence. The People’s Charter of the first Indian Government stood firmly upon a foundation diametrically opposed to sectoral separation, religious/financial inequality and the oppression of society’s most vulnerable.

In fact, during an interview in 1958, Prime Minister Nehru reinforced this concept by pointing the interviewer to the now legendary independence speech made by himself on 15 August 1947 at midnight. The following is an excerpt:

Photo: Late former India prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

“… to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman. We have hard work ahead.

“There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country, on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard.

“All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action…”

It was not a well-kept secret that Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision for an independent India was one not shared by all quarters of the Indian community. In fact, Nehru often referenced this continually, dismissing it as nothing more than a small percentage of the society that sought their superiority at the expense of the nation’s collective success—such was his confidence of creating and sustaining one united, independent state of India.

A decade later, at a speech in the Woodford square, the then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who himself sought his country’s independence, echoed sentiments similar to the First Indian Prime Minister.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s first prime minister the late Dr Eric Williams (far left, foreground) and long-standing Cabinet members, the late Kamaluddin Mohammed (far right, foreground) and Errol Mahabir (second from right) stare into the distance.

A small group within the Trinbagonian society, just as in early India, seemed determined to divide the twin island state along communal lines. Dr Eric Williams wanted to inform the public of their infiltration into the national political landscape and warn the citizenry of their corruptive and destructive influence if left unchecked.

Backlash from notable quarters commenced and have continued ever since. They charged that the then Prime Minister and by extension the party he led, by uttering the phrase ‘recalcitrant minority’ was guilty of sowing seeds of racial discord and discrimination—most notably, as it related to citizens of East Indian origin.

This was and still is to date, a deeply troubling and interesting claim. To what end would the accusation, if true, have served the fledgling state of Trinidad and Tobago?

Was the ultimate purpose of our first government the swift destruction of the state by racial and socio economic discord?

Objective investigation of India’s and Trinbago’s journey to independence, unearth some eerie similarities. Two leaders intent on freeing their people from colonial dominance. Two leaders, determined to create a country united via a common cause.

Photo: Then Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams (right) is greeted at 10 Downing Street in London by his British counterpart, Harold Wilson in 1964.
(Copyright AP)

Two leaders, well aware of a particularly insidious threat to that common cause. Two leaders, though at times lauded as visionaries, also misunderstood and derided.

Both fathers of their nations who, on seeing their beloved lands today, would weep uncontrollably for how tainted they had become. An excerpt from the Independence Day Speech of Dr Williams:

“… That democracy is but a hollow mockery and a gigantic fraud which is based on a ruling group’s domination [of] slaves or helots or fellaheen or second class citizens or showing intolerance to others because of considerations of race, colour, creed, national origin, previous conditions of servitude or other irrationality.

“Our National Flag belongs to all our citizens. Our National Coat of Arms, with our National Birds inscribed therein, is the sacred thrust of our citizens. So it is today, please, I urge you, let it always be so. Let us always be able to say, with the Psalmist, behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity…”

Nehru and Williams undoubtedly seemed to share common cause. Were they both aware of a common enemy? Who or What was that common enemy?

Where are the answers to be found?

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  1. What a nonsensical article. All that write up and the author could not provide the actual speech or excerpts thereof within which the phrase was used.

    But he could quote excerpts from Nehru’s speech.