Ford: Panday’s trying to rewrite history with “maliciously misconstrued misstatement” on Dr Williams

“[…] Dr Eric Williams was referring to people who preceded Basdeo Panday that were moving mountains to divide the country in an obscene manner to get the support of the East Indians at home and abroad–all in the quest for political power based on race.

“[…] When Panday talks about constitutional change, please remind him that he had the opportunity when they had 33 seats in Parliament in 1986, when they won elections 33 – 3…”

In the following Letter to the Editor, former PNM general secretary Ashton Ford responds to ex-prime minister Basdeo Panday’s criticisms of Trinidad and Tobago’s first prime minister, Dr Eric Williams:

Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.

“[…] Just think of that, ladies, and gentlemen! An election to bring into being a West Indian nation is fought on one side on the issue of ‘Indian Nation’.

“The Indian nation is in India. It is a respectable, reputable nation, respected the world over. It is the India of socialism, the India of Afro-Asia unity, the India of the Bandung Conference. It would repudiate any such divisive attempts as are being made in Trinidad, as it has repudiated them in Kenya, South Africa, Ceylon and Malaysia–in all of which countries the Indian nation and its representatives abroad are working with the movement for self-government and not against it.

“That is the Indian nation talking, ‘not the recalcitrant and hostile minority’ of the West Indian nation masquerading as ‘the Indian Nation’ and prostituting the name of India for its selfish, reactionary political ends…”

I directly quoted the founding father of our nation, Dr Eric Williams, to contrast  the erroneous statement by Basdeo Panday published in the Guardian newspaper under the heading Panday: Dr Williams missed chance to truly unite T&T on Monday 5th June 2023:

“[…] He (Dr Williams) contributed to the further division of the population with his reference to the ‘recalcitrant minority’ and other senseless political statements, the sole purpose being to remain in political power…”

Photo: Late former prime minister Dr Eric Williams.

That statement, attributed to Panday, is not a new slant. In fact, it has been repeated for decades by individuals with a divisive agenda. A maliciously misconstrued misstatement which was published, broadcasted, and referred to as a direct attack on Indians in T&T from Dr Williams by those with malintent.

The truth is, as indicated in Dr Wiliams’ profound statement, he was referring to people who preceded Panday that were moving mountains to divide the country in an obscene manner to get the support of the East Indians at home and abroad–all in the quest for political power based on race.

When right-thinking citizens look back at the history of T&T, the only conclusion that one can come to is that Dr Williams will go down in history as the prime minister that took Trinidad and Tobago from self-government, independence to republican status.

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams (standing) addresses the opening session of the Independence Conference at Marlborough House, London on 28 May 1962.
The talks lasted about two weeks and resulted in Independence for Trinidad and Tobago.
(Copyright AP Photo/ Staff/ Laurence Harris)

It was Erica Williams, Dr Williams’ daughter, who summarised the historical facts in her speech at a public meeting at Bournes Road, Port of Spain in 1986:

“[…] In its first plan, entitled the People’s Charter, written in 1956 and amplified in the Chaguaramas Declaration of 1970, the PNM listed several political aims: immediate self-government, the political education of the people, the elimination of racial and other forms of discrimination from our society and promotion of interracial solidarity, inviting all sections of the community irrespective of race, class, colour or creed to work for the commonwealth.”

Ms Williams continued:

A young girl lights deyas in Trinidad for Divali.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I respectfully submit that in our 30 years of government we more than amply fulfilled those aims.  Who was it that instituted national holidays for our Muslim and Hindu brothers?  I did not focus on the day of rest but on the fact that, in one fell swoop, the national importance of these religious festivals was placed on the same footing as our traditional Christian days of celebration.

“Those of our citizens who are of East Indian ancestry have organised cultural programs, radio and TV shows and installed retail stores to propagate their heritage, and we have encouraged that. In fact, I say this without fear of contradiction, had it not been for an enlightened PNM government in those critical years of self determination, I doubt you would now be seeing such integration of cultures as expressed in chutney dancing and Drupatee.

“And let us not forget that it was a PNM government that sent Ashford Sinanan, a noted opposition parliamentarian of East Indian descent, to India in 1969 as Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commissioner.”

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.

(As a matter of fact, Sinanan was the first High Commissioner to India when Trinidad and Tobago became a member of the Commonwealth.)

Panday’s statement proved to be more ridiculous and inaccurate because it was under the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), of which he was the deputy political Leader and deputy prime minister of the country, where an Indian community in south Trinidad once wanted secession.

Again, it was during Panday’s tenure in government in 1988 that the Canadian Government imposed visa restrictions to enter their country. That racial divide and blatant acts of racism never occurred under a PNM government from 1956 to today.

Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne (centre) poses with former prime minister Basdeo Panday (left) and his daughter Mickela Panday.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2023)

It is poetic justice that 35 years later under a PNM government, our visa-free status has been restored [by the Canadian government].

It is obvious that Mr Panday is trying to rewrite the history of T&T because he does not want to acknowledge the vast improvement and development that took place in every aspect of life in Trinidad and Tobago under PNM governments.

When Panday talks about constitutional change, please remind him that he had the opportunity when they had 33 seats in Parliament in 1986, when they won elections 33 – 3.  Instead of any meaningful change to the country’s constitution the people were traumatised when the ‘one love’ campaign by the NAR turned into a bitter warfare among the government members, resulting in Panday taking his team and forming ‘club 88’.

Late Prime Minister Arthur NR Robinson (right) is greeted by then Cabinet colleague and subsequent Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
Robinson was head of the NAR government.
(Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)

It was Overand Padmore who said that the PNM brought leadership, ideas, organisation, commitment, discipline, communication capacity and coherent message to the political culture of Trinidad and Tobago.

Ferdie Ferreira, a PNM historian (among many other titles), stated in his book Political Encounters 1946-2016:  “[…] The ‘recalcitrant minority’ statement in Woodford Square–and subsequently at Harris Promenade–has become a part of our political history. It was a statement which, from its inception, was taken out of context…”

It is a pity that a statement made 65 years ago is still used wickedly by persons who were not even zygotes in the political landscape at the time.

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  1. It is a pity that enough of our history is not chronicled in a way that it can more effectively reach the masses. Maybe it might help the population in general (at least those interested) to understand why we are, where we are at this present time. Some of the answers to alleviating those ‘problems’ referred to by the commentor may very well lie in revisiting those history lessons rather than in some fancy business/economic theories.

  2. Why are prople trying to justify comments made by politicians?
    Everyone on earth knows, Politicians make promises they cant fulfill, they lie etc. ( to numerous to mention!!
    Why not channel your time and energy yo help alleviate problems?
    It would be time well spent !!!

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