Vandana Mohit sees no reason to apologise for her recent controversial Facebook post on covid19 and the PNM.
It was not directed at anyone or any case, says the newly elected UNC Chaguanas East MP. Instead, Mohit maintains it was a criticism of a government that campaigned on how well it was handling the pandemic, when there have now been more than 1,000 cases in the country.
Her post, last Saturday, said it was "karma" that the PNM had been affected by covid19 – around the same time the Prime Minister revealed he had tested negative for the virus, but was in quarantine after learning he had been in contact with a positive person on August 10 – the day of the general election.
Mohit told WMN, “There were certain instances where, from the first wave into the second wave, the government would have claimed good governance on the covid19 pandemic in TT.
"I was simply referring to the community spread, of cases being out of control.
“They ran an election campaign to project their 'good governance' on covid, and after the election you’re just not hearing what you expect to hear.
"Now cases are out of control, everyone in society going about their daily lives, and cases are coming out of a lot of workplaces.”
Mohit got some backlash for the post, including from PNM PRO Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing, who called on her to apologise.
But Mohit said she also received thousands of messages telling her she had said nothing wrong.
“If you believe in something and are strong, and you know you did not mean something and your post does not say that, then nobody can bully you into meaning something or what they perceive.”
Mohit said she was advised to delete the post, which she regretted, because she believed in the principle of standing behind her actions.
She said anyone who knew her knew she was a caring person who would never attack anyone’s health, race, religion, or gender. She believed people needed to “loosen up a bit” and try to understand, instead of attacking others.
She was disappointed to see some people were not taking covid19 seriously, and believed they were not aware of what was happening because they did not follow mainstream media. That was why education was critical, she said, so the government should organise community drives to educate the public and distribute masks, as the UNC did.
“It is the responsibility of a governing body to really ensure that the management of such a pandemic is taken very, very seriously. Whether it’s one case or 100 cases, every life matters.
“Unless you as a government take drastic measures, citizens will not take you seriously. You must act responsibly.”
With racial tensions high after the election, some people believed her post was referring to race. But Mohit said she did not “engage any race talks.” She looked at people as human beings with unique personalities, she said, rather than their ethnicity.
She said she was friends with many different people, so if she involved herself in destructive race discussions, she would be destroying her friends. Therefore, it was disturbing for her to see society getting involved in “race wars."
“I understand how persons feel within their different races. Yes, you can feel that way. but sometimes I think we should use our platforms to outline issues in society rather than fight each other.”
She added that people looked at an individual differently when they made racial statements.
“It’s important that we embrace everyone. If we want to speak to equality, (such as) women in the workforce, then we should speak to equality of different races in the same place. Work together, build a country together.”
Raised on politics
Mohit told WMN she felt confident about winning the Chaguanas East seat throughout the campaign. although on election day, when the votes were being counted, the wait was a bit nerve-racking. She said she prayed for about an hour and her nerves eased as more votes came in.
“I was elated to beat a minister (Clarence Rambharat), someone experienced who would have had a long history in serving in this country. To conquer that person in an election felt like a big accomplishment personally.
"But it’s another step for me to serve. I have always taken my mandate to serve very seriously. I believe if you are put to do job you need to do it to the best of your ability.
"So for the next five years, it will be a different Vandana versus being the councillor for Cunupia versus being the mayor of Chaguanas.”
Mohit, 29, was mayor of Chaguanas for six months before the election. She said while both positions involved representing people and attending to their needs, the mayorship involved policy-making, while being an MP had a legislative aspect.
She said she was finding the transition difficult because she was accustomed to waking at 5 am to do her worship, getting to work by 6.30 am, being on the move and being home by 7 pm. She said she knew the MP position would involve many late nights and studying.
“As a young person, I am open to learning, because I will not know everything, as this is new to me.
"I feel the same way I felt when I just won my seat as councillor. I became versed in it but now I have to transition.”
She said she intended to be a strong member within a strong and united Opposition.
“I think this is a testing period for us to look at our unity, to look at our strength, and to look at our contribution and I look forward to being part of this.”
Mohit became a councillor at 21 but her interest in politics started many years before that. Her parents owned a dairy farm and she would keep her father company while he was milking the cows and they would talk about politics.
“We would talk politics so much that he helped me to get a grade one in social studies without much studying. Also, while heading to school I would be listening to those (political) radio programmes, we would go to political meetings, and all of that.”
She grew up in Cunupia with a family that was involved in many community activities. She carried that mentality to school at Endeavour Hindu Primary School and Saraswati Girls' Hindu College, where she was involved in competitions, drama clubs, teaching other students, public speaking, and more.
She recalled her teachers saying she would be a politician one day and she started that journey at 16. She saw politics as an avenue to assist people and in a greater way, and as an activist she began to see options to explore. So she filed to be a Cunupia councillor and won.
Mohit also worked on her education. She started with an associate degree in journalism and public relations at COSTAATT, then moved to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mass communications from the University of Leicester through the School of Business and Computer Science.
Foundation as mayor
Mohit intends to continue the work she started as mayor on the issues that affected the people of Chaguanas. One of the major problems that frustrated the population of Chaguanas East was traffic.
As mayor she had several meetings with the traffic management division and wrote to the Minister of Works and Transport to address the issue. She wants to continue those consultations to initiate those plans as soon as possible.
She also had plans to deal with unemployment if the UNC had won the election, but must now adapt and approach the government to address the needs of her constituents.
The Cunupia Police Youth Club was being built during her tenure as mayor. She described it as the first state-of-the-art complex in Chaguanas East where young people could explore opportunities for earning an income.
She'll also continue to work with single mothers to help them maintain their families. As mayor, she initiated an employment programme to have a mobile food strip in the Cunupia market. There, mothers and other women can sell food items and earn an income.
Crime was another issue she intended to continue working on. She said it was not out of control because a lot of work had already been done within communities to form community police groups with NGOs and foreign agencies, such as the US Embassy, to deal with the root problems of crime, but the situation could be improved.
Some of the problems, she said, included “issues within the household,” lack of opportunities, and a lack of information.
“We really need to keep young people on track. We have to work with them if you want to curb issues. They must understand life and society so they know the direction they need to head.”
Women understand governance
Last Friday, Mohit set aside her mayoral chain and took up her seat in the House of Representatives.
She said she was surprised at the way women holding positions in politics were referred to and treated. Women were part of the workforce but their contributions were sometimes difficult for men to accept, even when those ideas had merit and impact.
She said women governed for families and households because they understood their intricacies, so their contributions were more detailed and realistic, while men’s contributions were often more generalised.
“This is not sexist or against any gender...males are very important to us. Sometimes, all the strong you feel strong, being a woman you feel a sense of security with a male presence, and that’s a fact. But in terms of governing and understanding the issues that face society, and understanding people-centred governance, women play a critical role.
“One of the things successful women in this country, and around the world, would have been driven by is focusing on their journey and not the potholes, because if you focus on the potholes, you would be broken very easily.”
For Mohit, one of those potholes was that people with experience felt threatened by her. But she said she always had a "stern" disposition and as a young woman she would listen, learn, and then ensure her contribution was meaningful and realistic so that she was not taken for granted, or looked at as a joke.
“Generally people look at women as being weaker. If you don’t have belly and a broad back as a woman and stand strong, you would have difficulties getting past your challenges.”
She said being strong did not mean not feeling hurt. She said there were days she would go home and cry because people did not realise politicians were not made of stone but were citizens fighting for citizens.
She said she survived it all with the support of God, her family, friends, and her team.
But her mother was her biggest inspiration. She started as a cane-cutter and kept elevating herselfm becoming a roti cook, cleaner, and then a dialysis technician.
“I looked at her and said to myself, ‘Education is the tool out of poverty.’ If she could overcome so much, then I can overcome anything.”