Last Wednesday, as I prepared to comment on a letter to the editor by the tireless Frank Mouttet, former president of the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce, on painful traffic congestion and the need for a monorail, I heard Vasant Bharath, campaigning on TV Jaagriti against UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s “11 losses” and the “urgent need for change” in UNC’s December 6 party elections.
Mouttet was also calling for change, not of government or UNC leadership, but for change to a monorail to help edge us “out of our Third World” status.
In fact, the railway system in this country, from beginning in 1876 to 1968, received several reviews, controversial cutbacks and more recently, substantial calls for some kind of reinstatement.
In 2016 Jamaica was partnering with several foreign investors “to resuscitate the country’s cargo and passenger rail service” at a cost of at least US$250 million.
China is now busy extending railways in Kenya, Uganda and several other parts of the world. During the 2015 election campaign, an explosive debate erupted over the PNM”s support for the monorail involving Kamla, Vasant, Colm Imbert and Dr Rowley.
But I leave Mouttet’s monorail request for another time soon.
During the past three weeks, accountant Vasant Bharath utilised numerous TV, radio and social media presentations to speed up his contest for UNC leadership. Last Wednesday, he pointed out a set of problems facing the population – escalating crime with repeated excuses, job losses, wasteful expenditures, covid19 threats, government incompetence and even calling for an “apology” from PM Dr Rowley and the PNM for naming the troubled Queen Street after Penny Commissiong (applause). No mention of traffic congestion and transportation plans.
His Unity Team includes Dr Stephen Ramroop, Winston Seereeram, Larry Lalla, Ramona Ramdial and UWI lecturer Dr Rampersad, backed by a group of well qualified youth. His platform speakers heaped heavy praise on Vasant’s capabilities.
Now it must be noted that this “thanks, but retire now, Kamla” crusade was noisily triggered by renowned political activist Devant Maharaj, who, surprisingly, withdrew his nomination papers, claiming “election irregularities.” Meanwhile Ganga Singh, Jack Warner, Bhoe Tewarie, Fazal Karim, Fuad Khan, Taharqa Obika, Christine Newallo, etc, appear as spectators.
Apart from blasting 68-year-old Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, as “past her time,”and the Opposition as “timid,” Vasant urged UNC members to vote for his team in preparation for 2025.
Wasting no time, Ms Persad-Bissessar last Thursday rebuffed the “ungrateful” Vasant for “bad-talking” her and UNC members while now asking for their votes. Angrily referring to Ramona Ramdial, she said, "You were MP for ten years and because you didn’t get a seat, you joining them?”
Coming in for damning mention too was Vasant’s presence alongside the PNM’s Winston “Gypsy” Peters during the last election campaign and his membership in the government’s Economic Recovery Committee. The fight is on.
Kamla was devastating last Thursday, cleverly putting the UNC membership against Vasant. Can Vasant make the political recovery required in the coming week? Israel Rajah-Khan, SC, put Kamla’s victory over Vasant at “five to one.”
Acknowledging the December 6 election has long-term consequences, Kamla paraded her Team Star candidates last Thursday. She declared: “I have the most diversified parliamentary team, without regard to race, class or religion.”
“The media doesn’t win elections,” she added.
No mention of crime, traffic congestion or Petrotrin – at least not yet.
If victorious, Vasant charitably promised to keep her as Opposition Leader, with him as political leader.
Kamla, Dave Tancoo and Jearlean John spurned the offer. Given Kamla’s 18,000 votes in the last party election and the 1,800 and 1,500 for Vasant and Dr Roodal Moonilal, the stout-hearted Vasant has a lot of recovery to undertake. As UNC David Lee and Wade Mark pointed out, Vasant’s own political record is not all that gold-starred.
In intra-party politics here, forgiveness is off the table. Recall Dr Williams and Karl Hudson-Phillips, Dr Williams and ANR Robinson, Patrick Manning and Dr Rowley, Kamla and Basdeo Panday.
An exception occurred when Dr Moonilal was forgiven by Kamla for his unsavoury platform utterances during their 2010 leadership contest.
Last week, a contrite Moonilal advised Vasant and company to “walk with some pepper and salt, since they may have to eat their words,” as he has learnt. Today, he stoutly backs her, skilfully striving for top of the line.