We have just celebrated the festival of Divali.
While this is a Hindu Festival held annually during the period October to November, its significance is far reaching because it is a time when communities are called into deep reflection and the possibility of change is manifested.
It is a time when people of all religions and all nations are called upon to unite. It is that time when Hindu devotees open their homes and welcome people of all races, from all religions to join them and “break bread” together.
It is a period marked by the lighting of deyas as symbol of the expulsion of darkness which descends upon us in all forms. The celebration of Divali really is the time to put the wrongs right, to give and forgive and to unite and unify. It is a period of cleansing. And if ever our country needed our leadership to stand up and be counted, Divali 2019 was that time.
As I sat to take note of this festivity, I recalled with sadness the Divali of 2014.
The date was October 23, and there was not just an air of festivity but the nation was politically charged as many felt that very soon the People’s Partnership would have folded under pressure and leaders of all political enclaves were courting the Indian community in the hope of soliciting their votes for the next election.
I recall vividly the images of not only our Prime Minister and Ministers in Government attending festivities, making speeches to capture the imagination of the nation but, also the then Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Christopher Rowley, and the ones anointed to be a part of the charge that would wrest the Government from Kamla and company.
I remember how they don the most expensive East Indian wear to impress. And with pomp and ceremony made the rounds with the media in tow to demonstrate to the gullible public a façade of political unity which we all know does not exist in this twin Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
No clarion call was made
But the votes were needed then and to quote the famous Malcolm X, “by whatever means necessary”. The leaders of 2014 needed to create images to prove to people of all races that we are one family. “We are all in this together”.
I recall November 11, 2015, a few months after the PNM won the elections that year and the stirring speech of our Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley on that momentous occasion.
Still wallowing in his victory at the polls two months before, he addressed the nation reminding us that the Divali Festival “embodies the noble qualities of wisdom, compassion and grace. . . liberation, thoughtfulness and righteousness” and as we celebrated in 2019, I could not help but wonder where the Keith Rowley of 2015 had disappeared.
He took the time in 2015 to remind us that the symbols of Divali represented a turning away “from the darkness of negativity, ignorance and intolerance” and that we should “seek positive and uplifting influences in our lives to become living examples of peace, justice and unity”. But the values to follow espoused by Dr. Rowley then were no where to be found in 2019 as the nation paused to celebrate this festival, leaving us wonder after a leader who came into office with so much promise.
His voice was muffled in 2019. No clarion call was made for us to summon “our innate light, strength and goodness” or “to take a greater responsibility for our lives and look beyond self to the greater good of family, community and nation.”
That cry for us “to grow and develop as a nation of responsible, productive and caring citizens” was no more and was replaced by a sad valorising of the achievements of his Government at a time when the focus on self ought to have been suppressed.
Our leader had no message for the national community
Our leader had no message for the national community. Because at a time when we should be directed to engage in a period of healing, Dr Rowley’s message was about the “economic stringency” during his Government’s time which “to many it seemed among this country’s darkest hours” and rather than point to the spiritual significance of the festival he sought to position the PNM as the “light of this nation” causing it to begin to glow again. What an inopportune “revelation”!! So out of sync with the occasion!
It is no wonder he did not make the rounds during this festive occasion. It is no wonder that he stayed away from the multitudes because of the heresy he spouted. It is no wonder that he chose to party in Tobago instead. And party he did!
No one Hindu or otherwise, except the diehard sycophants, wants to hear a message where the PNM is perceived as the light expelling the darkness of our nation because such a message is totally out of sync with the views of the people of this country.
The Prime Minister of England, the Honourable Boris Johnson, while many may not like him, has given Prime Minister a lesson on how to include all sects and all races into the national community.
Boris Johnson’s address to the British nation was telling. It was one that recaptured for the people, especially the young, the history of the Divali story. It was one that located the beginnings of where the story evolved, it was one that paid tribute to the people of East Indian descent for their contribution to British development.
This is the kind of address we would have expected from our Prime Minister, not a muffled noise, empty of content and seeking to position himself rather than elevate the people whose culture has given to us the opportunity to reset our society to allow our lights to shine.
Past PNM leaders showed a greater love and appreciation for the people of East Indian descent
One thing Dr Rowley has convinced us about is that his interest in East Indian festivities lack the genuineness that we recall in leaders like Patrick Manning, Arthur NR Robinson, even George Chambers and Dr. Eric Williams.
One thing we are surely convinced about is that past PNM leaders showed a greater love and appreciation for the people of East Indian descent and their culture.
The records show that Dr. Rowley as a PNM Prime Minister has received the least votes from the East Indian community during elections and, his showing, his virtual absence from the festivities indicate that this will not change in the near future.
Everyone knows that come 2020, the General Elections may very well come after the Divali celebrations and larger sums of money will be allocated for the festivities. Of course, the Ministers would then use the opportunity to appear at the Divali events for the photo ops, because for politicians that is all this festivity is about an opportunity to solicit votes for another election. Nothing more.
It is for this reason that we are not progressing, that Divali 2019 was weighty on the shoulders of many, that our Prime Minister could not see the light to direct him to a path that is not self-seeking.
His and his Ministers’ absence from Divali 2019 will be remembered and the East Indian community will never forgive them for the disregard shown to their culture.