By VASANT BHARATH
Winston Churchill, Britain’s iconic war-time Prime Minister, had a theory about leaders who emerge at the right time.
Churchill said: “There comes a special moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born.
“That special opportunity, when he seizes it, will fulfil his mission, a mission for which he is uniquely qualified.
“In that moment he finds greatness. It is his finest hour.”
That supposition could easily be applied to Satnarayan Maharaj, the strong-willed leader of the Hindu community, cultural campaigner and no-nonsense public commentator.
Providence placed Maharaj in Trinidad and Tobago’s public life at the appropriate period, permitting him to utilise his undoubted leadership skills and his vision for a transformed society.
If Sat had been born a generation earlier, he would not have been able to clamour, in the difficult colonial era, for the dramatic improvements he was eventually able to achieve in education, religion and the arts.
If he had emerged later than he did, the urgent and critical issues may have seen a different outcome because of the evolving governance and agitation from other sources.
Maharaj arrived at the right time in T&T’s history, or, as management consultant John Maxwell terms it, the law of timing.
“When to lead is as important as what to do and where to go,” Maxwell said, and this is applicable to Sat, who utilised his robust personality to improve the condition of life for Hindus, rural residents and other oppressed people.
Being born at the right time and thrust into leadership through his father-in-law Bhadase Sagan Maharaj, Sat seized the moment, initiated the correct action and stayed the course.
For that, he could be the subject of a management study as a dramatic example of what materialises when a leader accepts a challenge and ploughs on in spite of obstacles.
For sure, there have been other single-minded and dedicated leaders in T&T’s modern history.
Easy stand-outs are joint labour agitators Adrian Cola Rienzi and Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, anti-colonial crusader and subsequent national leader Dr. Eric Williams, and Basdeo Panday, the dogged fighter for sugar workers and victims of discrimination.
Sat’s course in religion, education and culture made his life’s work distinct, momentous and durable.
Education in a cowshed
He carried the baton of Bhadase, whose frustration over Williams’ virtual snubbing of Hindus and rural residents, led to an initial construction of six schools by Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, which was formed in 1952.
“It is better for a child to receive an education in a cowshed rather than none at all,” Bhadase retorted to Williams’ infamous and derisive remark.
Sat built on that mobilisation, to his eternal credit and to the historic gain of thousands of students, including many national scholarship winners.
In doing so, he eschewed becoming a traditional religious leader devoted only to scriptures and unmoved about the social and economic state of his worshippers and the wider community.
Instead, he has left behind 42 primary and five secondary schools and 12 early childhood learning centres, virtually all of which are proud centres of excellence, producing the country’s highest number of scholarships this year and it’s fifth consecutive President’s medal.
He clamoured for accountability, transparency and higher standards in the system, saying that “the true value of the education system (is) as an uplifting force.”
Leadership qualities include commitment and passion, confidence and decision-making capacity, all of which Sat had in abundance, and which his displayed in several public struggles.
His epic campaign against a repressive government for a radio licence is one example of his leadership of resistance and resilience.
Then-Prime Minister Patrick Manning was rigid in his opposition to the granting of a licence, which, regrettably, is a slur on his management of the country and depicts him as discriminatory.
Maharaj dug in his heels, and took the matter to the Privy Council, which, in 2009 ordered the Attorney General to “do all that is necessary to procure and issue forthwith … a FM radio broadcasting licence…”
The eight-year struggle ended with Maharaj being paid $3 million for damages for unequal treatment.
Sat would fit a textbook definition
Maharaj also forced change with respect to the title of the country’s highest award, recognition of Hindu marriage rituals, State funding of cultural events and other matters.
If leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality, Sat would fit a textbook definition, but he also had the ability to inspire his associates through his moral courage.
Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe’s portrayal of Maharaj as “one of the major architects in helping to perfect our union”, is a holistic appreciation of Sat’s unqualified campaign for an equal seat for everyone at the table.
The disparaging comments that Cudjoe’s analysis has generated are unfortunate and indicate the long journey still ahead in developing a modern and mature society.
“Sat served the country by serving the people,” said Cudjoe, “and in doing so, he helped us all to develop our national identity…”
The divisiveness sparked by Cudjoe’s remarks and some disruptive statements on social media expose the fragile state of our society 57 years after nationhood, with the noble ideals of discipline, production and tolerance.
Cudjoe summarises Maharaj’s journey as that of one who understood that “service to others, in all of its manifold ways, is the primary obligation Trinidadians and Tobagonians have and owe the country.”
Sat’s legacy having been secured, there is still much to be done in creating an equitable, developed, properly governed and prosperous country.
This, of course, calls for leadership that is both appropriate for the period, equal to the task and has the country’s confidence.
After all, Trinidad and Tobago is currently burdened with a stagnant economy, a dreadful crime rate broken public health and education systems and collapsed national institutions.
Our national leadership is the worst it has been in many years, and some aspirants to national office appear listless, lacking in vision and capacity and devoid of prescriptions to rescue a besieged land.
The country requires committed, competent and caring leadership to prise us out of our current economic and social hellhole.
Inspiration for such leadership should come from the unmatched life and times of Satnarayan