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STOP TELLING STORIES ABOUT OUR HISTORY! by Rawle Boland

posted 23 Nov 2013, 07:47 by Gerry Kangalee

Using every available opportunity to indulge their prejudices and sow division, those anxious to rewrite this country’s history in the wake of their arrival to its shores, do take liberties, as Raffique Shah has been helpfully pointing out since at least 2000.

 

Thus, what should have been a measured review of the recent publication by Bissessar and La Guerre, has been turned into a diatribe of self-serving drivel (Guardian, November 17). Space is not available to deal comprehensively with its wild fulminations and so the focus here is on its selective and partisan attempt to reconstruct the events surrounding the 1950 elections.

 

According to the review, a hint of what was to come – the racial political divide locally in effect – “was provided by the Butler party which was racially mixed (with four successful Indian candidates out of six) winning the majority of seats in the legislature…being denied entry (by nominated members of the legislature) to the executive council, which opened the way for Albert Gomes.”

 

This distorted analysis suggests an incapacity or unwillingness to appreciate that the denial of access to the Executive Council, then, to Butler, entirely, and his colleagues, initially, was not the result of the colony’s major racial divide, against which Butler laboured. It was due, in fact, to the ability of the then British governor to manipulate the legislative process, albeit remotely, in order to frustrate the signs of an anti-colonial awakening, suspected in Butler’s populist agitation.

 

Indeed, it was Butler who was entitled to feel betrayed by the opportunism of his colleagues in the Legislative Council, both before and after 1950. The first to disappoint was Rienzi (Desh Bandu at death), Butler’s previously towering colleague in the 1937 oil and sugar strikes and its aftermath.

 

A portent of things to come appeared earlier when he changed his name from Krishna Deonarine to that of a 14th Century Roman tribune. Not being a black Indian, he did so to pass for white, when he planned to study in the US, although he eventually went to Ireland, where his IRA activities were secretly monitored by the British authorities.

 

In 1938, when Butler entered an appeal against his conviction and two year imprisonment for sedition arising from the events of 1937, Rienzi, his acclaimed trial counsel, was elected to the Legislative Council. He eventually accepted, surprisingly, the Governor’s well-known poisoned chalice, the invitation to join his much-maligned Executive Council in 1943.

 

The impression was that, as poacher turned gamekeeper, he had ended his activism for workers. This was soon confirmed. in the following year, when he suddenly resigned his seat in both the Legislative and Executive Councils, as well as his union posts, to become the colonial government’s second crown counsel.

 

After serving his sentence, though quashed subsequently by the Privy Council, Butler was detained under the emergency powers of World War II. Following his release, he chose rashly to face Albert Gomes, in Port of Spain, in the first full franchise elections of 1946 and lost. His colleague, Timothy Roodal, the cinema mogul, won, on the slogan “a vote for Roodal is a vote for Butler” in the safe southern seat generously gifted to him by Butler.

 

Nevertheless, Butler and his party rebounded with relatively enormous success in the 1950 elections. To his chagrin, however, he was denied the opportunity to serve, as he had confidently expected, as one of the colony’s first five ministers then. But to his even greater dismay, his party colleagues fared better, the governor, of course, doing his worst by pulling the appropriate strings.

 

First to abscond was Butler’s other defence lawyer, Mitra Sinanan, who was elected Deputy Speaker in 1951. He was succeeded in this post in 1952, when he became the acting Minister of Communication and Works, by his brother, Ashford Sinanan, effectively ending Butler’s hopes of leading the strongest opposition ever in the colony.

 

Even so, he stood firmly with Ranjit Kumar in his attempts to amend the colonial government’s federal proposals, as introduced by Albert Gomes. This was in spite of the racial and other insults, unparalleled previously, he was obliged to endure in the Legislative Council then, of which the most anodyne, perhaps, was that he was a simpleton, an obeah man and a rabble-rouser.

 

In this light, to cite with apparent approval the assertion, attributed to Bissessar and La Guerre, that this period represented “a masterpiece of ethnic governance”, bearing in mind, also, its unfavourable assessment even by its “de facto” leader, Gomes, in his painfully frank reflections, is not only unwise and unfortunate. It is also counter-productive.

 

Because to do so is to run the risk of affirming the abysmal international ranking of UWI at St Augustine. Worse still, it is to give credence, with UWI’s help, to Butler’s intemperate outburst, in the wake of his disappointments, against trusting Indians.

 

This temptation, as Dr Williams urged, even in the face of the vile and false accusations of racism he too was obliged to endure from both bold-faced and closet racists, must be resisted, notwithstanding persistent provocations, by all well-meaning, peace-loving and genuinely patriotic Trinbagonians, Indian, Black or indifferent.  The alternative apocalyptic prospect, too horrendous to contemplate, will benefit no one and endanger our fragile independence.

 

Rawle Boland

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