For some time now, the PMSD has upped the ante about undertaking a census on ethnic grounds, and recently this political clamour has been backed by a similar stand taken by a few Catholic priests. Everywhere the admixture of politics and religion, which some politicians – seeking to regain their shine and their downsized share of the electoral cake – indulge in during the run-up to forthcoming elections, is known to be, and justly decried, a recipe for strife and social chaos.
This, we dare say, is the last thing that we want at this turning point of our country, and like many saner voices that have expressed themselves, we too have taken position on the issue of ethnic census. Emotion-laden debates will not have any contribution to make to our future development, which is facing major challenges impacting us from the global environment. These are what need to be our focus, not the type of petty polemics that animated our baby steps towards political independence and economic interdependence.
Thus, therefore, November 2nd and February 1st should not be looked at in terms of separate ethnic compartments.
Taking a long shot into the past, these commemorations provide us the opportunity to look at the road jointly travelled by the former slaves and Indian Indentured Labour to carve for themselves and their descendants a place under the sun. After all, they toiled under practically the same harsh conditions, living in equally primitive and precarious environments – no surprise that historian Hugh Tinker described Indian Indenture as ‘A new system of slavery’. They faced the same odds and obstacles erected by the sugar barons either on their own or in association with the colonial government, which largely served the interests of the Metropole although, when organized resistance arose such as by Adolphe de Plevtiz, it was forced to set up commissions of enquiry and endeavour to improve the lot of the workers.
Unfortunately, the seeds of division have been sown in the struggle of both the descendants of former slaves and those of indentured labour by those vested interests which were intent on maintaining the status quo. While these divisions continue to haunt us to this day, it does not mean that we should continue to remain blind to the attempt to not only maintain but to reinforce them. We would like to think that all of us have moved forward in our analysis of the forces that are at work in our society, and that we have developed a larger perspective and breadth of vision that looks at our future as one where our children and grandchildren will not have to relive the perils of the past that, had they not been managed with sagacity, would have destroyed us.
That political conflicts should arise in the competition for limited resources and opportunities and for political authority is quite understandable, but these can be managed and resolved through the democratic process. As we know, following the democratic road is a long-drawn process beset with many ups and downs, and it would be fair to say that one way or another we have managed to hold our heads high on this score. But when what looks like intractable conflicts that are stage-managed and are introduced into the debate — as evidenced in the latter-day majority v/s minority ghost that is sought to be revived, then we have reasons for concern that the old monsters of division are being resuscitated for purely political ends.
Lobbies of whatever ilk are known to become more aggressive – and powerful — on the eve of elections, and the stakes are raised to attract attention and following — as is the wont of radical politics in the initial stages of political engagement. Perforce, such radicalism at the initial – and immature – stages has to give way to compromise and moderation so as to be able to join the mainstream. Today’s PMSD and groupings of the same ilk seem to be engineering a reversal of what had been accomplished by that party in years past: Radical Politics followed by compromise and moderation, and back to the present-day radicalism. There is thus a dangerous game that is being played out there with regard to census in the context of the electoral reform proposals of the current government.
We all know that the challenge is about ensuring better access to opportunities in employment, finance, housing, land, social benefits, and so on: that should include wealth distribution too, isn’t it, from those adept at amassing to those less fortunate? The growing inequality in our society that affects the descendants of former slaves and indentured labour equally, and is the result of a complex mix of forces not all of which are within our control, is also a challenge to be overcome. This is not to condone the games that politicians play on our backs and their joining hands with big magnates to share the spoils, the result of which is the impoverishment of the common man.
That is where the battle must be fought, and anything that goes in the direction of causing splits in the ranks of those who have to struggle for better conditions of employment and of living is not going to serve their interest. They must therefore be wary of those who pretend to speak on their behalf without being mandated to do so, as our colleague Sydney Selvon so cogently argues in l’express of 31st October.