It is undeniable that the People’s National Movement is a monument of Trinidad & Tobago politics. Formed in 1956 under the leadership of Dr Eric Williams, the party steered T&T to independence from the British and has been the only constant on the country’s political landscape in our 54-and-a-half-year history as a sovereign nation.
Thus far, the party has ruled in total for just over 38 of our 54+ independent years i.e. for 70% of the time. It has experienced ebbs and flows in its fortunes. A number of party cadres have jumped ship over the years, and at times the population’s enthusiasm for the party has been known to wane.
Today being Good Friday, this post sums up the lower points in the PNM’s fortunes by way of crucifixion-related Biblical references from the New Testament books of Matthew, Luke and John, the PNM or its leaders being Jesus the messiah of Trinidad & Tobago politics.
1) FALLING AWAY OF POPULAR PNM SUPPORT AFTER ERIC WILLIAMS’ DEATH
Matthew 27 : 11 – 14 (King James Version)
11 And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
12 And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
13 Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
14 And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
After Dr Williams died in office in 1981 after 19 years as prime minister, the sway held by the PNM over the voting masses started to lessen. The party had lost its founder and compass. One can imagine the foes of the then increasingly out of sorts party circling around in full “the witch is dead” mode and asking if the PNM was the king of T&T politics, to which the party answered yes, but was running out of convincing things to say in the face of the mounting criticism being levelled against it.
2) AFTER WILLIAMS’ DEATH, HIS OPPONENTS STAND READY
Matthew 27 : 1 (King James Version)
1 When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:
Seeing blood in the water with George Chambers unable to fill Williams shoes, the enemies of the PNM were getting themselves in gear in the early 1980s.
3) GEORGE CHAMBERS AS SIMON OF CYRENE
Luke 23:26 (King James Version)
26 And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.
Speaking of former PM Chambers, he can be likened to Simon of Cyrene in that he had the unenviable task of carrying the cross or the burden of the PNM’s mounting misfortune following Dr Williams passing and impending demise until such time as the party would meet its fate. He sort of just happened to be there in the wrong place at the right time.
4) THE POST-WILLIAMS SCRAMBLE FOR POWER
Matthew 27 : 50 – 53 (King James Version)
50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
During Dr Williams’ heyday he is known for having said “when I talk, let no damned dog bark”, meaning that his voice trumped all others within the party. This disillusioned more than one or two figures among the party’s higher ranks, but Williams was skilful at neutralizing anyone who fancied him or herself an up and comer and seemed poised to try and usurp his place within the political machine he had created, for various reasons that need not be mentioned here.
Individuals like Errol Mahabir, Karl Hudson-Phillips and ANR Robinson had reason to feel that their progress was stunted under Williams’ leadership. By the time of his death all 3 were out of the party and surely looking to finally make electoral mark at the party’s expense. They were, in effect, emerging from a political graveyard to which they had been banished directly or indirectly by Williams.
In 1981, Hudson-Phillips and Robinson “came out of the graves after his resurrection, and […] appeared unto many”, but the PNM still managed a win so success in toppling it was still a few years off.
5) AFTER THE 1986 ELECTION LOSS – TO THE VICTOR GO THE SPOILS
Matthew 27 : 35 – 37, 39 & 41 (King James Version)
35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
36 And sitting down they watched him there;
37 And set up over his head his accusation written, This Is Jesus The King Of The Jews.
39 And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders,
In 1986 a conglomeration of anti-PNM forces banded together as the National Alliance for Reconstruction and inflicted the party’s first ever election loss since independence. The verses above aptly sum up the fallout from the election which saw the PNM carry just 3 of the 36 seats up for grabs. Conquering most of their foe’s former strongholds – its garments as it were, the NAR divided up the electoral cake that was the PNM’s stomping ground until then.
“Robinson, the PNM felt, is coming back for revenge on them for treating him like garbage over the past 15 years”
The quote above is taken from an article in The Bomb newspaper, dated February 12, 1988. The vengeful attitude feared by the PNM fits in perfectly with the people who divided up Jesus’ clothes and “reviled” and mocked him now that they finally had the chance to do so.
6) ANR ROBSINSON MOCKS THE PNM’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Matthew 27 : 27 – 30 King James Version
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
30 And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
In 1987, about a year into his term as PM, ANR Robinson said the following:
“Under the PNM we were virtually becoming a nation of zombies.”
How’s that for mocking the PNM and spitting upon it.
7) ANR ROBINSON AS A REMORSEFUL JUDAS
Matthew 27 : 3 – 5 King James Version
3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
One cannot help but think of ANR Robinson in 2001, deciding in his capacity as president of Trinidad & Tobago to adjudge the PNM the winner over the UNC of a tied 18 seats apiece election. Six years prior to this, Robinson was also a kingmaker when he broke the 17-17 PNM-UNC deadlock by adding his 2 NAR Tobago seats to the UNC’s 17 to put the UNC in government. He must have come to regret that decision and decided to make up for it in 2001 and not “shirk his responsibility” as he said in a speech at that time. The fact that Judas hanged himself, and Robinson broke the deadlock of a hung parliament just reinforces the reference.
8) OR, ANR CHOOSING BARABBAS
Matthew 27 : 15 – 16 & 21 – 22 King James Version
15 Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
16 And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
21 The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
22 Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
17-17-2: ANR went with Barabbas Panday (so to speak), and left the PNM to be crucified.
9) RESURRECTION: ROWLEY BECOMES PNM LEADER
Matthew 27 : 57 – 60 (King James Version)
57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:
58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
After suffering the second worst election defeat in its history in 2010 and the second premature such setback under Patrick Manning’s leadership, the PNM was a lifeless shell of its former triumphant self. Longstanding MP Dr Keith Rowley subsequently stepped in and took the party leadership baton from a discredited Manning, effectively claiming the party’s body after its crucifixion and taking care of it before its resurrection which was to come 5 years later in the form of a general election win in 2015.
John 19 : 39 (King James Version)
39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
It’s fair to say that Nicodemus is all the party activists who kept going during the lean years when many had turned their backs on it.
10) AND, WELL…. RALPH MARAJ
Matthew 27 : 54 (King James Version)
54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
He has flip-flopped in T&T politics more times than pancakes in a frying pan, leaving the PNM for the UNC then leaving the UNC to form the ill-fated Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj-led Team Unity. I could see him saying, upon returning to the PNM fold for the umpteenth time, “Truly, magnum est PNM… I’m sure this time”.