Kamla: UNC loved, will honour Panday

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar speaks to the media at her Red House office, during the public viewing of former prime minister Basdeo Panday on Friday. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

United National Congress (UNC) leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC walked down memory lane on Friday, sharing fond memories of former prime minister Basdeo Panday, showering praises, and expressing her love for him.

“I sincerely love and adore Mr Panday. I always will. I am grateful for the influence he has had on my life, as indeed I think all of TT, for his governance, his thoughts, his ideas, policies and programmes he implemented for the betterment of the people,” Persad-Bissessar said.

The Opposition Leader spoke at a media conference at the Red House on Friday afternoon after signing the condolence book. Panday’s body lay in state in the rotunda of the Red House from 10 am to 6 pm.

His body will lie in state on Monday, for the same period at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA) in San Fernando. She vowed that she and other supporters will be in “full force” for the funeral on Tuesday at SAPA.

She added, “I have always been tremendously impressed with his dedication to duty and service to the people of TT. It is not a secret in his later years that was not really a cordial relationship, but I remember what he said.”

The Siparia MP quoted him as saying he had no political enemies and instead had political opponents.

Panday, 90, fondly known as the Silver Fox, died on January 1 at a hospital in the US.

He was the founding leader of the UNC as well as the now-defunct Democratic Labour Party (DLP). He was this country’s fifth prime minister (1995 – 2001).

The charismatic leader, known for his wit, was also an attorney, trade unionist, actor and economist.

In January 2010, Persad-Bissessar defeated him in UNC’s internal elections and carved her name in history. She became the first female leader of a political party and later the first female prime minister in Trinidad and Tobago.

She noted that many public calls had been made on ways Panday should be honoured.

On the proposals that the Shiva Boys’ Hindu College in Penal be renamed after him, she said it would be a great tribute. She reminisced that this secondary school was established under his tenure as prime minister and her as the then education minister.

She added it was previously known as the Gandhi College and was rundown.

She lauded him for abolishing the Common Entrance exams (now called SEA).

“We were able to abolish that exam because of his vision, his mission, and thereafter, we built so many schools throughout the country to accommodate all the students who before were not given an opportunity to go secondary school,” she said.

She recalled his “life story,” saying he went to London to study with $6 in his pocket.

“So he understood and valued education as a passport out of poverty and a way to a better value of life. For us in the UNC, we continue with that vision and mission in education,” Persad-Bissessar said.

“We will get together as a party and come up with the best way to honour him.

She also referred to suggestions that the Piarco International Airport be renamed in Panday’s honour.

That decision lies in the hands of the Government and not the Opposition.

“That is merely something to sign and could be done easily. I am not sure what the Government would do. People also suggested scholarships in his name because education was so close to him,” she said.

“None of us should run to say do this and do that without first getting the say-so and permission from the family. That is very important.”

Persad-Bissessar said she welcomed the family’s decision for the funeral in south Trinidad, adding that Panday was a son of the soil of the southland, born, educated, and grown.

The state funeral, she added, would be a first in the south and the first under Hindu rites.

Asked about his departure from the party and critics’ belief that the UNC unfairly treated him, Persad-Bissessar responded, “I think the greatest disservice and injustice done to Panday was not by the UNC. It was done by the PNM Government. We must never forget. They were the ones who forced him to be jailed.”

She accused the PNM of hounding Panday in and out of office with “smears and slurs.”

Persad-Bissessar shared the sentiments of one of Panday’s daughters, Mickela Panday, that Panday wanted constitutional reform.

“There is no doubt that we need serious constitutional reform. During my term in office, we started parts of it because we needed the support of others in Parliament. Constitutional reform is a serious matter to be tackled head-on.”

She charged that there are reports of Dr Keith Rowley on Thursday attempting to blame the UNC for Tobago’s lack of self-government.

But she shifted the blame to the PNM, saying in January 2013, Rowley and the PNM party voted against the idea.

“That’s another area for constitutional reform. It is long overdue,” she added.

UNC supporters display placards in support of the party’s former political leader, the late Basdeo Panday, at a demonstration in his honour outside the Red House, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, at which Panday lay in state for public viewing on Friday. – Photo by Faith Ayoung