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Mickela must dodge father’s shadow
Mickela Panday is one of the most recognisable figures in our national community. Despite our mutual affiliation with the T&T Guardian newspaper, she and I have never met. Like many Trinbagonians, what I know of her comes from her public reputation—as a practising attorney, a former member of parliament, and, most of all, as the daughter of Basdeo Panday.
It would be an understatement to say that politics and social activism run in her veins. In fact, if her father was still the political leader of the United National Congress she would have probably succeeded him in that role and gone on to become the first female prime minister of our country. Of course, we all know how things turned out. Mr Panday lost the party’s internal election on January 24, 2010, to Kamla Persad-Bissessar. And the younger Panday was not included on the slate of candidates that contested the general election the following May. In one fell swoop, the Panday legacy had been extricated from the UNC.
It’s understandable why Mrs Persad-Bissessar took such a draconian action. In order to secure her position as leader of the UNC, there could be no lingering influence from her former boss. This meant that Ms Panday —being the heiress of the deposed king—had to go as well. It’s ironic that the familial connection that paved her way into the world of politics also ended up ushering her out of it. But the father-daughter duo would not be so easily silenced. And their ousting from parliament gave them an unrestricted license to criticise the current and past administrations.
To Ms Panday’s credit, her style is very different from that of her father’s. While he is usually caustic and condemning, she tends to be more academic and balanced. That being said, they both seem to be particularly invested in commenting on the missteps of the People’s Partnership. No surprise there. But it leads to an important question regarding Ms Panday—whether she is her own person or just an extension of her father.
This brings us to Sunday afternoon’s open forum at Gaston Court, Chaguanas. In the days leading up to the event, there was speculation abound that she was going to announce the formation of a new party. Or at the very least, use it as a litmus test to determine what sort of feedback she received before proceeding any farther. However, following a scripted speech, the audience’s contributions were glowing tributes to her father instead of suggestions on what direction she should take.
It is clear that Mr Panday casts a lengthy shadow over his daughter’s plans. But let’s not forget his own words following the election results of 2008, when he blamed the COP for splitting the opposition vote which ensured a PNM victory. According to former UNC senator Devant Maharaj, there is a concern amongst the party’s membership that history would repeat itself. That very concern could be what Ms Panday is counting on, hoping to use it as a bargaining chip to secure her return to the political arena.
Thus far, Mrs Persad-Bissessar has refused Ms Panday’s request for a meeting. But that doesn’t mean she won’t be open to it in the near future, especially in light of Sunday’s turnout. If Ms Panday is welcomed back into the UNC, it’s only because Mrs Persad-Bissessar wants to avoid a diffusion of the anti-PNM vote. It’s left to be seen if they are both willing to put aside their personal ambitions for the good of the party.
Personally, I would very much like to see Ms Panday return to parliament. Her youth and experience will benefit our country’s stagnant political discourse. But she needs to put some distance between herself and her father. The identity of being Basdeo Panday’s daughter has gotten her far enough, now she needs to distinguish herself with an agenda of her own; that means having fresh ideas, not rehashing those of the past. We already know all there is about her being a Panday, now we want to know more about who she is as Mickela.
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