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Rowley: PP seeking to make election about race

Published: 
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Election Central 2015
Five men display a banner along the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway near Aranguez, against both PNM and ILP political leaders Dr Keith Rowley and Jack Warner, respectively, yesterday. Photo: ABRAHAM DIAZ

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley has countered claims of racism levelled against him and his party by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her party, instead accusing her of attempting to make the 2015 election campaign one about race. Speaking on a PNM platform in Cocoyea Village, on Tuesday night, in support of the San Fernando East candidate Randall Mitchell, Rowley warned Persad-Bissessar that she was playing with fire by appealing to the “one-third Indian population” to demonise him and the PNM. 

Only last week, Persad-Bissessar called on Rowley to apologise for statements made by one of his candidates in the general election, Fitzgerald Hinds, which she viewed as racist. 

But in his hour-long address on Tuesday, Rowley hit back, referring to the “coded racial” campaign being waged by the United National Congress (UNC), even accusing them of invoking the symbolic and sacred Hindu symbol, the om. He cautioned the Prime Minister to do nothing to destroy the stability of the country but pledged that the PNM would not run and hide.

Addressing the gathering, Rowley said the most enduring and valuable legacy the PNM had left on the local landscape from 1956 was that of interracial solidarity among the people of T&T. “We all celebrate Christmas together, we celebrate Divali, we celebrate Eid, we celebrate Carnival. We argue during the year, but we respect each other.”

Referring to the conduct of people in other culturally-diverse countries such as Muslims in the Middle East and Christians in Northern Ireland who kill one another, he said, “Muslims, Hindus and Christians live together in peace and harmony under 60 years of PNM existence.” That is why, he said, “I take strong objection to the racial campaign being run by the UNC in 2015. And they believe that the PNM would do nothing about it because once you say race, the PNM will run and hide.”

He said: “Well, not under my leadership. If you engage us, we will engage you because we have nothing to fear and nothing to be ashamed of.” He drew reference to a banner placed in the Oropouche East constituency of Dr Roodal Moonilal around the same time a motion of no confidence was moved against him in the Parliament. 

He accused Moonilal “of putting up a racially-coded banner,” which read, “Hide Your Children from Keith Rowley.” Rowley said, “We understand it very well,  Mr Moonilal. You are trying to demonise me and the PNM along racial lines in 2015 to survive and become the government again. But the people of this country are not blind, they are not foolish.”

He told Moonilal if he believed the PNM would not engage him, he was wrong. “Wrong time, wrong leader.” The Opposition Leader went on to state that the UNC continued to stoke racial tension by invoking the sacred Hindu symbolism in connection with a protest in Aranguez last week. “They put up a banner in Aranguez, ‘Jack Warner and Keith Rowley stop attacking our families,’ and put the Hindu om on the banner.

“People of T&T, these people are playing with fire. If you want to convert your defence into invoking these symbols of your religion, you are asking for trouble in a multiracial, multi-religious society and the Prime Minister and the UNC must be scolded and asked to turn away from that.” He said the only reason the UNC was trying to associate him with Warner was because “they are waging a campaign to make it an ethnic thing.”

He reviewed the past five years during which time he objected to Warner’s being appointed to the Cabinet because of allegations of wrongdoing against him, whereas the PM and her Cabinet sided with Warner. “So why is the UNC trying to pass Jack Warner to us?” Rowley also defended Laventille candidate Fitzgerald Hinds, who was chastised by Persad-Bissessar for allegedly racist statements made during a recent political meeting in Belmont, when Hinds spoke about “alligators from the same murky lagoon.”

Rowley explained that Hinds was questioning the construction of two huge houses—one owned by Ashworth Jack in Tobago and the other by the Prime Minister in Phillipine—by the same contractor. He said Hinds referred to the murky environment surrounding the construction of these two structures.

“He said Ashworth Jack and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, both of them, alligators from the same murky lagoon. You know they see race. I don’t know what race Ashworth Jack is, but the last time I saw him, he was Hinds’ race. “And the Prime Minister jumps out with Sat Maharaj behind saying that Hinds must be chastised for racist comments. And the Prime Minister appeals to the one-third population in the country not to support Hinds and the PNM. And who is the one-third population? The Indian population.”

Suruj responds

Speaking on the CNC3 Morning Brew yesterday, Works Minister Dr Suruj Rambachan said Rowley had descended to a new low with his accusations of racial baiting against his party. He said Dr Rowley was bereft of a vision or any plans for the country and was therefore resorting to the race factor because he had found himself in the unenviable position of being a discounted leader. 

He said Rowley was yet to apologise for the “Calcutta ship” statement made during the THA election and also referred to derogatory comments on social media made by PNM member Juliet Davies and the attack against women of East Indian descent. He said the racial bogey was a legacy of the PNM.

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