I tried and failed to stop myself from commenting on the Kublalsingh issue. I know some people will deride and dismiss my opinion, and I will most likely be labelled a PNM sympathiser. For the record I am a supporter of NO political party, despite voting for the Congress of the People (COP) in the last general election. I am however a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, and I am horrified by the unfolding tragedy which has gripped our nation’s attention over the past fifteen days.
Like many people, I initially dismissed Dr Wayne Kublalsingh’s hunger strike as that of an attention-seeking madman. I couldn’t see the point of dying for a highway. His protest was pointless and would do nothing to change the Government’s position. To me it seemed like a stupid way to die when so many persons the world over are desperately clinging to life.
But as the days wear on and the rhetoric becomes increasingly heated around this issue my sense of discomfort is increasing. I am simply not comfortable watching a man die. Every morning I tune in to the local TV stations wondering if Today is the Day. I find myself breathing a sigh of relief that his increasingly emaciated and visibly weakened frame is still moving.
A friend of mine today described Wayne Kublalsingh as “a pest, a fraudster, and an idiot who deserves to die”. This sentiment is apparently shared by many, including our Minister of National Security who recently called upon Kublalsingh “to hurry up and die”. When did our society become so callous? When did we lose our compassion for those with whose opinions we do not agree? Have we become so jaded by loss of life that we no longer care for anyone apart from our own loved ones? Is our prevailing attitude “The highway doesn’t affect me so why should I care about Kublalsingh?”
I disagree with Dr Kublalsingh’s chosen protest method but I fully support his right to protest. I cannot help but admire his strength in the face of overwhelming opposition. As this hunger strike continues I realise This Man Means Business. Kublalsingh is not backing down. Do I believe he is secretly scoffing sandwiches and guzzling Gatorade? I am not putting my head on a block for any man. I have no doubt he is fully aware of the effect images of his ravaged body is having on the public psyche and he is actively courting media attention. But his courage and belief in his convictions are astonishing. Are you prepared to die for a cause? I know I am not.
As misguided as you may believe Dr Kublalsingh to be; irrespective of whether you agree with him or not, he is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. He does not deserve to be publicly ridiculed and maligned by Government Officials. He does not deserve to have his family described as a cult for standing by him. His supporters do not deserve being hounded by counter-protesters who looked suspiciously like professional protesters (paid for by whom?). He does not deserve to have his opinions dismissed as irrelevant and unimportant for the sake of expediency.
Serve the people, serve the people, serve the people – who said that? Certainly not the Prime Minister who sat and applauded at the United National Congress (UNC) public meeting in Debe while her ministers disrespected the citizenry and deliberately misled the audience. Could this be the same woman who wrote to Vilma Kublalsingh (Wayne’s mother) of her “personal grief” over the “self inflicted suffering of Wayne Kublalsingh”?
Despite what the government would have us believe, the Re-Route Movement is NOT against the construction of the highway. Their protest centres on the unpublished technical review of the project, and the proposed route for the Mon Desir to Debe section which would destroy local wetlands. It is difficult to ascertain if the Re-Route Movement’s objections have any merit because so far we have not a decisive answer from the Government on the issues raised.
This Government’s response to criticism or objection of any kind is to attack. Forget about a counter response which addresses the issue in a systematic manner and outlines government policy. That would be too dignified. Instead, denigrate and disgrace the critic. Shoot the messenger and destroy the message.
One thing is clear about the Kublalsingh issue. It has illuminated the true characters of politicians on every side of the political divide. Members of the Government are either publicly abusive or woefully silent as their colleagues heap insults on Dr Kublalsingh and his supporters. The Leader of the COP, Prakash Ramadhar, issued a statement distancing the COP from the statements made by cabinet colleagues at the UNC public meeting in Debe. Frankly Mr Ramadhar, this was not enough. Meanwhile members of the Opposition PNM rub their hands in glee as the People’s Partnership digs an increasingly big hole to fall in.
And then there are Dr Kublalsingh’s supporters – a motley crew of True Believers, civil society activists, trade unionists, failed politicians, persons with a political axe to grind, and self serving-individuals who see this issue as a chance for them to regain the spotlight.
I do not believe Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar should meet with Dr Kublalsingh. It would set a bad precedent. On the other hand, in the interest of transparency and good governance, the Government should consider meeting with civil society groups to hear their suggestions for ending this unfortunate impasse. At the very least this would help the government to recover some modicum of dignity after engaging in a very public and vitriolic dogfight. For a government which swept into power on a tide of goodwill the People’s Partnership has done an extremely efficient job of turning public opinion against them.
As I write this I hope to God Wayne Kublalsingh is still alive. I cannot contemplate the ethical dilemma the Government – and society as a whole – will face if he dies. Whatever the outcome of this situation, the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway will be a permanent scar on our nation.