Suruj: UNC must rebrand itself
FORTY years is half a life in politics and Dr Surujrattan Rambachan, 70, calls it a day, telling Sunday Newsday in an interview that when a man comes to terms with his longevity, his plans are made easier for winter years. As he hearkened back to the 1980s, ‘Suruj’s’ dream is for the sun to shine on younger politicians.
You cut your political teeth in your 30s with the ONR, the country’s first party that crossed the political divide that was far-reaching in TT. Do you look back to those days?
I was attracted to the slogan of ‘one love’ in ONR; that we must do better. I felt the disenchantment. I was young and vibrant and harboured feelings that Trinidad and Tobago had to carve out its’ global space. I felt back then that it never could happen without national unity. The ONR provided that attraction. As I think about those times, I must pay tribute to the late Karl Hudson-Phillips. Up to this day, I’m reminded of those years.
Were they the best political days of your life?
Yes, they certainly were. I wanted national unity and Hudson-Phillips’ ideas became mines. I realised early that in life, I had to make tremendous sacrifices to achieve that goal.
As it turned out, you achieved that goal in a predominantly East Indian-based party – UNC. Do you think you have accomplished that goal from what you started off in?
I first fought elections in 1981 for the ONR against Trevor Sudama in Oropouche. With 5,600 votes, it demonstrated a change in the mood of people. We then emerged as an alliance which incorporated the ULF, then the UNC which began to represent other disenchanted groups, such as the labour movement. So yes, one gets that feeling of belonging to what started off as the ONR.
What have you identified as the crowning moments of your political life as UNC deputy political leader and government minister?
I would say that my major achievement is the building of the town hall in Chaguanas. The volley ball court; football field. As a chairman of St Patrick regional corporation; it was the Shore of Peace construction as a model for cremation sites. In the UNC, it was how we managed diversity; varying opinions in the party. I think I encouraged the making of compromise in the party. Like in the ONR, we couldn’t have gone forward.
Then why bow out when the UNC which you helped win government, stands at the crossroads of unseating the PNM in a year’s time?
As I leave electoral politics, I’m seeing young people coming forward; very brave people. The fight is going to be a tough road though.
Who are these young people emerging?
They are young men and women who have to be given that opportunity, just as I was, in the 80s. Actually, I was active in politics when I was just 17 years old. My uncle had fought the Siparia seat for the Democratic Labour Party. As I said, I am not abandoning the UNC; the young minds will have mentors and the elder statesmen. Young people will need that aspect of guidance that they have to make sacrifices, especially when you are coming up against the PNM.
(During the interview, Rambachan held back a comment, about how he was unceremoniously dismissed from a posting at UWI when he joined electoral politics.)
Do you have concerns that the UNC will again label the upcoming general elections battle Kamla 2020, as we saw with Kamla 2015 and Kamla 2010?
Kamla has a good chance. I did something on Tuesday night. I’m not offering myself for the 2020 elections. I want to give Mrs Persad-Bissessar that space to make the changes she wants. She needs new faces. People are disenchanted with how this country is being governed and new groups and people must emerge.”
If you retire from politics, how can you help the UNC back into government?
I’m not retiring from politics. I will focus my attention on the development of party.
At this time, what is the UNC lacking?
I think the UNC has to rebrand itself. That process has started. Young people are beginning to see the party again as the viable alternative. Whist the PNM seemed to have fallen by the wayside as leading a corrupt government, the UNC holds on to its track-record of performance. People are not forgetting that the UNC lived up to its’ slogan ‘performance beat ole talk’. We built 37 pavilions. We completed 100 road projects. In Tobago, our track record is there in tourism, not forgetting sporting facilities for cycling and swimming.
Will the labour movement, interest-groups, and political parties give the UNC the kind of support to amalgamate into a coalition force again?
I think people are not short-sighted. As I’ve learnt in the ONR, if we do not sit down and work on our ideas for the future; this is a diverse country. For me, in the ONR it was sacrifice, in the UNC, I made tremendous sacrifices. I recall giving up my post as foreign affairs minister to Winston Dookeran. I took the advice of Mrs Persad-Bissessar to allow an elder statesman to represent the country at the highest level while I moved to local government.
What would Rambachan like to see for TT?
I will like to see more young people join the politics. I wish to see them blossom and create a future for TT. As I leave active politics, my thoughts are with families who are poor, especially children…. their housing condition especially. Again, I pay tribute to Hudson-Phillips, Gerard Hadeed and Basdeo Panday.
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