Talk­ing Rott

Jamaica Gleaner - - @ISSUE - Tony Deyal

HEN DEY drink dey rum, dey only want roti ... . ” This ca­lypso by Da Mas­ter­mind and Patch at­tests to the pop­u­lar­ity of a com­bi­na­tion of sup­plies that was deemed vi­tal to suc­cess in elec­tions in Trinidad and Tobago for many years, es­pe­cially from the 1950s on.

Rum and roti are still con­sid­ered part of the po­lit­i­cal vic­tory for­mula, but only as the sup­port­ing cast to the main ben­e­fit per­for­mance, part- or full-time em­ploy­ment or a ‘wock’ in one of the ‘gangs’ mak­ing up the num­bers in freemoney, make-work projects which still con­tinue and are said to be grow­ing in Trinidad and Tobago de­spite the coun­try’s wors­en­ing econ­omy and in­creas­ing taxes that seem des­tined, if not in­tended, to wipe out the mid­dle class.

Prom­ises of free hous­ing come a close sec­ond, but the job, even if for a suc­ces­sion of ‘10 days’ of tem­po­rary labour­less ‘work’ bol­stered by con­tin­u­ous pay, is what seals the deal. The rum and roti are of sec­ondary sig­nif­i­cance. In terms of defin­ing my terms, I be­lieve ev­ery one of my read­ers knows what ‘rum’ is, but if any­one needs fur­ther en­light­en­ment, the sit­u­a­tion I have de­scribed above is as rum as you can get and it is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­steady if not blind drunk, not by al­co­hol but by po­lit­i­cal power.

The sums spent on this rum way of man­ag­ing a re­ces­sion are stag­ger­ing and as any­one who has used this prod­uct knows, it causes fur­ther de­pres­sion and leads to an eco­nomic headache that none of the whiz-kids or aspirin politi­cians can solve. For ex­am­ple, the na­tional oil com­pany, Petrotrin, has posted a net loss be­fore tax of $1.95 bil­lion, and when told that the econ­omy was con­tract­ing, one of my friends re­torted, “Yes, con­trac­tors get­ting all the money and they pass on a lot of it to the politi­cians.”


As for ‘roti’, the time when some West In­di­ans were un­aware of, or made fun of it, has long past and it is for most of us an oc­ca­sional and fill­ing low-cost meal. The cost is im­por­tant, but not as much as the tem­per­a­ture. Peo­ple like their roti hot, and the hottest one you can find is be­ing served up right now by the prime min­is­ter of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Keith Row­ley, and his min­ions over the cost of a func­tion held by his pre­de­ces­sor, Kamla Per­sad-Bisses­sar, to cel­e­brate the an­nual Di­wali in 2014.

Lead­ing the way at a po­lit­i­cal rally as part of the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions sched­uled for Mon­day, Novem­ber 28, Dr Row­ley sank his teeth into a bill for $350,000 for roti for that func­tion.

The ini­tial re­sponse, es­pe­cially from Dr Row­ley’s fol­low­ers, was one of out­rage at the amount “squan­dered” by the Op­po­si­tion when it was in power. Per­haps the jux­ta­po­si­tion of ‘roti’, nor­mally a rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive meal, with hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars of tax­pay­ers’ money, may have been the in­ten­tion, but then an op­po­si­tion mem­ber of par­lia­ment, Barry Padarath, ques­tioned Dr Row­ley’s claim and chal­lenged him to pro­duce the bills, adding, “I won­der if this roti talk has any sub­lim­i­nal mes­sag­ing, as it is en­tirely mis­lead­ing.” Then Dr Row­ley and Mr Padarath clashed over the cost of the roti in Par­lia­ment. Fol­low­ing a heated dis­pute, Mr Padarath was tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended and Dr Row­ley promised to pro­vide the bills for the func­tion.

From that point, ‘roti’ be­came a fourlet­ter word and gen­er­ated much more heat than light, shift­ing quickly from what many thought was the ini­tial fo­cus of fi­nan­cial waste and profli­gacy

to race and na­tion­al­ity. If this was the mes­sage, it was no longer sub­lim­i­nal.

In an ed­i­to­rial ti­tled ‘Roti with Red her­ring’, The Trinidad Ex­press news­pa­per noted, “Sadly, this is­sue risks be­ing over­shad­owed by plat­form rhetoric that is so de­based as to as­sume racial con­no­ta­tions. We urge all par­ties to de­sist from this wholly un­pro­duc­tive dis­trac­tion and stick to the facts.”

It was a clear in­di­ca­tion that whether it was a red her­ring or not, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of cit­i­zens, mostly of East In­dian de­scent, found the roti fo­cus to be fishy.


They reached that con­clu­sion be­cause of the con­text in which the roti was rolled out. In a pre­vi­ous elec­tion in Tobago, a plat­form speaker was ac­cused of at­tempt­ing to scare the peo­ple about vot­ing for can­di­dates rep­re­sent­ing Per­sad-Bisses­sar’s party with a ref­er­ence to a ship at Cal­cutta (a vil­lage in Cen­tral Trinidad) wait­ing to sail to Tobago, and that if they brought the wrong re­sults, “Cal­cutta ship is com­ing down for you!”

There was a ref­er­ence by one present min­is­ter of gov­ern­ment to “al­li­ga­tors from the same murky pond”, which peo­ple of East In­dian de­scent be­lieve re­ferred to them, and a re­cent state­ment on a po­lit­i­cal plat­form from the same min­is­ter about the op­po­si­tion party, “We need to fin­ish them out. Kill them dead. I want you to un­der­stand that on Novem­ber 28, you have the op­por­tu­nity

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