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Vandana Mohit vs Clarence Rambharat: How Chaguanas East became a Marginal Seat

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“I live in the marginal constituency of Chaguanas East. I am on the boundary between Enterprise and Cunupia, such that they could be interchanged and the package would still reach my house. I’s Chaguanas till ah dead. I myself am a swing voter and thus, the person you need to be appeal to if you campaign here. The ketchup and mustard presented were, respectively, Clarence Rambharat (PNM) and Vandana Mohit (UNC). It took me a while before I could actually decide who would get my vote, as I thought both candidates would’ve been great MP’s.

Clarence, in my opinion, had a very aggressive campaign. An uphill battle. Mainly because he was going up against the Mayor and a very popular former councillor. Billboards to rival Pastor Cuffie’s daughters. Youtube ads like mad. But I watched all of them at least once. Most outlined a focused plan to help legitimize small businesses, kiosk, eateries around the Enterprise and Montrose areas. However, one video stood out for me in particular. Him listing five facts about himself, including his attempts at extempo, that he hasn’t driven a vehicle since 2007, and that he sometimes confuses left and right.

I initially found this strange, but it stayed in my mind. Only strange because it was unfamiliar. Would Fitzgerald Hinds ever put out a video saying he couldn’t tell left from right? What about Moonilal? Jennifer Baptiste-Primus? Anthony Garcia? How about Gypsy? Coming back to this later.

Vandana dedicated a share of her personal campaign on online platforms. I only use Facebook, so that’s what I saw. I’m a secondary school teacher. Some of the children I teach say they look up to Vandana. “I woulda vote for she if I coulda vote!” To me, this is major, especially after the shaming and kankalang that happened to her last year. At Bocas Literature Festival, I heard an agent who predominantly represents young adult and children’s literature once say that zoomers are the scariest people in the world when they band together. Vandana popped up on my timeline almost every day I was online. Mostly early morning videos, pre-makeup, sleepy, eyes sunken and dark-ringed in some, sharing photos of herself back in her school days, talking about food, casually streaming with followers, answering questions, chatting about growing up in Chaguanas. In the end, she carved out a persona as the “Chaguanas homegirl” and used it as her hashtag. I found all of this endearing. And so did others.

And I began thinking back to Clarence’s video. From a literary perspective, if you want to have the reader empathize with a character, the reader must see themselves in that character. If that character gets insulted, they must feel so as well. The reader is never a perfect person, a paragon of anything. The reader is a flawed individual who wants to overcome a struggle, accomplish something, and do better in life. And a lot of the time, cannot figure out how. Clarence’s idiosyncrasies, as briefly as he related them, made him distinctly human in that video. That’s why I could remember it so clearly and not, say, the plot of any of the Transformers movies. Similarly, Vandana dedicated posts and videos talking about things that were not overtly politics or rhetoric. Might not seem like much, but remember this is not just some gyal livestreaming — this is the Mayor of Chaguanas.

These two candidates sought to humanize themselves and were very good at it. Something that Kamla (and a lot of the older stalwarts on both sides) has failed to do. For many of today’s youth, a lot of their opinion banks more on empathy than on apotheosis. They want you to talk to them, not at them. I tell my students embarrassing tales about my teen years all the time, lest they forget that I too was once a stressed-out student. All these stalwarts were once regular citizens, right? They didn’t fall from the sky.

You barely hear a word out of Kamla’s mouth now that does not serve self-interest. Even her gaffes in her campaign do not seem to be fully hers, but the machinations of something else. She is not even someone brave enough to make her own mistakes. So how can she possibly own them and grow from it? She has never given herself this opportunity.

It is very difficult to empathize with someone who has not humbled themselves. There is nothing more humanizing and humbling than owning up to your flaws. Nothing better for your narrative. Imagine Kamla as the main character of a story. Who is she? What does she want? Now try to describe her personality she presents to you. Now try to do it without using adjectives.

I am definitely not a fan of those he keeps around him, but Keith Rowley, on the other hand, has actually had somewhat of a character arc over his tenure. When he gets annoyed or visibly angry and outta timing, at least you know that is him. And you can look back at the “Rowley tea party” and “Mr. Speaker, I see acrimony” days and compare and see how he has tempered himself. He is, of course, imperfect. Panday and Manning oozed personality, down to their last days. There’s a particular exchange that I love between them:

Panday: “I would risk having another meeting with you, you know!”
Manning, with arms outstretched: “It would be my extreme pleasure!”

And in the background, you could hear both sides of the Lower House laughing. Their downfall was their narcissism. Panday spewing venom at his own supporters while donning a red beret, telling us to look in the mirror and blame ourselves whenever someone is gunned down. Manning huffing and puffing, pulling a Birdman, driving down to a radio station because somebody was bad-talking him. They became tragic heroes in the great Trinidadian tapestry. Fling Kamla in there now. Once brimming with verve but has now resigned to rhetoric. Look at her Prime Minister photo with her Hillary hair-do looks like a giant forced smile. Lost her way and thus, lost the election.

Now look at the video of Manning conceding. He was arrogant and I was ecstatic when he was ousted, but I felt something odd looking at him concede. A sadness that seemed to bubble out of nowhere. Because he was no longer the demi-god Manning there. But a man. A broken man. Some would say he came out like a scolded dog to his supporters. But that took great bravery. He displayed his greatest class there. It’s too bad one of his bravest, most formidable moments was among his last in politics.

It is a lesson to us all. Our idiosyncrasies make us human. Our embracing of them makes us affable. Our mistakes terrify us. Our apologies for those mistakes make us intrepid. Our flaws make us vulnerable. Our acceptance of those flaws makes us impervious. If you’ve ever seen “8 Mile”, you’ll know what I mean.

When Vandana won her seat, I felt a pang of pensiveness for Clarence. If Clarence had won, I would have felt the same for Vandana. Can you imagine how bizarre that must feel? Yet it only serves as testament to how these two presented themselves.

I think Vandana and Clarence can tell Kamla why she lost. And I think if they replace Kamla with Moonilal, all the upcoming young politicians: JW, Saddam, Anita Haynes, Sean Sobers, Nikoli Edwards, Obika, Michelle Benjamin, can tell him why he will lose as well.

Many congratulations to PM Keith Rowley. Time to face forward now. All of us need to exorcise the douens from within us and make sure our feet are positioned forward as well.


 


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