The Man who Couldn’t be Prime Minister

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Jerome Teelucksingh
By Dr Jerome Teelucksingh

VERY few persons would recall that 2020 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr Rudranath Capildeo. He remains one of the unsung and lesser-known heroes of Trinidad and Tobago.

The story of the 1960s in Trinidad is one of two personalities- Eric Williams and Rudranath Capildeo.  It was an era of doctor politics… two young colonials, of Indian and African descent. Each possessed doctorates. On one was bestowed the unofficial title of “Father of the Nation” and the other was mocked as a “mad scientist.” Some might even view it as a clash between Humanities and Science.

The ridicule and treatment of Dr Capildeo by the Government and its supporters should not be a surprise. It certainly seemed that during the 1960s the Caribbean was unwilling or not ready to embrace any Indo-Caribbean as prime minister or president. Or was it because both Cheddi Jagan and Dr Capildeo (with his philosophy of Democratic Socialism) adopted anti-capitalist ideologies and appeared radical? Eight years before in 1953 Jagan, also of Indian descent, was ousted by the British who orchestrated a coup. And for Americans, the Jagans were a communist threat.

Dr Capildeo held lectureships both at the University College of London and Westfield College. In addition, the University of Khartoum, in Sudan, Africa was honoured when he served there as Assistant Professor. His theory of rotation and gravity known as “Capildeo’s Theory” was compulsory textbook study for examination at several universities. Furthermore, scientists at the United States space agency- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), have utilised his theory in their space exploration programmes. Students and advanced researchers used his authoritative publication Vector Algebra Mechanics (1968). Several of his articles have been acclaimed in various internationally recognised scientific journals including Nature.

Even though Dr Capildeo was appointed principal of the Trinidad Polytechnic in 1959 it was an effort to keep him docile Capildeo was powerless as the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) neglected his demands to increase staffing and changes to the curriculum. Eventually, a frustrated Capildeo decided to leave this job and enter the political domain. Capildeo was entrapped in the Indian experiment of finding a suitable educated leader comparable to the stature of Dr Williams. But, while Williams forged a closely-knit political party in the Afro-dominated PNM, Capildeo led a perilously fragmented brigade.

Certain Indians joined the PNM, while a large proportion of the Hindu community comprised the membership of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP); and both Christian and Muslim Indians supported either of these two major parties. Capildeo would soon see the horrible seemingly irreparable fractures within the hierarchy of the DLP which characterized the party’s fragility and the pending misery for anyone at the helm.

Williams, who as premier and later prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, held the advantageous position of influencing state policy. It was one of the benefits of the Westminster system. Williams laid the foundations for fragmented party politics in the colony, and created a well-oiled political machine-  the PNM.

The DLP was destined to lose in the 1961 General Elections. Not sidetracked after its defeat in the earlier Federal Elections, the Government employed its parliamentary advantage, giving approval to skillfully crafted legislation on electoral reform, creating an undefeatable monster against any opposition.

Measures included the use of 1,000 voting machines (from the United States) to replace the ballot box, the introduction of identification cards for voters and new configuration of the electoral boundaries to create a further six seats in Parliament. Even the manner in which electoral boundaries were drawn made it difficult for the DLP to win a majority of seats.

What were the political survival possibilities for Dr Capildeo? T&T was on the throes of the most intense of electoral battles thus far. Capildeo consequently led the charge from the unsophisticated platforms in the savannahs of Port of Spain and Aranguez. On September 17, 1961, at a political meeting in the Aranguez Savannah in San Juan, Dr Capildeo openly condemned the use of voting machines, referring to the United States where it was alleged that the infamous machines could be rigged to produce specific results. It’s interesting that in November 2020, the voting machines in the USA were being blamed for inaccurate results.

Many persons who voted in recent elections in T&T have suspected something was wrong… it seems as if history continues to repeat itself as the descendants of Capildeo and his supporters are still part of the “hostile and recalcitrant minority.”

Dr Jereome Teelucksingh is a recipient of the Humming Bird (Gold) Medal for Education and Volunteerism. He is attached to the Department of History at the University of the West Indies at St Augustine.  He has published books, chapters and journal articles on the Caribbean diaspora, masculinity, culture, politics, ethnicity and religion. Also, he has produced a documentary – Brown Lives Matter and presented papers at academic conferences.

Click to read other articles by Dr Jerome Teelucksingh below:

Social Outburst vs Social Revolution 

Challenges of the Men’s Movement

If George Floyd was Denied Parole

Fathers Under Attack!

Should we Save the Boy Child

The Meaning of Indian Arrival Day in T&T

International Men’s Day – A Way of Life

Wounds that cause school violence

The Forgotten Massacres 1884

May Day: A Time for Solidarity, Strength

Who Coined the Term ‘Black Power’

Indians in Black Power





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