The Balisier has been the emblem of the PNM since its inception in early 1956 while the party’s headquarters on Tranquility Street was named after the Party’s Emblem. Balisier House was not the original home of the Party. The first party headquarters was located on the 1st floor of HAJAL Building, located at #98 Queen Street, Port-of-Spain, where the campaigns for general election of September 1956, the Federal election of March 1958 and the Local Government election in 1959 were conducted.
Balisier House was acquired sometime in 1959 and became the party’s headquarters in 1960, one year before the general election of 1961. As a matter of fact, the Balisier was not used as the Party’s symbol in the general election in 1956. Each candidate (24 of them) had their own symbol. The symbolism and significance of the Balisier can best be described in the following correspondence sent to the Party’s PRO, Mr Andrew T Carr by the distinguished Tobago born anthropologist – the late Dr JD Elder. Found in the biography of Mr AT Carr, written by his daughter Mrs Joslynne Carr Sealey. She wrote: “I never found (did you?) That song: ‘Jesu ne en balisier”.
It has occurred to me that if Jesus was born in the West Indies – in a manger – some balisier leaves would mingle in with the grass which formed his crude bed. In fact Jesus is born wherever people acknowledge him and are Christians so “Jesu ne au balisier”. It has come to me in a vision that the BALISIER DAY (could be) celebrated in Trinidad with an opening hour of meditation in which Jesus’ crib (is) carried on a float processed through the streets, garlanded with the balisier flower and leaf.
“The PNM has been a turning (point) in the socio-political life of our country in a most significant way. I think due regard ought to be paid to this great event in our history and that somehow, the balisier and its connection in legend with Jesus ought to be the focus for the annual celebration of this fact.
“I give you this for what it is worth. With your imagination I’m sure you shall see in it potential for morale of those of us who rally around the PNM.” Over the years to date (55+), the balisier has stood the test of time. Its fertility has stood the test in both good times and in bad times. As a matter of fact, I was one of the first purchasers when the first set of balisier shirts went on sale at Woodford Square.
It is against this background that the current controversy in the Party whether the wearing of the Party tie in the National Parliament should be mandatory, or left to the discretion of our representatives – both at national and local government. Throughout the history of man, symbols whether flags, dress codes, anthems, the Nazi Swastika, the USSR’s hammer and sickle or the infamous Klu Klux Klan’s Cross have attracted fierce loyalty even to the point of fanaticism and sycophancy. There will always be those who will be prepared to die for the past – the good old days – completely ignoring the realities of modern times and the living past.
The balisier ties worn by political representatives in the national parliament have always been a target of political opponents who have been unable to sustain their own symbols over the years; whether it was the torch, the rising sun, the bell and the steel beam. They have all been dissolved at one time or the other by the fertility of the balisier. Over the years, the balisier endureth and will continue to endure. This, however, must not blind us to the current political realities. The PNM cannot win a general election without the support of the approximately 20-25 percent floating voters on the electoral circuit, who now determine who will or will not govern us. The PNM cannot win an election without a considerable part of this support. More than a considerable percentage of this constituency is of the opinion that the party tie should not be displayed in our national parliament, as it reflects a party loyalty rather than national loyalty, quite often referring to it as a cult. Rightly or wrongly, that is how they see the issue.
Political parties are formed and developed for the specific purpose of formulating national policies and programmes with the foremost objective of obtaining power to govern the country.
It must at all times take into serious consideration the views of the electorate. You can accept or ignore it at your own peril. Change is always and will always be difficult for some of us; more so the older and conservative among us, but change is inevitable. The question before the PNM in my view is very simple – what difference would it make if it becomes optional or mandatory? The simple answer is none, zilch. It will and must continue to be the party’s symbol, a proud emblem, part of PNM legacy, but just remember that national loyalty must at all time supercede party loyalty.
The PNM must now rise to the occasion as it moves as expeditiously as possible to expand the party, making it more inclusive and more attractive. This minor issue is one we can afford in the reconstruction and reorganisational effort. We will lose nothing, but our gains may surprise us!