January 2024 \ Diaspora News \ Diaspora News

New Delhi: Basdeo Panday, the first Indian-origin Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago who once said, “If you see me and a lion fighting, feel sorry for the lion”, has passed away at the age of 90. A lawyer, trade unionist, economist, actor, politician and former civil servant, Panday wore many hats and was the fifth Prime Minister from 1995-2001 in the Caribbean nation that gained independence in August 1962.

Panday died on the New Year surrounded by his family, according to a statement by his daughter Mickela Panday. “With deep sorrow, we would like to share that our loving husband and father, Basdeo Panday passed away on 1st January 2024, surrounded by his family,” Mickela wrote on Facebook, informing about her father’s demise.

“In life and death he was a fighter. He passed with his boots on, keeping everybody around him on their toes with his wit and humour. He will live on in all of us, remembered as a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, leader, and friend.”

Mickela added that her father was an inspiration to his family and everybody who knew him, and that they will continue to celebrate his life and treasure the times spent with him. A 2005 Pravasi Bharatiya Samman recipient, Basdeo Panday is survived by his wife Oma Panday and their four daughters.

Born on May 25, 1933 in a rural village in Princes Town, he studied at New Grant Government Primary School and later Presentation College, San Fernando where he obtained his Cambridge School Certificate.

Moving to England, he undertook a Diploma Course in Drama from the London School of Dramatic Art in 1960, and earned a degree in law in 1962 from Inns of Court of Law. He co-founded three political parties, including United National Congress (UNC), whose electoral base was primarily Indo-Trinidadian.

He first entered Parliament on September 15, 1972 as an Opposition Senator, and subsequently became a Member of the House of Representatives, representing the Couva North constituency. In 2005, Basdeo Panday was arrested in a case related to an airport construction contract and was accused of corruption. However, with supporters claiming the accusations were politically motivated, the corruption charges were dropped.

Mourning his demise, Trinidad and Tobago President Christine Kangaloo, said in a statement that “Panday was a giant of a man who led this country with passion and compassion”.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar, who replaced Basdeo Panday as UNC leader, wrote in a message posted on her Facebook page: “I am saddened that Mr Panday has passed away. I will always love and be grateful that he significantly influenced my life. He was a great leader and spent most of his years helping the oppressed and poor. Mr Panday will always be remembered with love and adoration by all of us whose lives he touched.”

A day after his death, a religious celebration was held in Chaguanas that was attended by his family and friends. Indians make up around 38 per cent of the Trinidad and Tobago population and the approximate population of Indians in the country as of 2023 is 5.60 lakh.

According to government data, India contributed about 143,000 indentured workers to Trinidad between 1845 and 1917 with a vast majority of them coming from northern India, mainly from the erstwhile districts of the United Provinces and Bihar.