The furore continued on Saturday over the murder of Andrea Bharatt, as angry words and rage-filled posts were heaped on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for not attending Friday’s funeral which culminated with a motorcade and candlelight vigil in the capital.

Slammed for his perceived refusal to accept the open invitation to Bharatt’s funeral, Rowley said on Saturday that while he had an obligation to appear in Parliament, it was his main wish to avoid turning the sombre proceedings into a political football.

Responding to the uproar over Bharatt’s cousin Sally Sooman’s Facebook post accusing him of lying about being invited to the funeral, the PM said “I never intended to convey that I was invited by the family and I am choosing not to attend. That is a gross misrepresentation.”

In a WhatsApp response to the Sunday Guardian yesterday, Rowley clarified, “Like many other persons who were deeply injured by the abduction of a citizen, I appealed to those involved or anyone who may have information that may be useful to law enforcement and which may lead to her rescue. I did so as my duty as Prime Minister. It was never intended to be a reward to be invited to her funeral.”

Sooman’s social media post late on Friday read, “Sir, with all due respect, something you don’t have for us women in T&T…You wasn’t invited to Andrea’s send off, sorry !! I did invite persons that reached out to our family from both parties, but no invitation was extended to anyone as I would’ve had that on my guest list…So stop telling the media you was invited and decided not to attend because etc.”

Sooman was the one who organised Bharatt’s funeral service.

She confirmed that invitations had been extended to people who had reached out to the family from both the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC).

On Thursday night during a virtual meeting in Belmont, Rowley said it was unfortunate that he would not be able to attend Bharatt’s funeral which was scheduled to take place the next day.

He had said, “The reason I was asked to go to the funeral tomorrow is because the Opposition Leader was going to be speaking there and I said that is not a reason for me to go to the funeral. In fact, that might be a reason for me not to go to the funeral because the population may be easily and correctly view my presence and the presence of my other colleagues from the Parliament as attempting to politicise this unspeakable sorrow which Andrea’s family, her community and the nation is experiencing.”

Rowley had extended condolences to the Bharatt family via Facebook, saying he could not imagine their unspeakable grief.

In a telephone interview on Saturday, Sooman said at no time had Rowley visited or contacted Bharatt’s father, Randolph, or any other family member to extend sympathies.

She cried, “He calling up the child name and he never come…he never called…not even to say accept my condolences. Everybody else reached out in every possible way. Some even sent sympathy cards.”

Sooman said a week after Bharatt’s body was found, the PM broke his silence on the matter.

“He did not come out as a father and as a man to lend his supporting hand to my uncle and say condolences. He has two daughters.”

Sooman said Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar contacted her personally to express condolences.

“When Aunty Kamla called I asked if she would stand as a mother and say a few words on behalf of the family at the funeral if she can.”

Among those who visited Bharatt’s home or telephoned to extend words of comfort were opposition and government MPs including Marvin Gonzales, Penny Beckles-Robinson, Khadijah Ameen and Barry Padarath.

Sooman said judges and magistrates also made up the list of people who had reached out to the grieving family.

She said, “Some of them said they would have liked to come to the funeral and I said yes. I told them the funeral is open to everyone. All who wanted to come it was okay.”

Bharatt, 23, was cremated on Friday. She was reported missing on January 29 after boarding a PH car bearing false licence plates, to be taken to her home along the Arima Old Road. Her decomposing body was discovered on February 4 at Heights of Aripo, Arima.

The tragedy has led to a national outcry with silent protests and candlelight vigils across both islands.

Commenting on Sooman’s social media feed on Saturday, Fareeda Ragoo wrote, “You have done a great job despite the circumstance I commend you highly for standing up with your family and Andrea daddy in this trying times, and yes as Prime Minister Rowley should have reached out just as kpb did. When a country is in turmoil every one look to the person in charge the leader prime minister/president and those in authority to fix it, to bring some level of comfort and protection to the citizens as in this case. Where was our prime minister in all of this? He suddenly don’t want to speak because Kamla going to speak…what a childish excuse! not to take the opportunity to bring some hope and comfort to the people of tnt no one was stopping him. Guess his guilty conscience was talking to him, had he gone to the funeral what he would have told daddy Bharatt as head of the national security council and prime minister he failed to protect Andrea and the rest of the people in tnt.”

Indra N Ramgattie commented, “It clearly shows he did not want to be there and then made such poor excuses, everything went well, God rest her soul peacefully…”

The PM’s response to Sunday Guardian:

“I never said that I was invited by any member of the family. I spoke about being invited (told) by someone (who attended) that I should attend BECAUSE KAMLA was going to be there. I said that was not a reason why I would attend and I went on to say that even though I would have liked to attend, I am unable to do so. (I did not say why but the reason being, I had to attend Parliament at that same time because it was the Prime Minister’s Question Time). Is that too difficult to understand? Why is it necessary for her to misrepresent what I said, given the letter and context? If calling me a liar makes her feel better, then so be it.

“I never intended to convey that I was invited by the family and I am choosing not to attend. That is a gross misrepresentation. Like many other persons who were deeply injured by the abduction of a citizen, I appealed to those involved or anyone who may have information that may be useful to law enforcement and which may lead to her rescue. I did so as my duty as Prime Minister. It was never intended to be a reward to be invited to her funeral.”

Rowley further texted, “I am so disappointed with this latest development. Honestly, do these people have any regard for other people’s feelings? Are they so selfish and motivated for whatever purpose that they can say and do anything?

“I never said that they invited me. I never said who told me I should go because Kamla was going. So I politicised their funeral but the UNC who were out mobilising in yellow party regalia flags, banners and yellow vigils, they didn’t politicise it but I who called out to the country to help the police and soldiers with information to help find the girl…I politicise their events. You just can’t please these people when they are like this.”

He then advised, “Talk to Minister Beckles.”

Efforts to reach Sooman for further comments last evening proved futile.

Calls for politicians to unite at last night’s vigil

Scores of people gathered last night at the Divali Nagar in Chaguanas to share the grief of the loss of Adrea Bharatt and the countless other women who lost their lives to crime sue to acts of violence. The event entitled Turn Your Heartline On was organised by Chaguanas East MP Vandana Mohit. The MP took on a low keyed role and stood far from the limelight. The event appeared to take the form of a Christian-based service and featured songs by Cherise Lutchman, Sparkle, Nisha B, Daniel Rasheed and Cornelia Dyer. Pastor Dale Des Vignes ended with praises to Jesus. Social activist Marva Logan John addressed the crowd and called on all politicians on both sides of the divide to unite for legislation that would stop women from becoming victims. She said men must take their role as protector of women seriously. The highlight of the event was the release of scores of Chinese lanterns into the night sky in remembrance of all the victims]. (Shastri Boodan)