Historical events often create opportunities for a reflection on the status quo. Such is the case with any military conflict, national disaster or change in government. The death of 17 inmates at the Camp Street Prison after prisoners started a fire should trigger an assessment of the problem in order to prevent this disaster from reoccurring. We may not like what we discover about the past. Historians will continue to examine the contributions of Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan, both of whom have constructed the political space in the society in which we live.
Aside from Jagan and Burnham, much has been discussed about our political leaders, including Bharrat Jagdeo and David Granger. These discussions often take place within the prism of race where the instinct is given to defending one’s ethnic leader while allocating blame to the other. Under such conditions, reconciliation is difficult, making nation-building much more elusive.
A writer, Sultan Mohamed, wrote a lengthy piece in which he critiqued some of the issues I raised in recent letters to the press. He seemed most peeved at the comments that Indians have to reassess the legacy of Cheddi Jagan and separate the good from the bad and ugly of what Jagan represented. It is interesting to note that a response was not forthcoming from the inheritors of the legacy of Cheddi Jagan, but from an outsider.
The pieces I had written were in line with my calls for Indian intellectuals to address the many problems that are unique to the Indian community. Since the PPP is seen as the party that is supported by the majority Indians, we must also examine the effectiveness of its leadership, past and present.
The GECOM website lists several individuals with the name “Sultan Mohamed”. However, there is no evidence anyone with that name has been involved in any organised way to promote the good and welfare of Guyanese. On the contrary, our political work in Guyana to date is in the public domain. Our record of public involvement dates back to our role in the Jaguar Committee for Democracy and ROAR. Sultan’s slash-and-burn, shoot-to-kill monologue mimics the kind of responses one would expect from the likes of Freddie Kissoon.
I had argued that Cheddi Jagan had some great qualities as an individual: honesty, charisma, frugality, and modesty. However, his political contributions must be measured against our current situation and where Guyana could have been in the global community of nations had he not made some of the grave mistakes he had made during his political career. I identified four aberrations that stem from Jagan’s political naiveté: commitment to a vulgar communist ideology not grounded in the Guyanese reality, unwillingness to confront the racial/ethnic divide, inability to seriously challenge the Burnham dictatorship for almost three decades, and his deliberate role in silencing the intellectual voice within the core leadership of the PPP. In addition, there were some other qualities of Cheddi that were troubling, including the dismissal of his Hindu culture and his contribution to the destruction of an Indian voice early in his political career, including those of Balram Singh Rai, Dr Jang Bahadur Singh and the British Guiana East Indian Association. I would refer Sultan to several authors, including Mohan Ragbeer, Clem Seecharan, Stephen Rabe, to name a few, all of whom have expanded on this theme.
On a more personal note, as Indians, we owe it to ourselves to condemn the madness we see in our community and the organisations that seek our support. One of the moral advantages that Africans have always maintained is that not all Africans stood by silently as Burnham rode roughshod over Indians and Africans. Walter Rodney paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life for exposing the dictatorial practices, including the anti-Indian practices of the PNC dark days.
As Indians, and as Guyanese, we have an obligation to assess where we are as a people. The Jagan legacy may have had some successes. However, it is time Indians, particularly the majority of poor Indians, begin to deconstruct Cheddi Jagan as we carve a pathway to the future.
The current PPP leaders, several of whom are suspected to have been engaged in questionable moral and political actions while in office, must not be given carte blanche authority to define for their supporters what that future would look like. (Send comments to BRamharack60@gmail.com)