I was very much tempted this weekend to write about Devils, Bastards and Demons – the words used by self-styled ‘Elder’ and promoter of moral revivalism, former PNC ‘strongman,’ Prime Minister Hamilton Green. He was speaking at the Burnham Foundation’s commemoration of the 101st anniversary of Burnham’s death at the Critchlow Labour College and describing those who today hold political office. According to reports, Green said that the people who deserve to rule are those whose “ancestors…suffered for centuries without a cent.” He said that ‘we’ (himself and others of like mind, no doubt) welcomed the ‘indentured people,’ ‘gave them an education’ and Burnham sought to unite the people, but the ‘new’ Indians were a larger group and didn’t want that. Whatever conditionality Green may have expressed, he called for rigged elections to remove the ‘devils, bastards and demons.’ Green obviously felt that the occasion was an appropriate one to advocate those particular views. He cannot disguise with moral philosophy a deeply backward mentality capable of rising to the surface at any moment, in a gush of political and racist drivel.   

In contrast, senior Attorney Nigel Hughes, called for a return to ground zero, namely, the period of the early 1950s when the PPP was established and embraced a multi-ethnic and multi-class alliance to fight for universal adult suffrage, self-government and ultimately independence and socialism. According to the letter of Vincent Alexander, the Head of the Burnham Foundation, in SN yesterday, Hughes promoted ‘Ground Zero’ as a new, or renewed, starting point for Guyana’s politics. Alas, the recapturing of past historic events as a solution to current problems would be an exercise in futility. Circumstances have changed beyond recognition and Guyana has become trapped in its  post-1955 past – a past derived from its long history but which subsided temporarily by the circumstances of the early 1950s.

The struggle for ethno-political dominance since 1955 compels each ethno-political group to relive its own version of events, and to repeat, and argue over them, decade after decade, in order to justify its own claims for political office, as Green did. Theories constructed on baseless facts are floated to justify the actions of leaders. But no one has successfully contested the detailed facts and circumstances of the break-up of the PPP as set out by Cheddi Jagan in his book, ‘West on Trial.’ Notwithstanding, many of us look back nostalgically at that era and wish it could be revived. I have written repeatedly on it, seeking out the lessons that can be learnt. And there are many. But apart from the courage and foresight of those young men and women, and ethnic and class unity on specific principles, captured in that moment of time, reality will always intrude to trounce sentimentality, especially after near 75 years.

What are those realities? The PPP was removed by imperialism in 1953. The PNC broke away and joined with imperialism to remove the PPP once again in 1964. Death, destruction, arson and ethnic cleansing, and responses thereto, were the instruments. To sustain power, the PNC rigged four elections over two decades. These were accompanied by assassinations, suppression and violence. Dictatorial rule took root. The PNC dictatorship took over or destroyed ‘Indian’ organisations like the Maha Sabha and the Sad’r Anjuman, much like the PPP is today accused of doing in relation to ‘African’ organisations. The ‘banning’ of ‘Indian foods,’ while having only a moderate impact, had a deep, negative and lasting resonance among the Indian population, much as the dismissal of 5,000 sugar workers had recently. The PNC, and even people of goodwill, have never some to terms with this history and do not seek to do so. For many, that PNC history was justified because of Cheddi Jagan’s ‘communism’ and ‘racism;’ or Jagan brought it on himself, the PPP and the Indians of Guyana. For others, history began in 1992, without any anti-Indian political violence, and there is no reason for any accounting. Such a dramatic political tapestry must be recognized before it would become possible to weave into it political or constitutional solutions.  

Jagan’s vision of ‘Ground Zero’ never left him. He tried to revive it in 1977 in the PPP’s proposals for a National Patriotic Front and Government. Rejected by the PNC, he promoted it in various forms from 1977 to 1991 as ‘winner does not take all’ and ‘shared governance.’  The 1977 national patriotic front proposals were deeply controversial in the PPP and the debates were vigorous and divisive. But Jagan prevailed. Because of its strong unpopularity in the PPP, it did not survive him after 1997. PNC members advocated shared governance in the late 1980s. Hoyte supported it in the early 2000s. Without controversy, detailed proposals for constitutional reform for shared governance entered the APNU+AFC manifesto for the 2015 elections. Hardly a mention of, much less criticism, has been made of APNU+AFC’s abandonment of its manifesto promise. APNU does not now seek political or constitutional reform and neither Mr. Hughes nor anyone else calls on it to do so.  

Constitutional reform this time around to usher in an advanced form of governance to eliminate the struggle for ethno-political dominance, is not going to materialize until a democratic political process eventually emerges that forces it on the political agenda and keeps it there.   

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