The annual Babu John memorial rally for Cheddi Jagan is to be held on March 3. At this time of year Jagan’s life, work and ideas are promoted by rallies, lectures, seminars and discussions. Athletic events and essay competitions are held in commemoration. While he was alive and the PPP was in opposition, there was usually a small, internal, annual birthday event in his honour. After his passing, numerous public lectures were delivered on his work and ideas both at Freedom House and at his home. Many comrades spoke to the work and legacy of Cheddi Jagan. This continues today.
The legacy of Cheddi Jagan has been lost or abandoned by the PPP. It is one of the main reasons why the Party fared so badly at the last general and regional elections. This is not a secret and it is not something that has gone unnoticed. It is discussed with dejection among Party members all over Guyana and with resignation among Party leaders. Except for the courageous few, it is not a matter which many would dare to raise officially. To do so would imply criticism of the recent past, not a career enhancing move, rather than be seen as the collective failure that it is.
Cheddi Jagan himself was, in a way, partly responsible for the loss of his legacy by not creating the necessary systems to ensure that the underlying principles, policies, methods of work and standards of conduct developed by the PPP during his tenure and under his leadership were maintained. He felt that the principles and policies of the Party and his life’s examples were sufficiently entrenched to survive him for the indefinite future without special rules and checks and balances. He thought that his commitment to the exploration of ideas and policies by inexhaustible discussions and challenging debate would last.
He understood the necessity to maintain an adequate system of democracy in the Party and promoted the consultation of members by seeking their approval on important issues such as the National Patriotic Front. His commitment to democracy and coalition building (coalition in the 1960s, National Patriotic Front in the 1970s, winner does not take all and the civic alliance in the 1980s and 1990s) was as strong as his dedication to transparency and accountability. His mistake was in not establishing, or commencing the process of establishing, mechanisms and rules within the Party and Government for the continuation of the universal principles of democracy, transparency and accountability.
Cheddi Jagan’s constantly creative analyses of Guyana’s political developments enabled him to fashion the policies which successfully guided the Party in the years of struggle. Burdened with critical problems during the period of his presidency, he had no time to analyze developments that would be likely to occur when he was no longer among us. He did not foresee the possibility of altered class relationships and alignments of and within the PPP’s membership and leadership, driven by the changing economic developments, themselves resulting from changing class formations in the country. He did not envisage the negative impact of these developments occurring at a time when socialism had collapsed and neo-liberalism had triumphed, masking developed capitalism’s massive drive for an enhanced share of wealth. These developments all impacted on the PPP.
Much of what Cheddi Jagan argued and proposed, particularly in the early years, have been overtaken by time. But the universal principles which he advocated, some of which have been outlined above, have remained as guiding lights for the PPP and Guyana. It is the abandonment of these that are now haunting the Party, the Government and the people of Guyana.
As General Secretary of the PPP, President Donald Ramotar is the official guardian of the legacy of Cheddi Jagan. In his speech at Babu John he can begin to restore that legacy by acknowledging it, admitting that the Party has faltered and undertaking to restore it.
He can announce that at the upcoming Congress of the Party in Berbice there will be a root and branch transformation of the rules of the Party to ensure transparency and accountability, consultation and democracy and to bring the leadership closer to the members.
He can announce that every effort will be made to stamp out corruption in Guyana by ethics and prevention of corruption legislation and that the first step in the campaign will be the establishment of the Procurement Commission without delay. The President took an oath to uphold the Constitution of Guyana. More than ten years ago the Constitution of Guyana was amended to establish the Procurement Commission. The President must now be true to his oath and to the people of Guyana. Obfuscatory tactics will no longer work.
The members and supporters of the PPP expressed their dissatisfaction at the last elections sending a clear message to the Party. A restoration of the legacy of Cheddi Jagan may well reduce some of that dissatisfaction and enhance the electoral prospects of the Party.