The President should not have presented the IAC award to Chanderpaul

Dear Editor,

Prodigious West Indian cricketer, Guyanese Shivnarine Chanderpaul, deserves to be recognized as a Guyanese sportsman who earned himself an international reputation while helping to keep Guyana recognized in the world of cricket, much like the many great Guyanese cricketers before him who played for the West Indies. He has a street in Georgetown named after him, has a national award, and barring any incident that could tarnish his pristine public image, will wind up being named among the Who is Who in the annals of West Indies and international cricket.

Unfortunately, he found himself caught in a brouhaha over his decision to show up and receive an award from the Indian Arrival Committee (IAC), and while I am sure this too will pass, what will linger is the rancid taste in the mouths of many Guyanese in light of the President’s decision to add an unnecessary political flavour to the event by making the presentation.

The IAC has a right to honour Guyanese of Indian extraction for their contributions to Guyana, and maybe all ethnicities should have organizations that honour Guyanese of various ethnic backgrounds for their contributions to Guyana. Nothing is wrong with that. In fact, before I left Guyana in 1988, the Chinese had an association on Brickdam, and probably still do, so that the IAC and ACDA or any other ethnic-based organization would not be out of order if they were to set up shop to help preserve and promote the rich ethnic diversity of our country or even provide whatever help may be requested.

What I consider to be in extremely poor taste at the IAC ceremony to honour Chanderpaul, however, was when the government got involved by having the President show up to make the presentation. In Guyana, politics has been based traditionally and largely on ethnic support – Indians for the PPP and Blacks for the PNC – so when the President of Guyana, who is of Indian extraction, showed up at the award ceremony, his very presence not only magnified the politically-linked racial element in the ceremony, but gave a disturbing stamp of approval from the government, which is supposed to be race-neutral.

Editor, I wouldn’t even bat an eye if the PPP General Secretary was the one making the presentation, because the PPP, like the IAC, is a private organization, and they both have one thing in common: their alignment to Indian Guyanese. And while I also don’t approve of pandering to ethnic groups for support and votes, I still would have understood, based on the PPP’s ethnic-affiliated history, if the IAC invited the PPP to send its General Secretary to make the presentation in recognition and honour of an Indian Guyanese for his sterling achievements.

But the government is not a private organization. It is the unifying symbol of all the people of all ethnic backgrounds in Guyana and must always appear race-neutral even if its political party depends on Indians for support and votes. It should never have publicly associated with the Indian-based IAC to honour an Indian Guyanese, but sadly, though not surprisingly, the President continues to show poor judgment as a national leader in an ethnically diverse nation by allowing his government to publicly associate with an ethnic-based organization whose target group, co-incidentally, happens to be the core voting constituents of his ruling party.

Also, notice that the presentation to the man we proudly call Guyana’s cricketing champion by the President appeared well-timed timed to coincide with the President recently being named and awarded as a Champion of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Programme. It was basically a double honour ceremony of two Indian Guyanese put on by the IAC, but I remain deeply troubled by the President’s appearance, if only because of the political ramifications of his party’s use of race as a means to a political end in Guyana.

PPP apologists and government supporters may deny the event was ever intended to promote one race above and ahead other races, but they could have a tough time convincing political observers and other ethnic groups in Guyana that in a politically-inspired racially polarized nation, that the event was not also a strategic political move designed to reaffirm the politically inspired ethnic-based link between the PPP government and Indian Guyanese, thus prepping Indians for their support of the PPP in the 2011 elections.

In closing, the only time the government is supposed to openly recognize a national sports figure is based on his or her performance/ achievement as a Guyanese national and not based on his or her performance/achievement in the context of his or her ethnic background. Therefore, the only time the President or any government representative should be showing up to present an award to Chanderpaul is when he is getting a national award; otherwise, the IAC, being a private ethnic-based organization, can honour him, but it should never use the President or government official as the presenter.

Chanderpaul, meanwhile, has every right to be proud of his ethnic heritage, but even prouder to be a Guyanese national whose performance and achievement on the international scene ought to always be seen from a national and not ethnic perspective. He represents all Guyanese and not just Indians, the same way Clive Lloyd represented all Guyanese and not just Blacks. Cricket has long been the only major sport in Guyana that significantly narrows the politically-inspired ethnic divide in Guyana, and it would be very sad if we allow politics to be injected into it.

Like I said, the Chanderpaul-IAC brouhaha will pass, but the rancid taste of government involvement in the race-based IAC will linger for a long, long time.

Yours faithfully,
Emile Mervin

Around the Web