Dear Editor,

Malcolm Harripaul’s missive ‘Jagdeo sought invitation to Manhattan parade of Indian-Americans’ (SN, August 8) is absolutely false. Since the letter contains malicious allegations, the facts should have been verified with the President’s office, and/or the FIA (sponsor of the parade), and/or Mr Harripaul should have produced a copy of the memo that he makes reference to (I believe there is no such memo and Harripaul is engaged in trawling). Mr Harripaul’s allegations bring the President’s name and the New York Indo-Guyanese community into disrepute, causing a setback in our hard work to consolidate relations between Indians from India and the Caribbean, and ultimately secure benefits for our community. President Jagdeo never asked for an invitation to attend parade; he was solicited to attend the parade because we think it would benefit Guyanese, and that is the fact.

I have been involved in community affairs since 1977 and am very knowledgeable about events like the parade.  Mr Harripaul has never been a part of any effort to promote Guyana or lobby for Indo-Guyanese or Indo-Caribbean people in America, or engage in any activity beneficial to Guyanese in America.  As best as I know, he is not in any way connected to anything relating to the parade.  I, on the other hand, am in the know about the parade’s programme and development, invitees, chief guests, grand marshalls, etc, having promoted the parade in the media annually and attended meetings and press conferences in the past.  My friend, Ramesh Kalicharran, liaison to the FIA, organizers of the parade, continuously keeps me in the loop about the parade including the invitation to President Jagdeo and his acceptance.

Kali and I have been associated with every parade since the first one in 1980.  We worked with the organizers since the early days to maximize Indo-Caribbean participation since we had no other forum for cultural entertainment or to promote Guyana and Indo-Guyanese.  It is detractors like Mr Harripaul who make progress difficult in our mission to increase benefits to NY Indo-Caribbeans, working closely with the Indian nationals who are better connected with American government institutions and political top brass than Guyanese, with the benefits redounding to our community.

For years, the Indo-Caribbean community, through the efforts of Kali, Vishnu Bisram and a few others, has been lobbying Indian nationals for the greater inclusion of Indo-Caribbeans in events like the Diwali celebrations (organized by AIA) at South Street Seaport and the India Day parade. Also, since 1988, Kali and I worked closely with GOPIO, and since 2000, Mr Ashok Ramsaran and I worked closely with GOPIO to advocate for Guyana with benefits redounding to our country and the NY community.

The India Day Parade historically has provided a forum to promote Guyana.  From 1980 to 1992, we used the annual parade to advocate free and fair elections in Guyana, distributing literature and even addressing the gathering.  My colleagues Vassan Ramracha, Baytoram Ramharack, Rennie Ramracha, Ravi Dev, Pandit Ramlall, Vishnu Bandhu, etc, can confirm this fact because they were also part of the struggle. Mr Bandhu and his United Republican Party sponsored a float (Free and fair elections emblazoned on the float) as did Mr Kalicharran with his business float. After the parade, every year Indo-Caribbeans would perform at the conclusion of the parade at the cultural extravaganza on 23rd Street. Tens of thousands of Guyanese attended the parades annually hoping to catch a glimpse of the Bollywood star who graced it. Having developed a close friendship with the executive of the organizations, Kali and I requested greater involvement of Indo-Caribbeans in the parade and the organizers acquiesced to our requests.  Year after year, we would request from the FIA that leading Indo-Caribbean personalities be recognized and or be invited as guests or chief guests. Kali, Bal Naipual, etc, were honoured. I never sought recognition for my volunteerism. President Jagdeo was invited on several occasions to be chief guest but he politely declined the invitations. Last year, we succeeded in convincing President Shri Nirav Mehta to invite Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and President Jagdeo as chief guests. President Jagdeo again declined. Kamla accepted the invitation and she marched alongside Bollywood Actress Preity Zinta who served as Grand Marshall. Last May, Kali and I met at his office in Jamaica and we discussed a plan to request FIA’s President to tender another invitation to President Jagdeo to be chief guest since this is his last year in office and we felt his presence would bolster our mission to highlight the Guyanese community at the parade, especially since the Trinis benefited last year. This has nothing to do with support for Jagdeo or the PPP. Our mission is to build on our alliance and network with nationals from India. When I left for Guyaa early last month, I asked Kali to follow up on the invitation. I did not meet or see President Jagdeo in Guyana last month. I was shocked, but pleased, to learn he accepted this year’s invitation as chief guest in a memo from Kali (I don’t think I will be in NY for the parade as I am expected to be overseas on polling duty).

So contrary to Mr Harripaul’s crystal ball claim, President Jagdeo did not ask for an invitation.  He was pressured into coming to the parade and it was the doing of Guyanese lobbying the FIA for the invitation.  Kali provided the contacts for the President. I learn from sources that President Jagdeo reluctantly agreed to come to the parade preferring instead to spend time on affairs of state.

Let me also note that the Prime Minister of India, Shri Manmohan Singh, is not coming to the parade event.  This year’s Grand Marshall is Rani Mukherji, in keeping with the tradition of having a Bollywood leading star as GM. Rekha, Raakhe, Amitabh, Jeetendra, Hema, Shabana, Shilpa, Sharmila, Rishi Kapoor, Dharmendra, etc, served as GM in earlier years. In making a charge that is untruthful, Harripaul does a disservice to the community bringing it into disrepute and holding us up to ridicule and odium among nationals from India.  In spite of critics like Mr Harripaul and others who seek to keep us down, the Indo-Guyanese community will persevere and overcome these detractors and will build on its success.

Let me also note that an invitation to the parade automatically includes an invitation to the pre-parade press conference, the garlanding of the Mahatma Gandhi statue at Union Square, a dinner reception, a post parade press briefing, etc. I attended many of these events and saw Guyanese press people. Mr Bhaskar Sharma was present one year.  Thus, Mr Jagdeo does not need to request an invitation for dinner. And if the President needs to meet the PM of India, he does not need to ask FIA to facilitate it.  The Indian High Commission in Guyana or the Foreign Ministry can seek a meeting between the two on the sidelines of the UN visit which takes place in late September.  I am not even certain if Mr Jagdeo is coming to the UN and whether his visit will coincide with Manmohan Singh’s.  The Indian PM is among the earliest to address the UN and normally does not spend more than three days in the city.  I usually attend gatherings with the PM.  In fact, Ashok Ramsaran and I are requesting a meeting with the PM to address concerns of Indians in the diaspora.

I cannot comment, at this time, whether the President requested and received confirmation of ringing the bell for the closing of the stock exchange.  Indian nationals have a lot of influence having donated millions of dollars annually to politicians of all stripes, and it won’t be hard for them to get such a favour for President Jagdeo. But I seriously doubt this accusation of Mr Harripaul. Since the others are false, this is also most likely an untruth.

A question on everyone’s mind is why was Mr Harripaul’s missive was published when the allegations were not verified.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram