Guyanese woke up to the sad news that Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud passed away early Sunday morning. Pandit Reep as he was famously called had been a religious and political leader for five decades. He became a Member of Parliament in December, 1964 and rose in popularity as a Hindu Priest after he broke away from the Maha Sabha around 1968.
However, most significant has been his contributions to these two institutions Hinduism and Parliament. I first heard Pandit Reepu at a yagna in Clifton Settlement, Tain in Corentyne during my early teens in the mid 70’s and was fired by the depth of his intellect. This was a period when Hinduism as a religion was subjugated and many persons feared being discriminated against. Pandit Reep helped a young generation especially of the 60’s and 70’s to transcend that fear and uplift their consciousness to be proud of their religion. Hindu marriages were not even considered legal.
Pandit Reep in the early 70’s formed the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha along with Harry Ramdass and the late Sookdeo Ramsaroop a.k.a Sugat who worked relentlessly to place the Dharmic Sabha as a premier religious organization in the country. Pandit Reepu’s melodious voice and his ability to translate the Geeta and Ramayana in simple but rich language was second to none. As a compliment to his charisma, he was supported by a group of talented singers and musicians in the likes of Mohan Nandu, Balgobin Kawall, Walter Madray, Krishna Singh and Rookmin and Indera Seetaram that would catch the imagination of thousands of Guyanese.
It would be a very thin hair to divide Pandit Reep’s attraction for either Parliament or Religion. He was a trailblazer in Parliament serving as Chief Whip, Deputy Speaker and Leader of Government Business. He was a firebrand debater especially in the days of the PPP as opposition. He singlehandedly took on high profile members of the then PNC government. He was always well-prepared and factual but his hallmark was his ability to rise spontaneously to debate any motion even if he was seeing it for the first time.
Very often I saw him conducting yagna in the Upper Corentyne and then speeding down to Parliament to lead the debate and then racing back to the Corentyne for his night session of a yagna, an immaculate commitment to both institutions in the same breath. Pandit Reep is the third longest serving member of Parliament after Cheddi and Janet Jagan. I was out of the country when I read his award for his contribution to Parliament in July last year, something he richly deserved. Moreover he was able to strike a balance between high expectations, rationality and politically feasible solutions in Parliament. Here he came up against top class MPs like Hugh Desmond Hoyte, Pat Mckenzie, Dr Kenneth King, Winston Murray and others. The bills were supported by broad agreement.
Pandit Reepu’s passing will leave a void in religious and parliamentary leadership in Guyana. Rest in peace panditji your name will live on.