The struggle against Burnham was not an Indian struggle against Africans but a Guyanese struggle against repression, lack of democracy, rigged elections and a militarized state. However, given Guyana’s ethnically polarized political landscape, invariably the brunt of the struggle, at least initially, was carried out by Indians who were supporters of the major opposition party, which they knew had been cheated at elections. But the reality is that, in spite of the PNC drawing its basic support from Africans, all and sundry were affected by its policies and practices.
On the other hand, while the PPP’s governance has been characterized by corruption, bribery, squandermania, nepotism (as was the PNC’s), it has certainly not exhibited outright or massive discrimination. In fact, even those who deem to argue for ethnic discrimination are unable to provide an irrefutable body of supporting evidence such as was documented to reflect racism under the PNC government. Instead, they point to a few trees and shout that the forest exists.
Other similarities between then and now include the fact that the rich, across all ethnic lines, still lord it over the rest of society; kickbacks still characterize politics; the people are still fearful of and do not trust the police and army. And yes ethnic voting continues to exist.
In fact, ethnic voting has always existed since the original PPP split in the late 1950s and post-colonial governmental policies have always benefited the upper crust across ethnic lines, whereas the working class, across ethnic lines also, continue to suffer. Of course, the intensity, scale, extent and scope of this suffering is vastly different now from what it was under Burnham and the reality is that standard of living is much better for the vast majority of Guyanese now than at any time in the past. Perhaps it is this reality more than anything else that has resulted in Africans being unwilling to answer the calls of Afrocentric activists to take to the streets. Of course they probably also recognize that such calls are aimed at using them for personal self-aggrandizement.
Does this mean we should pat the PPP government on the back? Certainly not! But the fact remains that mass repression, dictatorship, rigged elections and a militarized state are not the traits of any PPP government.
In any case, those Africans in the WPA who fought against Burnham did so because they genuinely felt that the WPA had a chance of taking power or leading the new government. Contrary to the perception they attempt to portray, their fight was not so much for an Indian based party to accede to power, as much as it was for replacing the Burnham /PNC government with a WPA government or a WPA led government – the manoeuvrings in the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) are quite instructive in this regard.
Also, contrary to the detractors of Indians, the fact is that those Indians who thought that the AFC had an opportunity to replace the PPP gravitated to the AFC at the last elections. The problem was that AFC failed to convince enough Indians (or Africans for that matter) that it could actually win. Consequently, the majority of the Indians, even if they were disillusioned with the government, chose to stay with the PPP rather than open the door for the return of the PNC government. This is so because Indians have experienced the PNC in government and nothing that the PNC has done since, has given cause to think that any subsequent PNC government would be different.
In fact, Indians are even more apprehensive now, given the record of the PNC since
1992 – successive episodes of post-electoral violence; pushing out or marginalizing the progressives in the leadership; electing a leader who has a reputation for skewing Guyana’s political history and sanitizing the role of the PNC in the process; and more recently adopting an anti-nationalist stance that entails opposing for opposing’s sake, without even offering pragmatic alternatives.
Now there are one or two ‘experts’ who claim that today’s generation of Indians has
no knowledge of Burnhamism and couldn’t care less about that period of Guyana’s history. So how do they explain the growing movement for reparations by Africans worldwide, hundreds of years after the abolition of slavery? Or the worldwide Jewish continual focus on the Nazi purge, almost 70 years after World War Two? The reality is that a people’s collective consciousness and the socialization process ensure that any collective horrors experienced in the past, continue to scar the memory and the psyche of that group.
In effect Indians are all for change but certainly not back to the nightmarish past. So until a force comes along that proves that it can actually be better than both the PPP and PNC and that can convince the electorate that it will win elections, neither Indians nor Africans would disengage from their traditional electoral support. Thus Indians’ supposed lack of anti-PPP activism is really an acknowledgement that there is no viable alternative to the PPP as far as they are concerned. And those who thought that Indians had begun to desert the PPP at the last election, fail to give enough credence to the Moses factor, which was solely responsible for that Berbice migration, just as Raphael Trotman had catalyzed the migration from the PNC at the previous elections.
In fact, given the record of the AFC since the last election, it would be a safe bet that the Moses factor would not be a repeat and those voters would either sit on the fence or move back to the PPP, especially since those Berbicians now know that AFC, Moses and all, can never win a national election in the foreseeable future, a conclusion that the African migrants of the elections before the last one, had previously arrived at.
However, Don Quixote will continue to berate Indians for not wanting to inhabit his windmill world, because constant tilting has created a permanent tic on the landscape of his psyche.