The Leader of the PNC and Opposition in the National Assembly, Brigadier David Granger, spent time during Guyana’s last independence anniversary meeting essentially PPP supporters in the largely Indo-Guyanese enclave in Queens, New York. It appears that both the PNC’s North American chapter and Mr. Mike Persaud deserve some credit for facilitating Mr. Granger’s opportunity to share something of his aspirations and policies to what was considered an almost closed PPP stronghold.
During his meeting, Mr. Granger dealt with a wide range of issues that are usually of concern to PPP constituencies which the PPP has spent decades tweaking in its favour. In my opinion, given the cauldron into which Guyanese politics has settled since the 2011 elections, this was an ideal opportunity for Mr. Granger to communicate a brand of politics that would have excited, captured the imagination and projected his party as a surefooted alternative to the regime we have today.
But unfortunately this was not to be. Instead, Mr. Granger made some rather odd assertions that require our attention if only because they appear to run counter to what many of us, including many of those who listened to him, believe is taking place in Guyana. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this – on the contrary new thinking backed by substantial evidence should be encouraged. But some of the more important of Mr. Granger’s points were not backed up by any evidence at all.
I base my comments on four reports (in the form of letters to the press) of Mr. Granger’s contributions at various meetings. This and next week, I will consider issues relating to the opposition leader’s understanding of racism in Guyana, inclusive governance, the need for peaceful non-violent protest and the question of the PNC apologizing for its past.
I begin with what I consider the most important departure from my understanding of what is taking place in Guyana: Mr. Granger’s understanding of race and politics in our society. Most of us believe that racial voting has been the hallmark of political relations in Guyana and that as a consequence special strategies and arrangements need to be encouraged to facilitate our living together productively.
However, if the various reports are anything to go by, “Mr. Granger appeared to circumvent the idea that race plays any part in the thinking of voting Guyanese. We did not hear Mr. Granger admit that fact … In fact; he took pains to deny that race is any factor. And, if there is no racial voting, then no need to talk about a solution. He referred to his own multi-cultural, multi-racial family and to the people he knew as “mixed. … The racial question was tossed aside” (“Granger disappointed on the question of an apology for PNC excesses:” SN: 03/06/2014).
In a real sense Guyana was founded in racism which the indentured system only complicated. So much so that writing in 1931, ARF Webber, commenting on the racial confrontation between Africans and Portuguese in 1847, made the observation that this was a straw that was “showing which way the wind was blowing.” (“Centenary History and Handbook of British Guyana,” Argosy Company Ltd). Since then there have been many studies and commissions; some of which have designated us a plural society while others have stated that we fall into the category of hopelessly ungovernable bi-communal societies.
Thus, in “Bicommunal Systems: Guyana, Malaysia, Fiji” R. S. Milne explained that “bicommunalism is particularly conducive to stark confrontation between the groups. With bicommunalism, inter-group relations are quite likely to be seen in “zero-sum” terms, thereby creating a high potential for conflict, violence, and even “disintegration.” The evidence discussed here comes from three countries during the mid-1980s: Guyana, Malaysia, and Fiji. In each one … that duality (bicommunalism) entails either hegemony or a “precarious balance”‘ has been resolved in favor of hegemony” (Journal of Federalism, Spring, 1988)
Three years ago, in “Toward Ethnic Conflict Transformation: A Case Study of Citizen Peace building Initiatives on the 2006 Guyana Elections,” Roxanne Myers and Jason Calder claimed that “Ethnicity is the prime marker of political affiliation and membership in Guyana, and thus identity becomes personally and socially significant to East Indian and African Guyanese who participate in the maintenance, escalation, or transformation of ethnic competition and conflict.”
Every general election over the last sixty years has demonstrated clear racial preferences. Who does Mr. Granger believe voted for him and why did most of them do so? It is no wonder then that on this point, which is the crux of our political condition, his audience did not take Mr. Granger’s position seriously.
Indeed, Mr. Mike Persaud found occasion to proffer some advice. “Mr. Granger and the PNC have got to face squarely the racial and political arithmetic of Guyana: Africans at 30 per cent, Indians at 44 per cent of the electorate, and the fact that the majority vote race. … You need an electoral strategy to make your candidate and party appealing to your target constituency” (“Granger disappointed on the question of an apology for PNC excesses:” SN: 03/06/2014).
Even a supporter of Mr. Granger and APNU, Dr. Tarron Khemraj, had this advice for the PNC organisers of one of the New York meetings: “I am certain the PNC will think more about how it positions its head table in terms of gender and racial balance” (“A few things were learnt from the opposition leader at Mike Persaud’s home:” SN: 05/06/2014). Of course, since the ethnic question has lost so much of its political importance that it could be “tossed aside”, at best, Dr. Khemraj observation is simple a nicety that can be similarly abandoned!
If racism has lost much of its force, one is left to wonder what the Brigadier meant and what reasoning propelled him to tell his audience that he “believed in inclusionary democracy in which all parties and groups were involved in the decision-making process and governance…” (“Granger seeks a government of national unity:” SN: 27/05/2014).
It goes without saying that given the secondhand and partial reporting, it is quite possible that I am misinterpreting Mr. Granger on this most important point. I would be extremely relieved to hear that this is the case and to be given a more comprehensive and correct interpretation.