I write to augment the comments made in the two letters in SN (Oct 10) on Mr Ralph Ramkarran’s presentation in Queens on Oct 8 commemorating the 25th anniversary since the restoration of democratic elections in Guyana. The missives of Messrs Sase Singh and Mike Persaud accurately capture some of the more salient points made by the former Speaker of the National Assembly. Their analyses of the speech were spot on and supported with comments from the distinguished Senior Counsel.
It was indeed about the best speech I heard from a Guyanese on the politics of Guyana in the diaspora since the time of Dr Jagan, and as a journalist/cum political commentator with over 40 years experience, I have reported on hundreds of speeches for the mass media. This speech is rated in the same category as one I heard from then President Jagdeo about 17 years ago in Queens.
The speech of Mr Ramkarran, viewed as an elder statesman by the New York diaspora, was terrific. He stayed on point and supported his contentions with facts. He gave a deep and detailed description of electoral fraud and the role played by the diaspora and local forces within Guyana to expose the fraud and to champion the return of democratic governance. He paid glowing tributes to the work of the diaspora and the varied forces within Guyana (including religious and civic groups, political parties, GUARD, etc) that assisted in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in the homeland. He thanked all of them for their work. He did not bash anyone, and he was even kind to former President Jagdeo praising his handling of the economy although the two had a running battle within and outside the PPP over party leadership and perceived corruption.
Aside from the speech itself, something also needed to be said about the atmosphere of the hall: it was very quiet. People were attentive to Mr Ramkarran throughout the 45 minute speech and the 35 minute question and answer period. In the end, Ramkarran asked the diaspora to stay focused on Guyana to ensure democracy is never threatened again. He also urged racial unity and power sharing as a solution to our political conflict. He wanted the nation to come together and for there to be a multi-party government that represented the interest of all the ethnic groups.
There was much decorum in the hall. A lot of deference and respect was shown to the former PPP stalwart who was excommunicated from a party he helped to build. No negative response or any heckling was heard throughout his lengthy presentation. The only other time I heard Mr Ramkarran was at the funeral of Dr Jagan in March 1997 at Babu Jahan (John) after I flew from Manila, Philippines to pay respects to the fallen freedom fighter. That was one of the finest speeches paying tribute to the late Cheddi in Port Mourant. This speech in Richmond Hill was also exceptional in tone, tenor, delivery and content. It was a very serious speech replete with a compendium of facts. It was not laced with humour or witty comments, and it was not interrupted by applause or laughter. But it was not boring, unlike speeches made by other Guyanese politicians who come regularly to New York.
After the speech, Mr Ramkarran mingled and socialized with the large gathering and posed for pictures; he was very chatty and conversational. Before the speech, I asked the audience their views on Mr Ramkarran and after his presentation, I inquired about their opinions of it. What he said impressed everyone who gathered at the hall that Sunday afternoon and later that evening at another location for a reception. As many said, “the man spoke well”. They all echoed the sentiments of Mike Persaud and Sase Singh in their letters: it was one of the more striking speeches by a Guyanese in the diaspora. Many said that he should have run as President for the PPP. And almost everyone felt had he been the PPP presidential candidate in 2011 and/or 2015, the PPP would have retained the government with a large majority. There was disappointment when Ramkarran stated he was not interested in active PPP politics. He was urged to return to the PPP and throw his hat in the presidential ring come next election, and/or to form a political or civic organization. Ramkarran said he does not want to be attacked by his former party colleagues in publicly expressing an interest in politics or returning to his former party that he and his father helped build. He did not want forces in the PPP to feel uncomfortable with his appearance in New York or giving speeches within Guyana interpreting it as a return to active politics. He said he enjoys his non-political work and his writings, and that he has a lot of followers of his writing who offer him a lot of encouragement to write and analyse events. He did say that he is available to give talks if invited. He emphasized he is not actively seeking political office. But if approached, and if the public or the PPP feels he has a role to lay, he would give it consideration. “It is not something I would actively pursue”, he reiterated.
However, in response to follow up questions, he did not completely rule out a return to some kind of political engagement including working with the PPP if the party atmosphere was amenable.
With regard to how Mr Ramkarran is viewed by the New York diaspora, people expressed respect for the former politician, now elder statesman. They say he has demonstrated outstanding character and leadership throughout his public life. He is seen as non-racial and that he wishes to build a society free of corruption. As many commented, he would be the ideal candidate for President and many volunteered to set up an exploratory committee towards that goal.
The attendees were grateful to the organizers for bringing a fresh face from Guyana to New York rather than the same old figures that have lost appeal among the diaspora.