Permit my belated response to Mr Ralph Ramkarran’s column, ‘Sustaining and advancing democracy for the New Year’, published in Sunday Stabroek on November 31, 2017, which has been delayed because of circumstances beyond my control.
In his column, Mr Ramkarran made some observations that are consistent with progressive national aspirations. How-ever, his silence on key issues is counterproductive, and deceptive. It is not asking too much from this prominent political personality and former member of the PPP’s leadership, to be more balanced when addressing critical and sensitive areas of Guyana’s political experiences, particularly since he cannot claim to be an innocent bystander. It is therefore very important, that he, being an informed and active player in the political process in Guyana for many years, demonstrates a more objective and responsible attitude in his columns. This imperative is essential if his goal is to achieve national unity and end “ethnic-political domination”.
Mr Ramkarran, speaking from the vantage point of a former PPP/C leader, wrote: “In the critical years of the 1970s and 1980s, three major issues engaged the attention of my political colleagues – restore democracy, advance social progress and avoid civil strife.”
As preoccupied as they were with the above concerns, the PPP leadership and Dr Jagan, squandered the opportunity offered to that party in the late ʼ80s and early ʼ90s with the formation of the PCD and the end of the Cold War, to demonstrate their commitment to those ideals: (Contemporary politics would show that unlike the PPP and Dr Jagan, the APNU and Mr Granger took advantage of a possible alliance with the AFC to strike an electoral coalition in the interest of the country – the rest is history). Instead, the PPP quickly resorted to the historical logic that guided its approach to the nation’s problems after the split in the national movement, which was one of ethnic economic and political domination. It is in this context that while Mr Ramkarran is vocal on the need for constitutional reform to address ethnic political domination, which I support, his pronounced silence on the need to reform the ethnic dominated economy that exists in Guyana becomes problematic and raises questions of his sincerity. His failure to give recognition to the intrinsic link between economics and political domination, which he is well aware of, makes his position suspect and unhelpful. The issue of ethnic economic domination and its negative effects have been in Guyana’s political life since colonial days to the present – the proverbial ‘elephant’ in the room.
Mr Ramkarran skilfully played down the economic contradiction in the country when he wrote: “There will be other issues such as transparency, accountability, corruption, the sugar industry, economy, management of the oil funds, social issues and others.” In this construct the ethnic dominated economy is of little importance to the nation’s political problem of ethnic political domination. He treats the economy as an afterthought, referring to it in passing. He knows that the economy is more important or just as important in determining the social/political relations. If Mr Ramkarran’s approach is a true reflection of where progressive minds in the Indian community are in relation to the nation’s challenges then Guyana will continue to be in deep trouble.
I fought against rigged elections for decades as an ally of the Indian community. As that struggle evolved I identified with and developed an understanding of that community’s political sociology in relation to rigged elections. While the masses could be excused for their inability to rise above past political experiences, Indian political and intellectual leadership after 23 years of PPP/C rule, which also produced electoral rigging, have to face the reality that their party is not devoid of electoral wrongdoings. The leaders of the PPP have to take the responsibility to reshape the Indian community’s “mass consciousness” on this matter. This is necessary if there is to be a meeting of minds between the African and Indian communities on a political solution in the country.
In the present situation if there is justification for the Indian community’s unchanged position on rigged elections that took place in the ʼ70s and ʼ80s then it can be argued that the African community’s fear of Indian domination, given the nature of the PPP’s rule for 23 years, is justified.
African political consciousness at present is influenced in part by the following: 1) the criminalization of the state under the PPP; 2) the domination of the economy by Indians and non-Africans; 3) the massive theft of state resources; (4) the extra-judicial killings of young men, especially young African men, in the so-called “war on crime”. My point is, in the same way that rigged elections under the PNCR, feed/shape the Indian community political consciousness, each of the above does the same to the African community political consciousness and, when taken together, demonstrate the depth of the crisis facing African politics in the years ahead.
After 23 years of PPP/C rule in Guyana, Africans are faced with a situation of being excluded from almost every aspect of economic life in the country. This is undeniable. However, in spite of all of the evidence which supports this position, PPP/C and Indian rights activists, have raised a hue and cry over the small improvements in the African condition since the APNU+AFC government came to power. Their false claim that the government is hostile to Indians and favourable to Africans is nothing but political propaganda, since they know what the reality is. While the African community’s political position has improved with the defeat of the PPP/C, it is yet to be translated into significant economic gains for Africans. The accusation that the government is one sided is not consistent with reality, since the economic structure of the country remains as it was under the PPPC. There has not been any significant change of the fortunes of the African community in the economic life of the country given the extent of its exclusion under the PPP/C, and the short period of the coalition government. This situation will not change dramatically until the coalition recognizes the importance of meaningfully empowering that community by providing it with the skills and resources to move it forward.
To the extent that there is evidence of erosion of Indian economic dominance, it has nothing to do with African economic ascendency, but with (a) the rise of Chinese in commerce and the economic life of the country, which began under the PPP/C; (b) the US pressure on the country in relation to the drug trade, and the proactive, aggressive posture of the coalition in this struggle; (c) the efforts of the government to stamp out the looting of the nation’s resources. None of the above has anything to do with the government advancing African interests but is instead, intended to advance the national interest.
While I remain committed to the struggle for constitutional reform, I am mindful of the fact that at present the PPP/C has no interest in this matter, since it has erroneously convinced itself that it will win the 2020 general and regional elections. Another factor that influences my present attitude on this matter is the fact that the present regime is not a one party government. These considerations factor into my political calculation. As things are, the struggle for constitutional reform in my view will start in earnest after the 2020 elections. It would be a political miracle if any serious movement on this issue occurs before.
My intention in this response to Mr Ramkarran is to point out to the Indian progressive political thinkers that they are doing an injustice to their people and the nation when they allow the PPP/C leadership to continue its crude exploitation of Indian racial insecurity.
The resolution of the race/political contractions in the country requires that the Indian community develops an appreciation of the destruction to the African and Amerindian communities during the 23 years of PPP/C rule. As a nation in our divided state, we will continue to be easy pickings for external exploiters and will, as a result, see our natural resources being plundered by and for the enrichment of others, while we helplessly look on.
This, I believe, is the real challenge facing us if we are to sustain and advance democracy, not only in the New Year but beyond.