There can be no doubt that the call for the removal of Mr Komal Chand from the position of President of GAWU that was orchestrated by Leader of the Opposition and General Secretary of the PPP, Bharrat Jagdeo, has proven to be most embarrassing for Mr Jagdeo, politically. Jagdeo’s denial of a rift in the PPP, subsequent to the declared the support of other longstanding leading members of that party for Chand, is at best, pitiful and unconvincing.
Following GAWU’s meeting with the government, which he referred to as a “PR exercise for the government”, Mr Jagdeo proceeded to launch a blistering attack on Mr Chand for reaching an agreement with the government to pay full severance to approximately 2000 workers. The Opposition Leader, angered by the fact that the meeting between government and GAWU, had resulted in what was for him, an unexpected and unwelcome decision, subjected Chand to a most vicious abuse of his character. In proposing the removal of Chand and his replacement by a younger leader, Jagdeo was making it very clear that his preference for a new leader of GAWU was for someone who would be loyal to him, one whom he could manipulate to make decisions that were intended to serve his personal interests and not necessarily the interests of the sugar workers, the PPP and the country. His opponents in Freedom House did not miss the political implications of his move, which included driving the final nail in the coffins of the old guard, and they quickly moved to neutralize his actions.
However, the damage to both GAWU and the PPP was already done. Komal Chand and the GAWU leadership in their defence were forced to publicly reject the inference of loyalty to the “maximum leader’ and the party and, in the process, reiterated their loyalty to the workers and the independence of the union from the PPP. This aspect of the union relationship with the party has been blurred for many decades.
Mr Jagdeo’s recklessness offered Mr Chand and his comrades in GAWU an ample opportunity to publicly separate the union from the PPP in a manner unprecedented in the history of PPP-GAWU relations. The political significance of this development is striking, bearing in mind that even the publicly stated threat by the Jagdeo administration, through the then Minister of Labour Nanda Gopual, to derecognize the union, did not generate this type of response from GAWU’s leadership. However, on this occasion they took the fight to the party leader. Only time will reveal how successful they have been in this battle.
As a consequence of their resolve to resist Mr Jagdeo’s aggressive behaviour the ‘old Guard’ in the party, took advantage of the opportunity presented to them by the demonstration of his dictatorial attributes and in turn, went on the offensive and closed ranks in defence of one of their own. In acting as they did they reasserted in the public consciousness that they are still a force to be reckoned with in the party. They also tried to reduce the potential damage to the party caused by Jagdeo’s recklessness, which former President Mr Donald Ramotar conveniently called an issue of “style” and former party General Secretary, Mr Clement Rohee deemed “misguided and misdirected”.
It will be remiss of me not to give special recognition to party stalwart, Indra Chandarpal, MP, for leading the charge in defence of Komal Chand. I salute her principled and courageous position, which was in great contrast to that taken by party’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira’s “no comment” position. Not often in Guyanese politics and more so in the PPP, that female activist/leaders publicly, and in spite of the risks to their political fortunes, dared to express disagreement with their party’s maximum leaders. Long live women power!
Komal Chand’s and GAWU’s engagement with the government saw some movement in the interest of at least 2000 of the severed workers while keeping the doors open for further meaningful negotiations between the union and government. This result, while being a gain for GAWU, runs counter to Mr Jagdeo’s plan to use the sugar workers’ severance issue for selfish political gains. In his self-driven campaign to regain the presidency he is even sacrificing comrades who have demonstrated over the years their commitment to the party, to achieve his objective.
What I found amusing in all of this is Rohee’s warning against “gamesmanship”, and Ramotar’s political opportunism of having no problem with Jagdeo’s “style”, once he gets the job done. While the former President may explain his position as realpolitik, in the context of Mr Jagdeo’s known reputation and history, it is a dangerous political game he is playing for both the PPP and country. It is not for me to set the standards for that party, but as a citizen, I feel duty bound to warn my countrymen and women of the need to contain Mr Jagdeo’s political ambitions.
I end by saying that this task is too important to be left to the PPP since that party is still investing in Jagdeo’s political leadership to regain office. While that may be a political luxury that party can afford, the same cannot be the position of the nation.