It is fitting and commendable that Stabroek News published an eight-page supplement to commemorate the one hundredth birth anniversary of Dr Cheddi B Jagan. I have thus far read Prof Clement Seecharran’s contribution, and would like to make a few observations:
First, Prof Seecharran seems to place the full burden of Guyana’s unresolved “ethnic problem” on Cheddi Jagan by his failure to recognize the insecurities of Afro-Guyanese, insecurities which would not be allayed by his emphasis on class struggle. While there is some truth in this, the fact is that the seeds of animosity had been sown by the colonial authorities through policies governing land ownership and culture, among other things.
That said, no discussion of the “ethnic problem” can ignore the role of Jagan’s political nemesis, Forbes Burnham, who not only controlled the first post-independence government, but manipulated the “ethnic census” to maintain a one-party state, securing Afro-Guyanese collaboration by political patronage and the systematic dispossession of Indo-Guyanese. It is interesting to note that Seecharran repeatedly quotes Eusi Kwayana on this matter, seemingly oblivious of the fact that when Kwayana, then Sydney King, had an opportunity to push for racial reconciliation as part of the Burnham ruling party, he was understood as advocating partition of the country on racial lines.
Second, in his protracted elaborations on the failings of Cheddi Jagan, Seecharran cites the sugar baron, Sir Jock Campbell, who he says could have produced miracles if Jagan had cooperated with him. The miracle worker, whom Seecharran fondly refers to as Jock, may have conceded scraps to the sugar workers in the waning days of colonialism and in an effort to secure the sugar company’s footing, but in Seecharran’s reflections, Jock towers benevolently over Jagan, who must bear the blame for the unmaterialized miracles.
Third, in the most backhanded and belittling attributions in his article, Seecharran describes the Jagans as people “who did not steal…” There are far too many works on the politics of Guyana that credit the Jagans with considerably more. Any evaluation of a national leader such as Cheddi Jagan must afford some comparison with his contemporaries. In this case, his arch-rival was the dictator, Forbes Burnham. Need one say more?