Kissoon’s agenda was not simply a stroll down memory lane

Dear Editor,

In all honesty, I was always curious as to when Mr Freddie Kissoon was a member of the WPA, since I do not recall meeting him during the period 1977 to 1982, the period when I was actively involved in the political struggle in Guyana. The only Kissoon that I recall was Gwennie Kissoon.

My entry into active politics started with the 1977 GAWU strike, when a female member of the PPP came to my store and I gave her a generous financial contribution towards the strike. From that day on, she became a family friend. I learnt from her the many intrigues within the PPP. The one caution she gave to me was straightforward: Do not get involved in politics, just take care of your family.

I failed to heed her advice, becoming a member of the PPP in the Newtown Group. I attended the 1978 Congress at Annandale. I participated in political training classes with sugar workers and was present at many meetings and functions. I was responsible for repairing and rewiring the printing press at the Mirror HQ when the motor of the printing press was supposedly sabotaged. I was also a writer for the Mirror papers, occupying the middle page spread on several occasions under the pen name of ‘Observer.’

During the 1978 Referendum, I was in a car along with a brother of mine and Mr Cyril Belgrave monitoring the turn-out at several polling stations. Mr Belgrave stepped out to take a picture and was attacked by the thugs. We fled, leaving him behind and reported the incident to Freedom House. As we were doing so, Mr Vernon Fung, the Mirror photographer ran into the building with a dozen soldiers in hot chase. They demanded his camera. Dr Jagan took out the roll of films and handed it to them.

Ms Jocelyn Dow was my landlady, and she was using my car for her errands.  She resided at a building behind my store. Dr Walter Rodney, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, Dr Omawale, and several WPA persons frequented her residence, and they soon were using my vehicle. Freedom House was just a block away and the use of my car raised concern within the ranks of the PPP. Dr Jagan told me that my car was a resource of the PPP. I left that meeting wondering how my car belonged to the PPP’s resource pool. I was surprised at the PPP leader’s opinion concerning my personal property. I regarded the WPA as an ally against the dictatorship, a sentiment the PPP did not share. I was eventually expelled from the PPP in a letter bearing the signature of Dr Jagan.

I began to assist the WPA without becoming a member. I contributed to the electrical wiring of the Tiger Bay Centre of the WPA. I was arrested for distributing Dayclean and spent three days on remand, before being put on a trumped-up charge along with eight others and presented before the courts. I suffered the loss of several of my textbooks when the vehicle from which we were announcing a public meeting was attacked by PNC thugs. We abandoned the vehicle, which was set afire by the thugs, and we escaped through a canefield. I attended many meetings at the Walter Rodney Mall. We we were tear gassed on several occasions. I was at the meeting at which Moses Bhagwan’s arm was broken, and Walter Rodney showed Olympian stature, according to Prime Minister Burnham. I was present at the event outside of Guyana Stores Ltd, when the PNC broke it up, removing Gordon Todd from the scene. My home was searched on several occasions. I will forever remain proud of those activities, if that is what it took to remove a dictatorship. This is just a mere sampling of my activities for Mr Kissoon’s benefit.

I officially became a member of the WPA upon the assassination of Dr Rodney.  I felt the impact of his death at a very personal level. Dr Roopnaraine showed great interest in my various skills, and I became the head of the Political, Educational and Cultural Action Unit of the party. We began to establish party cells in various parts of the country. Many classes were held on different topics, allowing the senior party leaders to share their experiences with the young cadres.

Mr Kissoon would certainly not know of me, given the dates that he revealed in his letter. The irony is that while I was in the thick of the battle during the Civil Rebellion, he was nowhere to be found, missing in action. I feel a sense of embarrassment for Mr Kissoon, given his total misconception as to who Rohit Kanhai was and is, given his response to me. Mr Kissoon, being a university lecturer who has graded many papers, should have recognized that my ‘paper’ merited a closer look, given the enormity of some of the claims. At least I flattered myself to think that I had to write carefully when engaging this intellectual giant, and convinced myself that I had done so, despite some trepidation. At the very least, he could have consulted Dr David Hinds, with whom he shares a close relationship and praises highly in his response to me.

Mr Kissoon’s thunderbolt, “I say in anger, who the hell is Kanhai to dispute a statement that came from perhaps the second or third person in charge of WPA activities after Walter Rodney?” is worthy of merit, to say the least. In all fairness to Mr Kissoon, I must inform him that I vetted my article with one of the persons whom he claimed was among the three most honest leaders of the WPA. I did so, precisely because of the nature of my claim.

Mr Kissoon’s second point regarding Dr Roopnaraine’s “deep, analytical mind” has a disclaimer that “he never wrote on Roopnaraine’s political life.” How does the mind/body relationship manifest itself in the body politic of Guyana? He writes that “Kanhai proclaims himself to be the embodiment of Marxism.” I am unaware of any such proclamation on my part, since Marxism covers one hundred and fifty years of active scholarship and has no fixed meaning, if not placed in context. I may remind him of Marx’s famous declaration that he (Marx) was not a Marxist, given the many persons who spoke in the name of Marx and misrepresented what he was saying. Furthermore, in Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, Marx laid the foundation stone of his philosophy, stating, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point however, is to change it.” Marx used the word “praxis” to link theory and practice. Mr Kissoon separates these two activities into parallel universes.

Mr Kissoon praises Dr Roopnaraine’s “deep, analytical thinking,” and divorced it from his political activism, treating Dr Roopnaraine as “a brain in a vat.”  He reveals an extremely deep-rooted contempt for Dr Roopnaraine and the WPA.  What “honesty” is he ascribing to the three persons he claims are the paragons of honesty? How are they the leaders of the WPA and bear no responsibility for the current WPA, which Mr Kissoon describes as embracing “political values that are reactionary, ethnocentric, politically depraved and downright backward.”

He then argues that he was referring to a particular statement made in 2013 about a specific topic, one that was taken out of context and brought into the debate regarding the dismissal of Dr Hinds from the Chronicle. Why did he raise this particular matter at this particular time when the debate was about Dr Hinds and Mr Lincoln Lewis?

It appears that Mr Kissoon’s agenda was not simply “a stroll down memory lane” but an attempt to muddy the current waters.

Yours faithfully,

Rohit Kanhai

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