Indian extinction threat

Indian extinction threat

Photo : Ravi Dev

Roar of Ravi Dev

In Guyana, “the land of six peoples”, with the introduction of the universal franchise in 1953, voting became increasingly influenced by ethnicity. With independence in sight by the 1960’s - deciding “who” will rule - it was not a coincidence that elections became ethnic censuses. Under the Westminster majoritarian rule, one challenge presented was how to control this reflexive formation of ethnic “factions” to preclude a “tyranny of the majority”. The African section, with its numbers approaching the Indians’, had to deal with the possibility of being forever excluded from the Executive, even though they felt they had greater legitimacy to rule. This was the “African Ethnic Security Dilemma”: if they played by the rules of Democracy, Africans in Guyana would be excluded from the Executive. Burnham used this argument to his constituency to justify rigging elections.

Democracy also presumes the State will be managed for all the people of the country. Those who manage the affairs of the State have to ensure they are servants of all the people. Hegel called them the “universal class”. If the staffing of state institutions are under the control of any one “faction”, however, this presents another dilemma for democracy. Typically, the majority faction also controls the state and in fact this can produce the actual “tyranny of the majority”. However, if there are circumstances, such as in Guyana, in which a minority controls the state institutions, especially the Armed Forces; the Civil Service and the Judiciary, then the will of the majority can also be denied, since the minority would calculate they have the wherewithal to always challenge the majority violently. This the PNC did between 1961-64 with the help of the CIA; and on their own between 1998-2002.

The African domination of state institutions effectively neutralises the numerical advantage of the Indians and creates an “Indian Ethnic Security Dilemma”. The latter’s majority may deliver the Executive after “free-and-fair” elections, but that Executive cannot guarantee stability, especially for their supporters. As Jagan said of his 1961-1964 term, “the PPP was in office but not in power”. The PPP Executive, under “the principle of anticipated reactions”, had to always consider whether the opposition would initiate violence, under cover of their controlled State institutions. At the same time, their Indian supporters are under an omnipresent fear of being physically wiped out by their political opponents, whenever the question of national power is contested.

Way back in 1963, the British Secretary of the State for the Colonies stated the Ethnic Security Dilemmas succinctly:

“…the Premier (Dr. Jagan) told me that, if the British troops were withdrawn, the situation would get completely out of control. The Africans accuse the Government party of governing in the interests only of the Indians, and demand a share in political decisions. On the other side, the Indians accuse the Police, which is mainly African, of partiality towards the Africans and demand the creation of a separate defence force, recruited more extensively from the Indian community, to counterbalance the Police.”

In its proposals, the British pointed emphasised the need, in general, “to protect minorities” and in particular, to address “the racial nature of the problem”. For the latter problem, “the Government should endeavour to rule with the general consent of the population…(and a new armed force) …should be constituted before independence by the Governor, who would endeavour to ensure that recruits were not drawn predominantly from any one racial group.”

Burnham, of course, disbanded the Governor’s racially balanced SSU and ignored both the British proposal on the Armed Force as well as the 1965 ICJ’s recommendations to make them more representative. In fact, he increased the Armed Forces exponentially and maintained a 90% domination of African membership, which the PPP inherited in 1992, after free and fair elections.

Palpably paralysed by the aforementioned  principle of anticipated reactions, the PPP government did not attempt to make the Armed Forces more representative even though a “Disciplined Forces Commission” – which included the Brigadier (retd) Gavid Granger – recommended such a policy in 2004. After 2002, private militias had to confront “African Freedom Fighters” based in Buxton, which took on the PPP government.

After 2012, the African Security Dilemma disappeared with the Indian majority shrunken to below 40% and the African/Mixed segments risen to 49%. There was also no more “Indian Security Dilemma”, since they had no majority to deliver the executive. There only remains the existential threat of being wiped out.