Panday to Jagan-“You should have not been a politician. You should have been a priest.”
Photo : Basdeo Panday
“I told Cheddi that you should not have been a politician. You should have been a priest.” Those were the words of Basdeo Panday.
Panday was part of a panel speaking on the Life and Times of Cheddi Jagan to commemorate his 100th birth anniversary. The event, held on Sunday May 27 at the Chaguanas Borough Hall, was sponsored by ICDN.TODAY. Other speakers were Professor John La Guerre, Dr Vishnu Bisram and Lutch Rampersad.
Panday recollected a conversation he had with Jagan at the Rienzi Complex in the late 1970s. Jagan was giving critical support to Burnham after the nationalisation of the bauxite industry. Panday was disturbed by this gesture of Jagan and felt that it was foolish.
“Why you supporting Burnham? I asked Cheddi. He responded: My objective is to push Burnham further into socialism.
“I told him that politics is civilised warfare. The only difference is that they use bullets and we use the ballots…that critical support is crap and I asked: What has Burnham done to assume that he is ideologically oriented? Cheddi responded: Burnham nationalised the bauxite industry. I told him that that had nothing to do with socialism …that is done to control the workers. I told him: You should not be a politician...you should be a priest.”
Panday shared with his listeners his personal experience with Jagan. Panday said: “I want to deal with him at a personal level. We had similar background…both of us were poor… he never like tying out the goats just as I hated cleaning my father’s mule pen.”
Panday said that both of them were trade union leaders and “engaged in monumental struggles to improve the lives of the workers we led.”
Panday continued: “We were very close friends and he would visit the All Trinidad Estate and Factory Workers Trade Union headquarters. He would address the workers giving them advice and I would reciprocate.”
Panday said that he came face with face with a hoodlum who was providing muscle power for Burnham. He said that after speaking at a rally to thousands of sugar workers he was approached by a huge African. The man approached him and said:’…you name Panday eh…you from Trinidad eh..when you going back…I said Wednesday…if not I would deport you…I said to him what the hell u have in Guyana I want…the man turned and walked away.” Panday said, “I acted either bravely or foolishly!”
Panday said: “The real Cheddi Jagan I have grown to love was kind, gentle, dedicated, selfless, courageous and the most committed politician I have ever known. As a politician he had enviable charm and a character unassuming to the point of naivety, totally committed to his country and his cause for which he was prepared to lay down his life.”
“He was a giant among Caribbean leaders many of whom were not adverse to laughing and jeering at him behind his back...that is the man I know and I would respect him as long as I live,” Panday concluded.
Also speaking on the Panel was Professor John La Guerre. He said that “the CIA was active in the Caribbean and for good reason, because Guyana was the gateway to South America.”
Professor La Guerre highlighted the responses of Dr Eric Williams who, after the toppling of Jagan from power remarked at a meeting in Haris Promenade that he stands “west of the iron curtain.” Also, Norman Manley, Prime Minister of Jamaica, went on to define his ideology as ‘democratic socialism.”
La Guerre said that Jagan recognised that the blacks were concentrated in Georgetown and that they were the public servants and the police and any move for unity must unite with them though the Indians formed more that 50% of the population.
Professor La Guerre said that “ever since the independence of India there was a rise in Indian consciousness in Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname and there was talk of an Indian homeland.” He recollected that a meeting was called in 1947 in Tunapuna by Bhadase Sagan Maraj and there were talks of establishing an Indian state combining Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname.
The introduction of PR was to ensure that Jagan did not win the election. The United Force led by Peter D’Aguiar and the PNC combined their seats to defeat the PPP. Once installed in power Burnham was not prepared to give it up. John La Guerre said that Burham is reputed to have said: ‘if any politician in office loses power then he is guilty of negligence.”
Professor La Guerre said that the “scale must have fallen from Jagan’s eyes when Cuba under Fidel Castro bestowed the Jose Marti award, the highest award in Cuba, to Forbes Burnham.
Professor La Guerre said that one of the legacies of Jagan was that he counselled the DLP in Trinidad into adopting a socialist outlook at one time. He said that in Guyana democratic socialism was used to bridge the gap between the two major races.
Another legacy is that Jagan would arrive at Piarco and hop a taxi into Port of Spain while chatting with the passengers.
Dr Kirk Meighoo, chairman of the panel, said that only three Indo-Caribbean personalities were known internationally in the 1960s and 1970s and they were V.S. Naipaul, Rohan Kanhai and Cheddi Jagan.