I note the glee of the PNC and its followers pouncing on the mispronunciations of a few words by President Ali and VP Jagdeo at the UN General Assembly. It did not surprise me because Forbes Burnham exploited long held negative cultural stereotypes of Indian Guyanese by African Guyanese – and moreso by their Mulatto elite – when he founded the PNC. He coalesced his PPP(Burnham) with the League of Coloured People’s political vehicle, the United Democratic Party (UDP), along with Sydney King (later Eusi Kwayana), who was to dub the subsequent PPP government as a “Coolie-rice government”. Burnham had been chastised by the Coloured elite when he was in the PPP with Jagan as “betraying his own” for “coolies”, as per Ashton Chase in his book, “Guyana, A Nation in Transit: Burnham’s Role”. Their view of Indian Guyanese melded with that of Burnham’s, expressed as a law student in England when writing to his sister: “I feel strongly about the Indian attitude but the time has not come yet for me to broadcast those feelings and muddy my waters.”
The scorn for Indian Guyanese originated during indentureship when the Indians were dubbed, “uncivilized”, for not being westernized and speaking “properly”. And “docile”, for accepting the terms of the indentureship agreement, even though they protested violations throughout indentureship, even in the face of the “leaden argument”, which killed dozens and wounded hundreds. They were also “stingy” for saving from their miserable wages to become independent and “dirty/naked” for wearing their native “langotis”. They were also derided as “heathen”, as if Christianity had not been used to justify African slavery for hundreds of years. There were – and remain – reactive stereotypes by Indian Guyanese, with both set of stereotypes, according to Rodney, mediated by the White planter class.
Back in 1997, I wrote a letter intended to suggest reasons for the PNC’s denial of Indian Guyanese’s political legitimacy and highlighted the African/Coloured elite’s disdain for Indians, on account of their lack of “culture”. This was contested by Mr Eusi Kwayana. As I wrote in the SN, “Incredibly, it was in response to my claim of Burnham’s contempt for Jagan’s education and origin that Mr. Kawyana declared “emphatically that those were never Burnham’s thoughts”. While I cannot pretend to have divined Burnham’s thoughts, as Mr. Kawyana has, I have the testimony of several individuals who shared social drinks with Burnham, that he consistently disparaged Dr. Jagan’s social graces (or lack thereof) as early as on the return from their trip to India in 1954.
“In terms of education, Burnham referred, ad nauseum, in his speeches, editorials and articles in the early “New Nation” to Dr. Jagan’s opinions or positions as ‘not befitting a schoolboy’, “having the ‘naiveite’ unworthy of the kindergarten beginner” etc… He constantly harped on Dr Jagan’s schooling. Burnham was the editor of the “New Nation” and thus we can have a clue to his thinking (without divination) by looking at what he either wrote or permitted to be written. In one “New Nation” of ‘those days’ (31st May 1958) in an imaginary meeting of the PPP ministers, the following words are put into the mouth of Dr. Jagan, as he “speaks” to Edward Beharry.
Cheddi: (in a spasm of passion)
Ast to you Edward, you gat to confess to a lat a tings. Ya tink you is de only bady gat sense in dis party. Ya gwine-on like dis because you know dat I can’t dismiss ya as a minister – but de Guvenor can’t always save ya. Wait, ya gwine see sumting.”
Everyone else, including the African ex-shovelman Fred Bowman, is given dialogue in better standard English. Now can Mr. Kawyana, who was Vice President of the PNC at the time, explain Burnham’s thoughts when he allowed this kind of ethnic slur on Dr Jagan’s origins, not only here, but in other issues of the “New Nation”??
But my assertion that the PNC’s mockery of Messrs. Ali and Jagdeo – as with Dr Jagan – arises from their contempt for Indian Guyanese – embedded in the African Guyanese narrative that the latter are not “fit” to lead Guyana, (notwithstanding democratic rules) – will be dismissed, just as Mr Kwayana did in 1997. As Ashton Chase wrote, African Guyanese were – and evidently still are – mesmerized by Burnham’s “gift of the gab…He toyed with a people who fell suckers to his words.” Never mind his despotic excesses versus PPP’s democracy.
Words trump actions!