Supporters of the opposition PNC party should be commended for remembering their founding leader on his birth anniversary. Forbes Burnham was a very controversial figure in Guyana. He was a most charismatic figure for his supporters and one of the leading orators of his generation.
He and Dr Cheddi Jagan, and others, came together to found the PPP in 1950, but he broke away from Jagan in 1955 ethnically splitting the PPP and contested election on August 12, 1957 as the Burnham faction of the PPP against the Jagan faction. The Burnham faction was soundly defeated, and Burnham formally renamed it PNC in October that year. Guyanese politics has been polarised till today between the two major parties and races who alone have been on the ruling saddle alternately.
A tribute program was organized on the late Forbes Burnham held at and co-hosted by the University of Guyana last week on the occasion of his birth centennial. Burnham was born on 20th February 1923 and died on August 6, 1985. Rich tributes were paid to the PNC founder. It was attended by prominent members and supporters of the party including MPs.
The forum was planned and organized by the Burnham Foundation with support from UG. It is noted that a similar honor was not accorded to the late Cheddi Jagan, founder/leader of the PPP, on his centennial in March 2018 at UG; no party supporter or lecturer or social science department at UG organized a tribute to the great freedom fighter and trade unionist who was kept out of power through fraudulent elections.
The Jagan Foundation organized a seminar in 2018 at the Red House that has housed a Jagan Center since 2012. Jagan was widely admired as a humble and grounded leader who was sensitive to people’s problems. He served people, everyone regardless of race, diligently and respectfully, and he devoted his life towards improving living conditions for the poor masses. He never talked down to his supporters or to anyone. There has not been another leader who was like him.
In New York, a small group of us organized a public tribute to the iconic leader in March 2018. The organizers were chided for inviting former Speaker and Jagan’s legal confidante Ralph Ramkarran to deliver the keynote address; Ramkarran served Dr Jagan for some four decades. His father, Boysee, was Jagan’s deputy. Ralph Ramkarran was the last speaker to pay tribute to Jagan at Babu Jahan before his mortal remains were cremated in March 1997. Several Guyanese from the diaspora flew down to attend the funeral. Raj Singh, Chuck Mohan, Mel Carpen, and several others from USA went to the funeral. Randy Depoo accompanied then T&T Prime Minister Basdeo Panday to the funeral tribute for Jagan. This writer flew from Manila, Philippines, where I was on study sabbatical from teaching, to attend the funeral. Ramkarran left the PPP in 2012 after a fallout with some of the members of the party’s executives. He gave one of the best tributes I ever heard on Jagan at Babu Jahan. He gave an almost equally remarkable tribute in New York on Jagan’s centennial.
The supporters of the PPP need to emulate those of other parties in saluting their leaders. The PPP did hold a tribute to Jagan at Babu Jahan last March and did so annually on his death anniversary. It is not too late for UG to host a tribute program for Dr Jagan who founded the university amidst criticism from Burnham who derogated the university calling it Jagan’s night school and vowed to shut it down when he takes power. Ironically, most of the attendees and beneficiaries of UG have been supporters of Burnham. Also, UG hosted many activities pertaining to the PNC.
It is also noted that there were seminars at UG on slavery. There was a seminar on the 1823 slave rebellion and rightly so but nothing on rebellions during indentureship most notably the 1872 Devonshire Castle uprising. Indian academics and politicians need to organize seminars on the historic episodes of their ancestors as Africans have done or else their history would be erased.