Setting the record straight on Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Jagdeo 

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Dear Editor,
GUYANESE can ill afford to disregard the risks associated with having Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo and the PPP back in office at the upcoming general and regional elections.  It is incumbent upon us as a people to understand these risks, from the potential of reinstalling extrajudicial justice alongside our courts, to reinstitutionalising corruption within the corridors of government, to the gross mismanagement of our natural resources, to welfare losses that will accrue due to his retrograde economic policies, because such an outcome is not one that can be easily reversed in the near future.

We are of the opinion also that great benefits could be derived from being able to distinguish between the PPP’s founder-leader, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, and Mr. Jagdeo, since this is critical in appreciating the difference in outcomes of a PPP government under the leadership of either of these two individuals.  I myself have sought a better understanding of Dr. Jagan by reading his books, picking up a copy of his ‘West on Trial’ a few months ago.   Nowhere near completing it; now navigating the chapter where the British sent their ships to Guyana. From the little that I’ve covered, however, I’ve picked up a lot on Dr. Jagan, which I’d like to share with the voting public.

One of the more notable things about Dr. Jagan was that he was born of Indian parents (themselves born in India) who came to Guyana in 1901 on the same vessel as infants with their parents. Dr. Jagan’s dad was about two years old, and his mom was around 18 months. Mom and dad were married early, as was the tradition then, but mom only started living with dad at around the age of 16 years. Dr. Jagan was born at Port Mourant on March 22, 1918. Dr. Jagan’s dad joined his father on the plantation early, and went on to become the ‘driver’ (foreman) of a gang. As a child, someone had suggested that Dr. Jagan showed promise, and that he should continue with his education. As a result, Dr. Jagan was sent to Queen’s College in Georgetown. After finishing there, he went to America to study dentistry, and met the love of his life, Janet Rosenburg. She returned with him to Guyana, and together they started his practice.

Most striking about Dr. Jagan was that he carried the memories of his childhood and hard labour endured by his father and mom, who virtually grew up in indentureship, with him, and this seemed to crystalise in his mind, due to his education and exposure in America. He returned to Guyana, and even though he was able to start his business, he remained restless and searched for avenues in public life in Georgetown, through which he could start tackling what he remembered as the harsh and brutal treatment of his parents by plantation life. Dr. Jagan moved around the various social and political groups, and was active in a number of unions, if I remember well.

Dr. Jagan recognised that he could gain traction representing workers’ rights in this manner, but was a virtual novice in politics at the time, as he himself admitted.  His time with the unions exposed more and more how workers were taken advantage of at the time. He sincerely wanted to make an impact here, and sought to gain publicity by starting the Political Affairs Committee in 1946, and began publishing his ideas and opinions in the PAC Bulletin, and subsequently the Thunder, the newspaper of the People’s Progressive Party, which was formed in Jan 1, 1950.

Dr. Jagan covered a lot of territory, moving up the East Coast and into some of the plantations. He recognised that the exploitative conditions of the plantations received the blessings of the colonial government, and hoped to address workers’ concerns more effectively through political representation in the legislature. Burnham’s membership within the PPP added significant political weight to the party, as it gradually and ultimately received national support of workers at the time. The colonial government of the time recognised this, and sought to sow division within the party by observing, through one of its commissions, something to the effect that the PPP was being dominated by Indians. This was the spark that eventually led to the split in the PPP, with Burnham initially setting up and naming his party the People’s Progressive Party also, but subsequently relenting in favour of the People’s National Congress.

Dr. Jagan’s initial involvement in trade unionism and starting up the PPP had little or no financial gain or reward for him. Personally, he had undertaken to assist his siblings, about ten of them, I think, they were, and sent quite a few of them abroad to study. Although Janet did not find favour with Dr. Jagan’s mom initially, she ultimately relented, and praised him for choosing her. Dr. Jagan’s political work was purely selfless in nature. He was genuinely committed to improving the welfare of all workers, although I personally think that he empathised deeply with the lot of sugar workers, in light of the trials he lived to see his parents and brothers and sisters endure at the hands of plantation owners. I think that Dr. Jagan really saw himself in all sugar workers, and all Guyanese as a matter of fact, that given the opportunity, they could all go on to achieve great things in life. He shared a special bond of family, brotherhood, with sugar workers, and his belief in their capabilities maintained his commitment to improving their lot for the remainder of his life.
Dr. Jagan’s obvious passion and devotion to Guyana’s workers is a stark contrast to Mr. Jagdeo’s own record, particularly in the sugar industry where workers were released from Diamond and LBI without severance, even as he accumulated massive amounts of unexplained wealth.  Rice farmers also lost hundreds of millions of dollars to misappropriation involving PPP executives under Jagdeo’s leadership.  I close by observing that traditional supporters of the PPP hold the future of Guyana in their hands. They can catapult forward into the future, or send us back into the corruption and lawlessness of government under Jagdeo.
Regards,
Craig Sylvester,
Democratic National Congress