FORMER President Mrs Janet Jagan passed away 12 years ago on March 28, 2009. To say that Mrs Jagan made her contribution to the struggle for a free, democratic and prosperous Guyana would be a gross understatement. In fact, her contribution to Guyana is phenomenal and comparable only to her husband, Dr Cheddi Jagan.
Both Cheddi and Janet rose to the highest executive position in the country, that of Executive President.
The journey however, was not an easy one. Having left the relative comfort of her Chicago home, she and her husband plunged into the turbulent political waters of the early 1940s when the country was still under British colonial rule.
They immediately inserted themselves in the working-class struggle and through their political and industrial activism were instrumental in raising the political and class consciousness of the downtrodden masses.
Along with Ashton Chase and HJM Hubbard, they co-founded the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) in 1946, which could be regarded as the forerunner of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
One year later, Dr Jagan won a seat in the Legislative Council which hitherto was dominated by representatives of the propertied class. Dr Jagan, however, soon came to the realisation that only through the capture of state power could the workers’ struggles be advanced to higher levels, and a mere four years later the PPP was birthed on January 1, 1950.
The formation of the PPP proved to be a thorn in the flesh of the colonial body politic and several attempts were made to intimidate and harass the leadership of the PPP.
Both Dr Jagan and his wife were sentenced to six months in jail on trumped-up charges, but far from breaking their spirits, it encouraged them to move to even higher levels of political activism and militancy.
In the case of Mrs Jagan, she could have easily been spared the indignity of prison life had she agreed to pay the required fine imposed, but in keeping with the then party policy of passive resistance, she opted to serve her prison term.
During her long and illustrious career, Mrs Jagan scored several firsts, among which were the first female President of Guyana; the first female Prime Minister; the first Deputy Speaker of Parliament and the first female Councillor of the Georgetown Town Council, among others. She was named by the TIME Magazine as one of the “most rebellious women in world history.”
Mrs Jagan was also known as a writer and a strong advocate of the creative arts. It was Mrs. Jagan who was instrumental in the establishment of an art gallery at Castellani House.
She wrote several children’s stories depicting and seeking to inculcate in children the values of ethics and morality, something which had become part of her personal attributes. Both she and her husband lived simple and unassuming lives and there were many who would have been personally touched by their kindness and generosity.
Several attempts were made by the PNC to “vilify” her during the early period into her presidency, but she took them all in stride, fully confident that a new and better day is on the horizon. She did not harbour any ill-will or malice. Because of failing health she was unable to last out her full tenure as President, but she ensured that the country’s leadership was in strong and capable hands.
All Guyanese owe a deep debt of gratitude to her for her sterling contribution to a free, progressive and prosperous Guyana.
May her soul rest in peace!