Mrs. Nadira Jagan-Brancier and Ulele Burnham
The daughter of Mrs. Jagan, days after the death announcement of her mother, was quoted in the Chronicle as saying that she hates the people who tried to put her mother down. She then went on to say about that pronouncement, “That is the way I feel.”
The latter statement comes across as an unapologetic stance. It may not be so, but it could be interpreted that way.
The way loved ones feel for controversial leaders has been a long story in history. It will never stop. Strangers cannot comprehend the way children, spouses and other close family members feel about those leaders they loved even though they were controversial.
I had a direct experience with this complex situation in life when one of President. Burnham’s daughters replied to my constant critical condemnations of her father. I would urge Mrs. Jagan-Brancier to read what Ulele Burnham has written.
It is a very moving, objective but intricate analysis of her father whose power once dominated every corner of this country.
This is a most admirable reflection of a loved one of a leader whose record continues to attract intense and extensive analysis 24 years after his death.
In all honesty, I believe Mrs. Jagan-Brancier will find in those thoughts of Ulele Burnham, some important lessons that will help Mrs. Jagan-Brancier to come to grips with her mother’s own legacy.
To quote from Ms. Burnham’s essay will take up too much space. Briefly, it is a detached reflection of what her father meant to her and what she thought of what others said about him. It is not an emotional outpouring of sympathy for her father.
On the other hand, it avoids open condemnation of what was the essential Forbes Burnham. Ulele Burnham was proud to say that she loved her father but she was deeply honest to accept that his politics attracted many detractors, many of whom she concedes cannot be all that fictional in their harsh perceptions of her father.
Reading this essay, one thing strikes you in a most conspicuous way about Ulele Burnham – it is absolutely clear that Ulele Burnham would not say that she hates the people who put her father down. She makes such a position graphically clear by the acceptance that her father cannot escape blame for what Guyana has become.
It is unfortunate that this seminal assessment of Forbes Burnham by one of his children has not been given the analytical and historical importance that it deserves in Guyana and in the Diaspora.
One hopes that as the new generation of Guyanese scholars dig deeper into the political lives of the founding mothers and fathers of contemporary Guyana that Ms. Burnham’s little but historically large document will find a place of value.
The article is published in the August 20th edition of the Stabroek News fortnightly column, “In the Diaspora.”
Returning to Mrs. Jagan-Brancier, her exclamation should be situated in the time context in which it was said. Her mother had just died and she was traumatized and felt the need to lash out. All humans are prone to make mistakes. After mental tranquility returns, we move past those ephemeral slips. Some even apologize. Against this background, one would like to think Mrs. Jagan-Brancier has moved on. She must realize that her mother has spent 65 years in politics in a country that has always been sharply divided by race and irreconcilable political differences. In such a scenario, Mrs. Jagan was neither purely villain nor purely heroine.
There is one nuance of her mother’s politics that her daughter must, and I repeat, MUST come to terms with. It is that in those 65 years, Mrs. Jagan has done some putting down herself. In the tempestuous, boiling pot of Guyanese politics, that comes easily. Months ago, Mrs. Jagan referred to one of the quality citizens of this country as a hate activist. Dr. David Hinds fought for democracy and was jailed for three years for his indomitableness. He does not deserve that appellation.
I will leave Mrs. Brancier-Jagan with a question. Ulele Burnham wrote; “There is little detail about the period of my father’s leadership to which I was privy – I was fifteen years when he died.” I would like to ask Mrs. Jagan-Brancier to what extent was she privy to her mother’s leadership and long political involvement.
This is a pressing urgency that Mrs. Jagan-Brancier needs to turn over in her mind. In as much as I can understand how a loved one grieves about the passing of someone dear to them, the historian has to write and when he/she does so, there is no place for emotions.