By Neil Marks
For the first time in the almost six-decades of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), its senior and ordinary members met in the auditorium of Freedom House last evening without a member bearing the name “Jagan”.
Ashton Chase, who was with Dr Cheddi Jagan and his wife, Janet, when they formed the first mass-based political movement in Guyana in 1947, labeled Mrs. Jagan with the title of Three Ds – a Devoted, Dedicated and Determined fighter. The Jagans held the reins of the PPP throughout its history.
Chase spoke at a tribute ceremony organised by the PPP to honour the memory of Mrs. Jagan, who died Saturday at the age of 88. She will be cremated today at Babu John where her husband was cremated 12 years ago.
At last evening’s ceremony, the speakers recalled how at 23, she left the south side of Chicago to live with her husband, late President Dr Cheddi Jagan, on the sugar plantations of Guyana, and became intensely involved in the struggle for workers rights.
Chase said that while much adulation is heaped upon Dr. Jagan as the Father of the Nation, Mrs. Jagan stood, not “behind” him, but “with” him in their struggles against colonialism and then in the fight for the restoration of democracy in Guyana.
While he noted that Mrs. Jagan resigned due to ill health in 1999 after serving just 20 months as President, he passionately declared that an equal reason she decided to leave office was because of the political harassment by the opposition.
It was a claim that the General Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers Association also held when he spoke, saying that Mrs. Jagan was witch-hunted out of office, but nevertheless she extended forgiveness with grace.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds disclosed that after the disturbance of the 1997 elections, senior members of the party were vehemently opposed to the peace-brokering Herdmanston Accord, which would chop her term in office by almost half, but Mrs. Jagan insisted that it was for the good of the country.
The first speaker at the ceremony was Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr Frank Anthony, who said that when he was given the job in 2001, he received a note from Mrs. Jagan explaining why she created the Ministry back in 1997. Dr Anthony said Mrs. Jagan created the Ministry because she believed in the power of culture to unite people.
He hailed Mrs. Jagan as a “creator” of Guyana’s history. She was instrumental in ending the 230 years of British rule over this country, he added.
Dr Anthony said that Mrs. Jagan was a woman of real substance who gave up a good life to fight for social justice and development for others.
Mrs. Jagan held the hands of new ones and guided them, he added. She was “firm but not stifling.”
As he spoke about how the Jagans created the first steel orchestra in Guyana in 1962 and paid all of its members, Roy Geddes, an icon of the steel pan in Guyana shook his head in agreement.
In paying tribute on behalf of the women’s arm of the party, Mrs. Indra Chandarpal noted that just a year after coming to Guyana, Mrs. Jagan penned a letter that was published in the Labour Advocate, calling for women’s right to vote and for equal opportunities for women.
Chandarpal said she was pleased that Mrs. Jagan lived to see her vision come through, having been elevated to the highest office in the land.
She said that Mrs. Jagan was a woman of high moral standards who was “intensely independent.” A fitting legacy to Mrs. Jagan would be for those in her party to pledge to work with honesty and integrity, she said.
Mrs. Chandrapal found it hard to imagine the PPP without a Jagan for the first time.
The elixir of victory, bitterness of defeat
Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon, who delivered the tribute on behalf of the PPP, said that a true and fitting legacy to Mrs. Jagan would be to propagate and exemplify what she stood for and to do it with integrity and forthrightness.
According to Dr Luncheon, Mrs. Jagan tasted the elixir of victory and also the bitterness of defeat.
For Dr Luncheon, Mrs. Jagan stood for struggle, and that struggle was best exemplified in her resolute struggle against colonialism and for democracy in Guyana.
He said that she fought against dishonest leadership and did so with commitment and steadfastness. He said neither death nor threats of death, nor could libel and slander deter her from her appointed task.
He described Mrs. Jagan as being “beyond corruption” and was defiant against corruption in all its forms. And so he said the task of those who follow in her steps to is ensure that ‘what she has taught us could be seen.”
Mr. Ashton Chase outlined Mrs. Jagan’s ardent struggles for the working class and said her earliest contributions were in fighting for the rights of bauxite workers at Linden in 1947.
He said that that strike was significant as it helped to break down racial barriers. Non-Whites were not allowed at Watooka House after 18:00 hours, in those days. Her struggles won respect for the collective bargaining agreement.
Turning to the sugar strike of 1947, he said that many are of the opinion that the strike only occurred on the sugar plantations of Enmore, East Coast Demerara, but the truth is that it also stretched to West Demerara and the Corentyne.
He said it was this strike that showed the grit of Mrs. Jagan as an able organiser. Since unions did not have money, she had to raise funds for the maintenance of the strike, which lasted from April 22-June 6, ending with the death of five sugar workers who are today remembered as the Enmore Martyrs.
The Jagans were personally acquainted with the people who were killed, and it was their deaths that led to Dr. Jagan’s commitment to fight for freedom in Guyana.
President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union, Mr. Komal Chand said that in all the years that followed that martyrdom at Enmore, Mrs. Jagan only once missed the annual memorial to the martyrs which is held at the Le Repentir cemetery in Georgetown.
Mr. Chase said that sugar workers today have a great deal to thank Mrs. Jagan for, as her struggles led to better working conditions for sugar workers and following that strike living conditions began to change, including the dreadful “logies’ in which the sugar workers lived in.
Mr. Chand said that Mrs. Jagan displayed a particular bias for the working class and her life was “enmeshed” in their struggles for just working conditions.
Also paying tribute was Mr. Mannie Singh of the Association of Canadian Guyanese. He hailed Mrs. Jagan as a woman of indomitable courage who not only spoke out against atrocities in Guyana, but also those of the wider world.
A kind and warm mother
Mrs. Jagan’s daughter, Nadira Jagan-Brancier, spoke of her hate for those who sought to put her mother down and said she will also dedicate the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre on Main Street to showcase Mrs. Jagan’s struggles.
She said that her mother gave up many things in life to dedicate her life to the struggles for the people of Guyana, including her love for nursing. She said that were her mother to continue pursuing that career she would have wanted to become a surgical nurse.
She described Mrs. Jagan as a warm and kind mother who would take her and her brother, Joey, to the zoo and to the gardens in Georgetown. On Sundays when the Jagans were not busy in the countryside on political meetings, Mrs. Jagan would cook her favourite “fried chicken” and they would be taken to Timehri for a day out at the black-water creeks.
Jagan-Brancier said that her mother felt most satisfied when she was Minister of Labour, Housing and Health, because of all she was able to accomplish. Mrs. Jagan is credited with stamping out malaria during the late 50’s and also for the introduction of a robust anti-typhoid programme.
Cheddi ‘Joey’ Jagan also spoke at the ceremony, which included the reading of poems written by Martin Carter.
President Bharrat Jagdeo and most Government Ministers were among those at the ceremony.
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