There are people you meet in an encounter, you look and listen, and there is this thing that tells you this person is bound to stand out above the crowd. In 1989, the WPA labeled the national estimates as the “vampire budget.” President Hoyte’s budget attracted widespread protest and strike action. In that year, the UGWU held the longest strike in its history. As a lecturer, I was part of the union and forcefully participated in strike action.
We burned tyres outside the UG gate. I did bring tyres. I did burn them. The UG authorities charged me for arson. I appeared at the Sparendaam Magistrate’s Court. The union secured the free service of a new lawyer on the scene – Nigel Hughes. I watched the performance of Hughes in that courtroom and I saw a man destined to become a great lawyer. The charge was dismissed.
When I was his lecturer at UG, I looked at Anil Nandlall’s performance in tutorials, and there was this thing about Anil that stood out. You knew a brilliant lawyer was in the making. Don’t ever think you can predict life. The two lawyers that I knew were destined for excellent futures turned up on opposing sides in the Jagdeo libel writ against me.
Recently, I did say to Anil that he should have insisted to Jagdeo that presidents do not sue academics for their political analyses. I hope Anil doesn’t mind me saying this, but he did tell me in that telephone conversation that he did suggest to the president that he should let it go. But Jagdeo went ahead. I guess Jagdeo wanted money from Glenn Lall.
It was the same with Khemraj Ramjattan. I was introduced to Khemraj as soon as he returned to Guyana as an attorney. At that time, I worked closely at UG with JOF Haynes, who was the head of the Department of Law and Political Science. JOF and I became very close. He was a longstanding customer at my mother-in-law’s supermarket in Wortmanville/Werk-en-Rust.
When he died, the big shots rushed in to get their five minutes (or fifteen minutes) of fame. I wasn’t even issued with an invitation to the funeral service. The eulogies were given by the fame-seekers. Up to this day, no one knew about our solid friendship at UG. But such is life.
JOF said to me that he needed a junior law lecturer urgently to do one of the first year courses, and in his own inimitable style he ordered me to find one. At that time, I was living at my mother-in-law’s. I thought Khemraj was the fittest choice. At that time, he was chairman of the youth arm of the PPP. I invited him to my home and we discussed the UG appointment. It didn’t happen, because the then Vice Chancellor, Dr. George Walcott, I suspect didn’t want Khemraj because of his PPP connections.
Khemraj showed all the qualities of being a maverick and dissident in the PPP. I knew he was going to stand out politically in the country and he did. Khemraj openly challenged President Cheddi at a central committee meeting over the continued employment of Police Commissioner, Laurie Lewis. Mrs. Jagan hated Khemraj and when she became president let loose the tax man on him. One day, I went to visit him in his office and the tax people were overturning the place.
Today, Khemraj Ramjattan has become a disappointment to me and I am being honest. I said the same thing to him in his office when I met him last February for the first time since he became a Minister. I thought of captioning this article, “Khemraj Ramjattan: From mavrodaphne to mauvette” (from sweet wine to pale colour). This was the radical politician, the radical youth that openly defied two nationally admired presidents and paid the price for it. This was the radical politician that with his friend Raphael Trotman brought down the most vicious government leader in the history of Guyana – President Jagdeo.
Today, this brilliant politician I once knew is protecting David Granger on the President’s refusal to approve changing the penalties relating to small possessions of ganja. AFC parliamentarian Michael Carrington gave permission to be quoted. He said Amna Ally requested from him that the Bill be put in abeyance because of the President’s discomfort. Carrington said he conveyed Ally’s request to the AFC leadership. Carrington told me that he expressed that situation to HGPTV Nightly News last Wednesday. Khemraj’s duty to his country is to inform Mr. Granger that he, Khemraj, cares about Guyana and the Bill must be passed.
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