According to reports, PPP General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo told attendees at the recent launch of the PPP’s 2019 campaign that the PPP “is the natural home for Afro-Guyanese”. This is not the first time the former president has spoken on the issue of African-Guyanese relationship to the PPP, but it is his boldest statement to date.
Both the PPP and the PNC have always sought to appeal to crossover voters while holding on to their traditional bases. Striking that balance has been problematic for them. I would argue that neither party has come even close to achieving that outcome. The difficulty lies in the entrenched voting pattern, which is grounded in the fact that neither ethnic group is prepared to accept the leadership of the other. So, voting across ethnic lines is seen as Political Heresy.
Further, the very notion of ethnic appeal to one ethnicity runs against the letter and spirit of a multi-ethnic appeal. In other words, it is almost impossible to simultaneously do both.
Having said that , my view is that every party has a right to pursue votes from all ethnic groups. From that standpoint, the PPP has every right to go after the African-Guyanese vote. My interest is in the means or tactics used to pursue that crossover vote. This is where I take issue with Mr. Jagdeo’s statement, which I think is an insult to the dignity of African-Guyanese.
Let me say emphatically that the PPP is not the natural home of African-Guyanese. So, Mr. Jagdeo eyes pass African-Guyanese when he suggests that the PPP is their natural home. There is no greater insult to that community. And this must be exposed and pushed back.
In fact, from 1955 the PPP has pushed African-Guyanese out of that home and barred them from re-entering. The party has employed the rhetoric of multiracialism while its praxis has been grounded in ethnic separatism and domination.
The PPP, since the split of the nationalist movement in 1955, has been the automatic political home for Indian-Guyanese—I assume that Jagdeo used the term natural in that sense. And in order to fortify that relationship, the party has had to push African-Guyanese out of the party.
At the time of split of the PPP in 1955, some African-Guyanese leaders and their followers remained with the Jaganite faction. But that faction’s movement towards the consolidation of the Indian vote led to a second split in 1956-57 that saw the exit of the African-Guyanese members and supporters who had stayed with them.
The Jaganite PPP deliberately kept Guyana out of the West Indies Federation on ethnic grounds—it contended that Indian-Guyanese would become a minority in the Federation. It also welcomed into the party’s leadership members of the Indian-Guyanese elites who had been hostile to the early PPP’s pro-socialist agenda.
In effect, we had a case where Indian-Guyanese anti-socialists joining the leadership of an avowed communist party. This Indianization of the Jagan faction led Eusi Kwayana to declare that Dr. Jagan had lost confidence in the African executives in his party. By the time the 1961 election came around, the PPP had become a full-fledged Indian party, in which African-Guyanese were not welcome. Since then the PPP has never sought to engage the African-Guyanese community in any serious manner.
Dr. Jagan used the tactic of Ethnic Window Dressing, whereby the party recruited a handful of African-Guyanese and made one of them the symbolic deputy at election time. None of these African-Guyanese PPP leaders has had any standing in the African-Guyanese community. In my opinion, almost all of them have been unreceptive to that community. This is a significant point—to survive as a top Black leader in the PPP, one has to be oblivious to the interests and values of African-Guyanese.
When Jagdeo took office, he adopted a different approach to recruiting African-Guyanese to the PPP. He sought to weaken the community, economically and culturally, and then in their weakened state, entice them into supporting the PPP. The objective was a systematic ethnic domination of African-Guyanese.
Mr. Jagdeo’s PPP attacked every African-Guyanese-dominated institution — the army, police, public service and even some African-Guyanese cultural organizations. In the process, he pauperized the broad African-Guyanese masses. In other words, the development of the Indian-Guyanese elite domination of the country’s political economy was accompanied by the simultaneous underdevelopment of the African-Guyanese community.
The regime then suborned a small cadre of African Guyanese by giving them access to huge sums of money and other financial benefits and used them to induce Guyanese at the lower end of the social ladder. This included a steady diet of parties, monies for some symbolic community projects, monetary handouts, preferential treatment for contracts, and compensation for infamously devious acts.
In the meantime, the manipulation of the African-Guyanese Leadership of the army and the police paved the way for appalling atrocities. The similar manipulation of the African-Guyanese Labour leadership meant that the fight for better wages for public servants and other workers were compromised. For example, while the PPP vigorously fought to advance the wages of sugar workers, it did everything to depress the wages of public servants.
As Dr. Henry Jeffrey observed in his recent column, the PPP has rejected overtures from the African-Guyanese political leadership in and out of the PNC for a power sharing government. The Indian PPP leadership has made clear that it does not want to share power with African-Guyanese—it was for African-Guyanese to accept the domination of the Indian-Guyanese-led PPP. It is interested in African-Guyanese political props for the party, especially at election time, rather than a genuine relationship with African-Guyanese.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to [email protected]
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