Mar 05, 2021 Letters
Peeping Tom errs in interpreting the support provided by Jagan to Burnham on Republican status (March 1). It was conditional! Ditto Jagan’s support for nationalisation of various private entities including schools and barring private buses from plying the road (March 2). Given his political philosophy, Jagan could not have publicly backtracked on Republican status although in private, as Fenton Ramsahoye revealed, Jagan felt uncomfortable supporting Republican status because he had doubts about Burnham’s sincerity in breaking links with the Western (bourgeois) imperialist powers. It was okay to have links with eastern (socialist) imperialist powers.
Jagan ‘supported’ nationalising foreign business entities and breaking with UK because of his ideological and political convictions. He did not expect, naively so as scholars commented, that Burnham would transform Guyana into a totalitarian dictatorship. No one could have predicted that Burnham would transform Guyana into an oppressive dictatorship.
Given that Burnham rigged the 1968 elections and terminated appeals to the Privy Council, Jagan ought to have known that Burnham was up to no good and reserved support. But he was blinded by his opposition to western imperialism causing him to support any policy or act that appeared ‘progressive’ even from Burnham. It is not clear if Burnham needed PPP support to break the link with UK. Burnham cornered Jagan on Republican status as a test for his commitment against ‘Western Imperialism’. In the meanwhile, Burnham had no problem retaining close links with the imperialists. And whenever the West squeezed Burnham for taking progressive measures, he would threaten that he would form an alliance with Jagan forcing the West to back off from punishing him. Burnham conveniently used Jagan to empower himself (Burnham). Burnham was determined to cut all links from the UK and would have done so without Jagan’s support. Fenton said he advised Jagan not to support Republican status. Jagan was troubled but did not want to publicly appear unsupportive of breaking from imperialism. Regrettably, his supporters paid dearly with food bans, loss of state employment, etc., causing hundreds of thousands to migrate to the imperialist countries. PPP and UF supporters, a majority of the nation, were not supportive of Republican status.
It is also noted that Jagan did not support Republican status with any ‘categorical’ statement. The party did not issue a statement backing republicanism. Jagan allowed Burnham to declare republican status. And he had no role in organising the date to delink from Britain. Similarly, the PPP was adamantly opposed to independence date. There was a strike at Diamond estate in1966 in support of the PPP’s position opposing independence date. On republicanism, Jagan nominated Ashton Chase as the President (nominal head of state) while Burnham nominated Arthur Chung. Burnham’s majority from the rigged elections of 1968 carried the day in parliament. Then Burnham created the executive President in 1980 declaring himself with the title, wreaking havoc on the nation.
The PPP publicly opposed breaking from Privy Council. The party recognised Burnham wanted to control the court and insisted that it remain as the final constitutional court of appeal. Burnham would have none of it.
Jagan did not partake in any Republic Day celebrations, not as opposition leader and not even when he was President. In fact, as a student on the Corentyne, from 1970 onwards, we were instructed not to support flag hoisting activities in school. And PPP activists went around instructing PPP supporters not to attend any Republic Day celebrations. Neither Cheddi nor Janet ever ‘mashed’ when they were Presidents – indication they were not supportive of it. Cheddi and Janet stressed independence day festivities although they opposed the date. The only time that Burnham and Jagan appeared together after independence was in 1976 in Rose Hall, Canje following the announced nationalisation of Bookers; Jagan boycotted independence festivities. And neither GAWU nor NAACIE ever partook in Republic Day celebrations. In fact, both issued statements against republican status saying there was nothing to celebrate.
On nationalisation, Burnham nationalised Jessels, Bookers, Demba, Alcan, and the Banking system, etc. On sugar, Burnham first nationalised Jessel (1975) – that included Demerara Company estates such as Diamond and Leonara estates and Sandbach Parker Complex. A year later, he nationalised Booker Tate and brought the now state companies under one umbrella renaming it GuySuCo. Shahabudeen, one of Burnham’s many VPs, and a crony, wrote an extensive piece on the nationalisation process.
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