Kaieteur News – How does one lift the level of discourse about historical revisionism without resorting to attacks about who is a propagandist, who is trying to ingratiate oneself with the PPP, who needs psychiatric help and who hides behind a mask?
One can at least begin to avoid these pitfalls by accepting that political revisionism is fraught with controversy and prone to suspicion.
Political revisionism is not readily acceptable since it breaks down age-old assumptions, much of which have directed the lives of countless citizens, movements and parties. While, however, it is never easy to accept that a particular narrative of our history has been wrong all along, great care must be taken in assessing narratives which revise history.
Colonialism and imperialism had their own narratives. In the struggle for liberation and independence, a counter narrative emerged, that threatened and challenged the stability of colonial rule and questioned its moral, economic and social underpinnings.
Cheddi Jagan helped to forge that anti-colonial and anti-imperialist counter narrative using as his weapon, the ideology of socialism. Before him, there were those that created their own narratives, one that involved competition for social and economic space, and for greater representation within the legislative assembly.
The narratives have continued onto the present day. From anti-imperialism we have moved to other narratives, some pitted against the others and some in support of others. Inevitably, each epoch is defined by the narrative that prevails. However, the narrative which has been prevailed over never faded, but always finds ways and means of becoming resurgent again.
A good example in the United States is the “Rocky” film series which speaks to the heroism of the American serviceman. This has helped to reshape the American psyche, painting its soldiers as heroes and victims of an establishment that betrayed these brave men and women. What better way for the Americans to save face after the humiliations of Vietnam!
In the writings of V.S. Naipaul, to use another example, we find a resurgence of the imperial idea, one in which the freed colony becomes disordered and chaotic, lacking men of ability and talent to undertake the task of governance, lacking in accomplishments and paling in comparison to the great civilisations of Europe. Naipaul’s work evokes a central idea similar to Conrad’s, and that is, that the formerly colonised cannot do without their imperial masters. It is a counter narrative to the narrative that influenced the independence movement.
Ever since the PPP returned to power in 1992 we have had other narratives. And in some of these counter narratives we see a harking back to former “glory days”. About 10 years ago, one individual appeared on national television exalting the glorious civilisation created by the PNC under Burnham and how the welcoming spirit of his people has been taken advantage of by others. This strikes a similar chord to the narratives of the late Ronald Waddell, who had spoken about interlopers.
Then we have those who are creating the narratives of the redeeming features of the colonial rule and the possibilities of real change within the plantation system in Guyana, a narrative that highlights the accomplishments of an individual over and above that of the ideology which operated at another level to instigate change.
The seed of an idea is being allowed to germinate: the idea that as bad as the colonial system was, there were good men and women who made a difference. Again, this is in the mould of Conrad who, while criticising the effects of the empire on the colonised, was sure to emphasise that the colonised cannot do without the empire.
Today, the notion of the PPP as a great party which fought for freedom in Guyana and which caused the powers of imperialism to tremble, is being threatened by a counter narrative of Cheddi Jagan as someone who was “highly flawed’ and who in fact was weak. This is where Balram Singh Rai, now deceased comes in.
Out of respect, however, for his grieving family, I will delay the analysis of the political revisionism that has been weaved around Rai, until he has been laid to rest. Only then will the true character of Rai, the Rajput, be exposed.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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