The Kampta Karran Page
by Kampta Karran

The PPP's victory in 1953 did not represent national unity

According to Prem Misir "The 1953 People's Progressive Party (PPP) Government brought national unity to Guyana." Now this is accepted in Guyana almost as a truism. But deeper reflection may suggest otherwise. The intention here is not to dismiss the value of that moment but rather to interrogate the truth-value of the claim.

I have argued elsewhere that the root causes of the ethnic conflicts we experience today could be traced to the antagonistic relations that developed in the 19th century. While the 1953 election victory under the leadership of Jagan and Burnham is momentous, to equate it with national unity would be pushing it a bit.

In the main, the Amerindians, the Portuguese, and the Europeans were not included in this "national unity." Further the business classes and major sections of the Christian church especially the Catholics and Anglicans did not form part of this national unity.

The leadership of the Hindu Maha Sabha, the Pandits Council and the United Sad'r Islamic Anjuman and the Muslim League were not part of this national unity. Sections of the professionals also stayed away. New Amsterdam, the other major town, did not vote for the PPP and followed Kendall out of the national unity. Concerning the hinterland communities, where the majority of the Amerindians live, Jagan tells us "Our campaigning in 1953 brought us into contact with the working people all over the country, with the exception of the interior."

Even during this campaign one could recognise unease in the leadership. In Jagan's opinion "Burnham was not ... prepared to undertake arduous work ...never ventured very far away from Georgetown ...made few contributions to the party newspaper." How do we explain Burnham's attitude and behaviour? Was he lazy? Was he disenchanted? Was he building his own urban base as Kendall had done in New Amsterdam? The answer is open to speculation.

What is certain is that Burnham challenged Jagan's authority in the PPP as early as 1952. In fact the so-called national unity was rescued by Sidney King's "an impassioned speech." So by the time of the 1953-election victory the stage was already set for the divisions that were to follow.

"An uneasy coalition" seems more appropriate to describe the state of affairs as existed in 1953. National unity is too strong. The way the movement splintered and the ease with which it was done in the decade to follow called attention to all the elements that constituted the "uneasy coalition." In the first wave the middle class and professional Indians left with Burnham. In the second wave ethnicity kicked in. Jagan's PPP was seen as an Indian party. Burnham's, by this time PNC, became the party of the working and other classes of Africans.

Working within a majoritarian framework one could see how easy it is to label the 1953 election with Burnham and Jagan in the lead as the achievement of national unity. However, national unity is not only a majority affair. True national unity has to include the majority, embrace all minorities and all stakeholders. In 1953 as in 2005 this grand objective remains most elusive.


Dr. Gibson had done other better work

Kean Gibson's book has created quite a stir. While the tenor, tone, method and conclusion of the book were sources of offence for many, I am relieved that it was not banned. Kean's previous scholarship outshines that which she presents in Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana and it is hoped that the flaws in this preliminary work would be corrected at some future time. Bridging the racial divide is a far more useful project and in her work on Comfa in Guyana she demonstrated such an inclination.

What is revealing is how the Ethnic Relations Commission works. At first it releases a statement calling for the book to be withdrawn from public places. However, after some critical responses to that decision we are made to understand that the book was not really banned. In the meantime, the way the votes were cast became public knowledge. One wonders if those who voted for the book to be banned would be put at risk at a later date? Remember the medical doctor who had to hide at Georgetown hospital? We could only hope that this will not happen.

Mr. Clarence Ellis raised the question in the print and electronic media if the Chairman of the Ethnic Relations Commission recognises his African-ness. Perhaps a look at the employment practices in the ERC would be revealing. The Chairman, the CEO and the officer in charge of administration all belong to the same ethnic group. This means that:

1. the three main areas of authority reside in the hands of members of the same ethnic group.

2. members of all other ethnic groups could only find employment in subordinate positions.

Perhaps there is need for a public inquiry into the employment practices of the ERC. Equality of opportunity in employment has to do with more than numerical representation. It also includes things like power relations, opportunities for self-development, trips abroad, etc. Such an inquiry would have to examine, among other procedures, the advertisement, receipt of application, short listing process, invitation to interview, the actual interview, post interview actions, offers of employment, contracts and so on.

I will not deal here with the issue of appropriate qualification, training and experience for the task at hand. But these should also be opened to public scrutiny.

As the ERC embarks on its equal opportunity mission I will recommend that its members pay attention to the piece on Towards an Equal Oppor-tunity Policy in Employment in Race and Ethnicity In Guyana pages 248 to 251. I donated a copy of this book to the ERC last year.

We could only wish the ERC well and help it to satisfy its mandate.



[Editor's Note: Mr. Kampta Karran is a fellow at the University of Warwick, specializing in ethnic relation studies. He is author and self-publisher of the series "Offerings," and has done invaluable work in the field of Indian culture, which includes working with the late Laxhmi Kallicharran on projects that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the arrival of East Indians to Guyana.]

© 2001