Official records by themselves cannot help sufficiently to reconstruct the past
Stabroek News
September 16, 2001

Dear Editor,

Dr Cary Fraser raised a number of interesting questions about Guyana's political history and the role of Mr Balram Singh Rai during the pre-1964 period (9.9.0l). I do support the call for greater public access to the records of that

period, if only for a younger generation to understand the political dynamics at work and to heal the racial wounds in our society today. Since some of his questions fall outside the scope of my research project, but go to the heart of what Mr Freddie Kissoon calls "nuances," official records by themselves cannot sufficiently help us reconstruct or understand the discussions, motives and thinking of the main decision-makers. There are several people who might hold the key to important questions: Ms Janet Jagan, Mr Balram Singh Rai, Mr Brindley Benn, Mr Ashton Chase and elder statesman Mr Eusi Kwayana from the PPP side, and Messrs John Carter, Llewellyn John and Neville Bissember of the PNC.

As a cautionary note, my own experience regarding interviews, has shown that participants are apt to be more subjective than objective, and are more inclined towards embellishing their own roles. Information obtained through such means must therefore be cross-referenced for confirmation.

I would like to make several points regarding some of the other issues raised. One, there was indeed an attempt by the PPP to "undermine" the PNC by getting Indians to vote for the UF during the 1961 elections. Indian businessmen, like Mr Abdool Majeed and others, uneasy about the PPP's communist rhetoric, supported the UF financially and politically. In addition, the PPP did not contest 6 seats in the 1961 elections (PNC contested all, UF contested 34). Five of the uncontested seats were PNC strongholds. Two of the four seats won by the UF were in Georgetown. According to Dr Jagan, the UF "was the lesser of the two evils" and the PPP encouraged its supporters not to vote or if they did, they should vote for the UF (page 207). By Dr Jagan's own admission, the PPP was seeking a coalition with the PNC, not the UF.

Two, Mr D'Aguiar, in reference to Mr Rai's expulsion from the PPP, said "In appointing Mr Christian [as Minister of Home Affairs], Dr. Jagan has made his greatest political blunder... he has cast aside moderate Indians in favour of rabid Communists. He has exchanged competence for incompetence" (Graphic, June 17, 1962). Given his comments, as well as the electoral dynamics in the 1961 general election in the Georgetown North and Georgetown Central Election Districts where the UF was successful in getting Mr D'Aguiar and Mr Cheeks elected, it is reasonable to assume that Mr Rai might have influenced the decision of the PPP not to contest in those two districts. Had the PPP contested, the PNC would have won both districts; and of course, Mr Burnham would not have had to abandon Georgetown Central and seek election in the safer South Georgetown District. Also, supporting the assumption in respect of Mr Rai's influence, the UF withdrew its candidate, Mr Trotman, from the contest in the Demerara East District which Mr Rai, the PPP candidate, won easily against the PNC candidate, Mrs Jane Phillips?Gay.

Three, it is very unlikely that Dr Jagan wanted to limit the "left faction" within the PPP by minimizing the influence of Mrs Janet Jagan, given the fact that she was not only a founder but a shaper of party policies and actions. I do know that Mrs Jagan, as General Secretary of the PPP, is in possession of a wealth of information about that period, particularly regarding her own contribution. She played a critical role in shaping Dr Cheddi Jagan's Marxist?Leninist and `scientific socialist' orientation, despite her denials and her attribution of her husband's ideology to a natural inclination based on his own early experiences in British Guiana and the United States. The young Jagan could hardly have been capable of any kind of profound class analysis (an impression given in his West on Trial) during his early days at the elite Queens College. But as he would later confess in a 1991 interview with V S Naipaul, it was not until he returned to Guyana that he was exposed to Marxist literature: "It was Janet Jagan who, when she came here in 1943, brought me Little Lenin Library books - little tracts, pamphlets. It was the first time I read Marxist literature. And then - as with bridge books - I began reading Marxist books like mad. I read Das Kapital after the Little Lenin series. And that helped me to have a total understanding of the development of society."

Under the circumstances, The West on Trial cannot be the only definitive and authoritative source of information regarding the pre-1961 period.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Baytoram Ramharack