Our task is to drive wedges in the authoritarianism that rejects racial equality

Stabroek News

November 5, 2003

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Dear Editor,

I have just read Dr Keane Gibson’s book. “The Cycle of Racial oppression in Guyana” and really cannot understand what all the fuss is about. Dr. Gibson is very brave to express what many Black people feel and also what many East Indians in leadership positions know, in their hearts, that they are pursuing. For me, the most important part of the book is Chapter 4 on “Evaluation.” I myself would have stressed, in that chapter, the difficulty of stereotyping East Indians. In that chapter, Dr. Gibson observes, very perceptively, the relative egalitarianism in the Black racial group which makes it possible to have vigorous opposition to Black leaders, like Mr. Burnham, by Blacks like Dr. Walter Rodney. There is, in contrast, more solidarity among East Indians and more acceptance of the concept of inequality.

This has two consequences. Stereotyping of East Indians becomes tempting. But even more significantly, vigorous opposition to East Indian leadership by East Indians is rare, apart from the few instances, dismissively regarded by the East Indian leadership as coming from “confused Indians.” East Indians should not therefore complain when they are stereotyped and when the stereotype corresponds to the rigid-authoritarian and exclusivist behaviour of their leaders.

Methodologically, I would have given more emphasis to the difficulty which East Indians have in understanding, and accepting, the concept of racial equality. If social inequality is ingrained in the East Indian culture, it becomes impossible to break out of that cultural habit of thought and accept Black people as equals especially when the distinguishing mark of inequality is skin colour. That is the basic difficulty which East Indians have.

Dr. Gibson says that GIFT has the double objective of “looking after the interests of their own group and of ultimately destroying the Africans with whom they share the same space.” That is very strong stuff and possibly the passage to which East Indians take the most objection. But if they do, they should come out and say so and affirm that they are willing, not only to share the same space with Black people, but to do so on terms of equality. Instead, the East Indian leadership is vague and not specific in their condemnation. Two recent examples support Dr. Gibson’s line of thought. It is Guyana’s turn to represent the Caribbean at the World Bank. There are two positions. Both are being filled by East Indians, Dr. Gobin Ganga and Ms. Lisa Ramotar. Mr. Winston Jordan (Ministry of Finance) and Mr. Lennox Forte (Bank of Guyana) are both more capable than Dr. Ganga but racial equality in the choice is not even given a thought. A second example is the rejection of a proposal by some Black entrepreneurs to build a stadium and related facilities for the Cricket World Cup in 2007. President Jagdeo at first agreed and then withdrew his agreement because, he says, India is providing Guyana with a stadium free. President Jagdeo could have told the Indians that he already has a proposal for the stadium and that the Indians could provide the assistance in an alternative project. But a stadium that will be called “Bhramaputra whatever” is too attractive to be turned down.

These signs are ominous. The East Indian leadership is not flinching from its pursuit of racial dominance. Dr. Gibson’s conclusion that we are heading towards partition is not one that I agree with but the evidence in support of my position is not strong. I build my case, in contradistinction from Dr. Gibson on an approach to drive a wedge in the East Indian solidarity camp. The leadership relies not only on the propaganda of the East Indian political machine but on the inherited authoritarianism from the plantation society that is intended to encourage poor people to accept their poverty as natural. If we can undermine that authoritarianism, the hold which the leaders have on the masses will slacken. Once that hold slackens, the solidarity that favours racism will slacken also. The difficulty we face is that the PNC is not likely to join the anti-authoritarianism battle. If they don’t, we, the people, have to campaign from now on for our freedom. And we must come out of our pre-ordained racial cocoons and reach across at the grass roots in our struggle.

1. Weakening authoritarianism in local government - Empowering local communities.

Let us consider driving a wedge in sugar estate authoritarianism on which the PPP and GAWU rely for maintaining their East Indian following. We should demand that the estates pay a property tax to community councils which will take over the management of the infrastructure and the hospital services. Election to the community councils should be based on the leadership abilities of the councilors and not on their party affiliation. The community councils will take time to learn but the people will gradually assume control. This democratic form of control is a lot more enlightened than the present domination by vigilante groups that tyrannise members of communities who do not have guns.

Why did Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Mrs. Janet Jagan not recommend this democratic change? Because they were not true democrats. They were authoritarians. The plantation structures facilitated control of their own people, and they gladly maintained them while shouting democracy and maintaining estate authoritarianism. They were shouting “left” but practicing “right.”

This empowering of local communities should be spread to all communities, including all Black villages and all the towns and the City. We are trapped, at present, in a racial war but the ropes that hold the trap together are those of authoritarianism. The racial leaders are clever magicians who cleverly portray race as the problem and hide away the other problem of authoritarianism from our view.

2. Weakening authoritarianism in public services - Removing public servants from the status of being underlings to politicians

In legalistic terms, this weakening of authoritarianism is referred to as the separation of powers, that is, bringing public servants up to an equal status with politicians. Our politicians hate that idea. Like the racists in the East Indian leadership, our politicians will dance around with vagueness around this concept of equality between politicians and civil servants. As far as the politicians are concerned, there is a caste system in the social order-politicians on top and the lower caste of public servants at the bottom.

In 1999, at the time of the Reform of the Constitution, it was proposed to remove the Public Service Commissions from the authority of the President; to close down the Public Service Ministry; to replace that Ministry by Personnel Departments attached to each Commission; and to undertake comprehensive training of public servants to perform their executive functions with scholarship, with full research and in accordance with rules and manuals. Neither the PPP nor the PNC was interested. If Dr. Gibson thinks that she has encountered a caste system in Hinduism, there is one that is just as entrenched in the relation between politicians and bureaucrats.

The earlier argument raised is that social inequality is ingrained in the culture of the East Indian people and makes it difficult for them to accept Black people on terms of racial equality. In a similar manner, inequality is an ingrained arrangement in the functioning of the major political parties that makes it difficult for leaders of those political parties to accept equality between politicians and public servants. Inequality is part of their culture. It is amusing to see how the chest of a politician swells on the day she or he becomes a Minister. S/he is transported to a higher place, to an upper caste position.

Can we change that entrenched inequality that prevents the institution of the separation of powers? We may faster break down the Hindu caste system than we can establish equality between politicians and bureaucrats in governance in Guyana. However, if we don’t establish that equivalence, it will become difficult to drive that wedge into the authoritarianism that constitutes the ropes that help to tie us in the racism trap into which we have fallen.

3. Power Sharing:

Dr. Gibson did not elaborate on the power sharing proposal though it is eminently more practical than the Cyprus partition arrangement. From the perspective of Dr. Gibson’s analysis, power sharing seems difficult because of the impossibility of embracing the concept of racial equality.

At the present time, neither the PPP nor the PNC is enthusiastic about power sharing. Mrs. Jagan, at this late stage, after the trauma of all the crime and extra judicial killings, has returned to the language of majority rule. She was silent when the murders were rampant. This indicates that the call for the Dialogue was a ploy to secure political peace and to return to politics as usual when calm returns.

The requests for power sharing formulas are usually the result of a belief that not much will change because politicians will remain authoritarian and corrupt. It is for that reason that people empowerment and separation of powers arrangements should be advocated. Those two changes will so improve the fundamentals for democracy that collusion between power sharing elites will not be possible.

4. Conclusion:

Dr. Gibson has embarked on a programme that can help Black people to rediscover themselves and stop feeling inferior to white people and to East Indians. Her research on Comfa Religion and Creole Language in a Caribbean Community seems exploratory in a spiritual direction that is one of the missing links of African development. Black people need not only to research but to recapture the capability for the paranormal. If reference to what white people are doing is reassuring, it is useful to note that white institutions are embarking on the adventure to achieve that spiritual recapture. Black people should participate. The endeavour is demanding. The recapture matters more to me than the degeneracies of Hinduism.

The research into Hinduism is a complex task that will take years to accomplish. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in his Translation and Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita says that:

The Vedas are the lighthouse of eternal wisdom leading man to salvation and inspiring to supreme accomplishment.

Gradually this teaching came to be forgotten, so that two thousand years later even the principle of Being as the absolute Reality, the source and basis of all creation, was overshadowed by misguided beliefs which glorified only the relative aspects of life. ‘The long lapse of time,’ says Lord Krishna, is the reason for such a loss of wisdom.

There is nothing in the Vedas as preached by Maharishi that debars non Hindus. That the degeneracies occurred over two thousand years, as he says, has given rise to research and recovery projects on which many, not only Hindus, are embarked. Enlightenment will follow but that enlightenment has not yet taken hold in Guyana. It is only slowly taking hold in India. For those who argue that Indians are paragons of virtue, an article by Professor John Davies on “Inter Ethnic Conflict in Fiji” is revealing. Professor Davies warns against a vision of creating a “Little India of the South Pacific.” Does that sound familiar? “A Little India of the West Indies-Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname.”

In the meantime, our task is to drive wedges in the unenlightened authoritarianism that rejects racial equality. If there are no dents in that authoritarianism-no empowerment of communities, no empowerment of public servants, and no racial equality or proportionality in the distribution of jobs, contracts, land, and decision making at the level of the central government, Black people do not have to seek the Cyprus solution. At election time in 2006, they should just stay at home and do not vote. Leave the election battle to the authoritarians. But we should begin to campaign from now for the boycott of the elections that will entrench authoritarianism. After the election debacle, we will be morally armed to fight for racial equality every step of the way. We will fight that battle, case by case, in the press at home and in the press abroad.

Yours faithfully,

Clarence F. Ellis