Ravi Dev Column

Kaieteur News
March 18, 2007

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This week, I would like to focus briefly on three issues from the discussion with Mr. Clarence Ellis and Peeping Tom: the need for agreement on core values, Federalism and the Indian Security Dilemma. Mr. Ellis elaborated on some needed innovations at the local community level (to which I will comment below) and, I suspect, ran out of space to talk about values. But I will assert again: before we can begin to seriously talk about political or other structures, the several groups that make up our polity must arrive at some sort of agreement on the core values that would hold such a society together.

One such value which I had in mind was the posture a citizen should have towards the beliefs and practices of citizens from another cultural group.

I will illustrate my point by referring to ongoing debate on Pandit Prakash Gossai being appointed as a “Special Assistant to the President”, and the intervention of Mr. Eusi Kwayana that it elicited.


There was some consternation expressed when Pandit Gossai was alleged to have referred to his “followers” and even greater consternation (expressed, for instance, by Mr Ellis) when several of those followers stoutly rushed to his defence.

In Hinduism, there is the institution of the “Guru”. The word literally means, “remove darkness” and expresses the function of the Guru as one who removes ignorance from his or her “chelas” translated as “followers” by his explication and living of truth. An orthodox Hindu, like myself for instance, before embarking on any endeavour, would first give praise to Guru before even praising God, because without the truth transmitted by the Guru, one would not even have the knowledge or wherewithal to praise God.

Pandit Gossai is a Guru to countless Guyanese Hindus across the globe. The question I am posing is how should non-Hindu Guyanese react to the evident deference of the Hindu “chela” to his Guru?

On the other hand we have the retort of Dr. Tara Singh to Mr. Eusi Kwayana, who had introduced some information that cast Pandit Gossai in a negative light.

The normally very circumspect sociologist used some very caustic language as he defended Pandit Gossai, causing Mr. Ellis to demand an apology for Mr. Kwayana.

Even though Mr. Ellis defended Mr. Kwayana against the substantive charges posed by Dr Singh, I suspect that Mr. Ellis was also taken aback by the strong language used against a venerable elder of the African community. There is, after all, the survival of the African tradition of respect for elders. The question I am posing is how should a non-African react to the evident deference of the African villager to his elder?

My proposal is that we must accept the value that teaches respect for the customs and beliefs of the “other”, not mere “tolerance” – which connotes “sufferance - as many suggest.

A debate is going on right now in Europe , precipitated by the demand for Muslims that their practices be respected, suggest that we will have to agree on such a value sooner rather than later...and so on in so many other areas.

Only shared values can hold a society together. On those values that may be incommensurable, Mr. Ellis appears to propose the test of “rationality”. Is this the African position?


On the matter of an “organising principle”, let me say up front that I do not believe in any Utopia: no matter what political or other institution we establish, frictions as the ones above will inevitably be produced amongst the citizenry and will have to be addressed. The point is to address them before the frictions cause the society to burst into a conflagration.

The question, therefore, is what are the frictions in Guyana today?

I believe that there is unanimity today that the fact of our deep diversity (ethnicity) butting up against the need for concerted action is a prime generator.

We therefore need an organising principle for our society that combines kinship - the basis of ethnicity - with consent - the basis of democratic government; the need for groups to live authentically – (the principle of autonomy – self rule) and the need to be united (the principle of solidarity) – and shared rule. Only Federalist principles can satisfy these demands, as Peeper says, of ends and means.

I can go along with the pragmatic proposal of Peeping Tom that we should push for a united approach at the local community level (suggested by Dr. Roopnarine) as a “transitional arrangement”, and pursue Federalist integration as trust develops.

I suspect, from his detailed plans Mr. Ellis also would.

Up to now we had favoured a non-party approach to local government from a desire to depolitise our community relationships. My fear remains, however, that if we attempt to work at the local level without the constitutional protection of Federalism, the entrenched centralised and authoritarian institutional structures in Georgetown will inevitably frustrate and defeat such efforts.

I believe that Mr. Ellis has more fundamental objections to Federalism that possibly emanate from an African perspective. If so, I wish he would elaborate further.


Now to the matter of the Indian Ethnic Security Dilemma. I missed the logic that Mr. Ellis used to conclude that I favour an “ Indian Ethnic State ” when I pointed out that the composition of the Disciplined Forces is an unaddressed issue by him.

I believe that Mr. Ellis is a bit too sanguine about the efficacy of simply introducing parliamentary oversight (to which we agree) over the Disciplined Forces to address that existential fear. This may be a necessary, but certainly it is not a sufficient arrangement: the latter requires that the Disciplined Forces reflect the composition of the population of Guyana .

If, as Mr. Ellis pointed out (and I agree): “A one-race Presidential Secretariat is an unlightened proposition,” what do we call a one-race Disciplined Force”?

I had called for a more nuanced view of what constitutes state power vis-à-vis those forces, to understand why Indians still cling to the PPP even though the latter may represent neither their “ideology” nor their “objective” interests.

In an earlier intervention Mr. Ellis had stated, “In actual fact, the PPP has a near monopoly of political power and the PNC has very little or no political power at all, a lot less political power than Mr. Yesu Persaud has.”

The Disciplined Forces are the ultimate repositories of the power of the Guyanese state: the PPP in being elected to government may accede to “authority” to deploy those forces – but when the loyalty of the latter is suspect, their authority rests on very shaky foundations.

We have ended up with “phantom death squads” – official and otherwise – to exercise the government's authority, which have been condemned by ROAR, but condoned by Indians because of their security fears.

Now, as to whether the PPP could have done (or can do) more to fulfil their constitutionally defined mandate to “diversify” the forces is another question; we are trying to establish if African Guyanese are in agreement with the imperative. This is a threshold issue.

Incidentally Mr. Yesu Persaud as a businessman may have some “influence” – but since this is most likely non-existent over the Disciplined Forces, I doubt that he can exercise any “political power”.

This, of course, assumes that Mr. Persaud has not bought over sections of the Disciplined Forces. But then that demands money and presumably Mr. Clifford Reis, say, could also hire mercenaries. The PNC, on the other hand, because of the “kith and kin” element, exercises some real power over the PPP because the latter is forced to observe “the principle of anticipated reactions” of the forces in all confrontations with the former.