The slow dismantling of Cheddi Jagan’s legacy of reasoned debate as a method of convincing opponents and educating supporters began at the turn of the century. It created the opening for the introduction of an alternative approach to political discourse – the cuss-down. Many had hoped that with the change in Government, this particularly degrading and offensive type of verbal assault would come to a welcome end. It was felt that necessity would dictate a change of course because it was believed that the cuss-down tactic caused the PPP to lose votes at the last elections. However, it appears to have been given a new lease of life at the rally at Babu John on March 3, in the name of Cheddi Jagan.
Cheddi Jagan always reserved his anger for systems and policies, not people. He fought against colonialism with the greatest zeal and the sharpest language, but never abused colonial officials and, in fact, worked with them between 1957 and 1964. He condemned imperialism not only in Guyana but worldwide. But he was unfailingly polite to its representatives. The same Cheddi Jagan proposed coalitions with the PNC and good relations with the United States throughout his life, never insulting or abusing their leaders.
During the authoritarian era a large number of people defected from the PPP and joined the opposition for opportunistic reasons. These were painful experiences. Cheddi Jagan’s attitude was revealed in the case of Patrick Alleyne of the now defunct Sawmill and Forest Workers Union, a PPP activist and Freedom House employee. He defected to the PNC in the early 1970s. The PNC made the usual propaganda. But he had little else to offer and after a while he dropped out of active politics. A few years later he suddenly turned up at Freedom House, was given a chair and desk by Cheddi, and commenced working. No one, except Cheddi, knew what work he did, since he reported only to Cheddi. Many were furious. Alleyne worked for a year or two at Freedom House and defected again to the PNC with a second splash in the newspapers! He is the only person who defected twice from the PPP, facilitated by Cheddi Jagan himself. He was not the only defector who was welcomed back.
Ranji Chandisingh, deputy leader of the PPP, was arguably the most important defector to the PNC amidst great bitterness in 1978. He remained loyal to the PNC until he died after serving as a Vice President and General Secretary under Burnham. Many leaders of the PPP attended his funeral just over two years ago and General Secretary Donald Ramotar paid a glowing tribute on behalf of the Party.
It is extremely hurtful when one of your colleagues and friends leaves and criticizes. One is tempted to lash out in anger. But the PPP would be far better served by taking a leaf out of Cheddi’s book. He was hurt, distressed and angry, like everyone else, but held his head high and answered the argument rather than abusing the person, as he did with Chandisingh. He knew that politics was all about winning an argument. Colleagues must first be convinced, then opponents. When opponents demur, the argument is taken to the electorate. Cheddi Jagan recognized that abuse has no place in political or any discourse. He never practiced it.
In the absence of polling in Guyana there can be no accurate assessment of the role that the cuss down played in the PPP’s reduced vote in 2011. But many leading activists believe that it played an important role. At Babu John, Minister Clement Rohee admitted to mistakes and said that they were being corrected. The cuss-down at the hallowed ground bearing Cheddi Jagan’s ashes and inscriptions of his words, on an occasion commemorating his life and work, suggests that the Party believes that cussing down at the last elections was not one of those mistakes and is a strategy that would have been approbated by Cheddi. It appears that the cuss down is now a firmly entrenched device in the armoury of the PPP and that we will witness its extended deployment.
The role of Moses Nagamootoo in attracting to the AFC a substantial number of PPP supporters at the last elections, and his criticisms of the PPP since then, have provided irresistible temptation for the cuss-down. Not even the personally popular and now iconic Balram Singh Rai, who resigned from the PPP in the 1960s having served as Minister of Education and Home Affairs, and who then formed the Justice Party, was able to do the damage that Moses did. But the answer to Moses lies not in abuse but in a discourse on the economic and political challenges faced by Guyana against the background of world and regional political and economic developments using the methodology of Cheddi Jagan, analysing how Guyana’s business people can take advantage in the current situation, pointing to the place of Guyana’s workers, particularly sugar workers, in this scenario, announcing plans for the reconstructing and democratizing the Party, condemning corruption and announcing measures to curb it and recognizing that none of this can be achieved without talking seriously with the Opposition.