Navin Chandarpal was one of Guyana’s best known public figures and politicians. His popularity was so extensive that most people who knew him well, even those who did not share his political views or allegiances, felt honoured to be considered by him as a friend. His relationship with people transcended politics. He had time for Party workers, comrades, his students and friends.
He never spoke, much less boasted, about what he did for the PPP, for the country or for others. I was talking to him at a function three years ago and a young woman came up. She embraced him warmly and exchanged pleasantries. She then turned to me and said that Navin was one of the most important persons in her life. She said that he was responsible for her success in obtaining her doctorate degree because it was he who encouraged and inspired her. He was visibly embarrassed by such lavish praise.
Navin Chandarpal’s attitude to personal and political adversity was marked by tenacity. While he did not win this last personal battle, he taught us a lesson in courage. Even when his physical strength began to wane, the talk was still about cricket and politics, his greatest passions. He was always optimistic about his condition, always fighting, always positive, never resigned to what we now know, and what he must have known, that fate had in store for him.
He seemed determined to follow the guidance of a former comrade, Martin Carter, writing in his poem ‘Death of a Comrade,’ about another comrade of the 1950s, Ivan Edwards, who died tragically: ‘death must not find us thinking that we die.’ He appeared to have imbued his wife, Indra, his popular partner in life and politics, with the same steadfastness. She bore her pain with strength and dignity, caring him with love and dedication, while remaining tolerant of the many friends who sought his company to wish him well, even as his health was declining.
Navin was a Berbician, of which he was proud, and a student activist who rose to prominence at the University of Guyana as head of the UG PYO in the early 1970s. The campus was a heated political battleground, and his political activities took up a great deal of time. However, he went on to obtain a degree with distinction. He declined offers for advanced study, giving up a promising academic career for employment with the PPP. He had already committed his life to the struggle for democracy and socialism, goals to which he remained dedicated to the end of his life. He eventually became head of the PYO, harnessing its strength to make a substantial contribution to the restoration to democracy. He mixed this work with teaching, much of it by free lessons to large classes at Freedom House.
Navin attained leadership positions in the PPP in about the late 1970s. His contributions had an individualistic flair, and were defined by his demands for more and more spirited opposition to the established authoritarian order. Those were the days when debates were open and leaders, including Cheddi Jagan, could be and were regularly and vigorously challenged without fear of retribution. He made significant contributions to every important decision of the PPP for the past 35 years.
Navin’s work in outreaches, organization, education and technical analyses contributed to keeping the PPP strong in the difficult years when the Party was under constant attack and lives were in danger. This work and that of many other comrades in this period helped to lay the foundation for the restoration of democracy and the PPP’s majority victories in four successive elections, of which he can be justly proud. He served as a member of the National Assembly, a Minister of Agriculture and Adviser to all the Presidents under the PPP/C. He remained one of Guyana’s most highly respected politicians. He was one of the PPP’s best loved and most principled and cherished leaders.
Navin was a devoted colleague of Cheddi Jagan. He was a strong admirer of Cheddi’s ideological commitment, his steadfastness in the struggle for democracy and social justice, his humility, his outstanding courage in the face of lifelong political adversity against overwhelming odds. The spirit of free debate during the Cheddi Jagan era helped to mould Navin into the independent person that he was whose views were strongly held and vigorously pursued. He fearlessly and publicly demonstrated that independence. His passing means the loss of the last powerful symbol in the PPP leadership associated with decision-making by consultation, democratic persuasion and comradely engagement, the hallmarks of the Cheddi Jagan style of leadership.
As Navin is laid to rest today, the thousands of us who had the good fortune to know him, to call him a friend, or comrade, to struggle with him for the ideals of the PPP and of Cheddi Jagan, to receive his comforting words in times of distress, or his stories to lighten our burdens, would like to give thanks for the friendship he showed to us, the strength he gave us, the courage he taught us and for his service to Guyana. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family.