It was a Saturday morning, June 30, 2011, just over a year ago. I had gone to bed the night before at 7.30 pm, never so early as far as I remember. I opened one of the partially read books at my bedside but could barely concentrate. My wife, Janet, joined me at 9 pm, said nothing, went under the sheets and pretended to go to sleep. But I knew that sleep would not come to her as long as I was awake and in distress. I knew that during the night she would awaken about every hour and check if I was breathing. I turned off my night light at about 11 pm. She turned around, embraced me and I fell asleep.
I had come home unusually early the afternoon before from the Party Executive meeting. When I was about to leave home at midday for the meeting, Janet pleaded with me, as she often did in recent years, not to lose my temper. I had been on a short fuse for quite a while because of the increasing attacks to which I had been subjected at these meetings. Janet felt that an article I had recently written in which I said that there was pervasive corruption in Guyana might elicit some hostile comments. She feared that I might be tempted to respond.
I did not expect any, but the hostilities had been planned and were expertly executed by willing and practised hands. I endured them, expecting to respond constructively. But as they were ending, I was gratuitously and irrelevantly accused of being untrustworthy. After forty years in the leadership of the PPP, such an accusation was about as much as I could bear. Not after two decades, the 1970s and 1980s, during the most frightening political conditions in our country, discussing ultra sensitive matters in the ultra secure group of the leadership, in ultra secure conditions, given the most confidential information and (legal) tasks by that group and never found wanting. I erupted and there was loud talk. I left the meeting after a refusal to withdraw the accusation. It was about 2.30 pm.
When I arrived home earlier than usual Janet asked what was had happened, with concern in her eyes and voice. I could not respond. She persisted but I believe the look on my face eventually indicated to her that my non-response was due, not to my desire not to speak, but to my inability to do so. I got out of my work clothes, edged her out of the way, curled up on the recliner in my study and pulled a sheet over my entire body.
She came in an hour later, lifted the sheet from my head and told me she was calling the doctor. She had been crying. I protested that nothing was wrong with me. I had no idea of the utter panic, confusion and drama that had been playing out during the hour. I later learnt that Janet believed that I had lost my speech as a result of a stroke. After I spoke she realized that I was not afflicted and troubled me no further. I got up at about 7 pm, showered, had dinner and went to my bedroom. I was unable to greet my son and daughter-in-law, Kamal and Nafeeza, who had come to see what was wrong and sat silently nearby, concern and helplessness written all over their faces.
Janet knew that something terrible had happened at the meeting that day, so dreadful that it stunned me into speechlessness; me, a man hardly ever lost for words, and something that had never happened before. I could not relieve her anguish by relating what had happened. She understood, bore her pain and allowed me space, knowing that I needed my own counsel and would talk when I could and was ready.
Immediately after breakfast on Saturday morning, I knew that the time had come for me to sever my fifty year formal connection with the PPP, which went even further back into childhood. Not merely from the Executive, nor from the Central Committee, but from the Party itself. I did not speak to or consult anyone but realised that I could take no more of the years of hostility, abuse and torment that had been heaped upon me, starting in 1997, subsiding for a few years, then recommencing with studied vindictiveness and renewed venom in 2005 at the Essequibo Congress, lasting I later learnt, up to shortly before President Ramotar was sworn in.
I had thought that my situation would change with the elections being over. A Cabinet had been appointed, but I was to learn that my exclusion was demanded by some, ostensibly because I did not campaign, but in reality because of the lingering hostility and vindictiveness. I had thought that the scheming against me and any perceived threat to future careers, or discomfort that was felt by my presence, were comfortably in the background. The elections over, the tensions generated by the selection of the presidential candidate having receded, I returned to meetings. I had already begun to make efforts to heal wounds, even though I did not create them. I resumed writing for the Mirror. I accepted outreach assignments, went to one in Canal No 2 and undertook to do more. I even allowed my name to be put up for Speaker, which I advised was a losing proposition.
But I made a grievous error in thinking that attitudes towards me had changed. I realized that the hatred of me by a section of the PPP leadership and some in the Civic would never dissipate. It was not merely my alleged contrariness. My presence, my independence, the fact that I spoke up and disagreed sometimes, and when insulted did not take it quietly, these could not be tolerated. It dawned upon me that I had completely alienated myself from the ruling cabal and had ceased to be seen as a team player among that group because I was not obsequiously compliant. It was falsely perceived that my presence represented a continuing threat to the established order as well as to those newly empowered by the elections. My independence and frankness also challenged the authorized wisdom of the new PPP and its methodology of control, subservience and sycophancy. The new ruling group has imposed a culture of implacable hostility to internal or external views contrary to those of its own.
I spent a long time on my resignation and statement to the press, eventually opting for brevity. I passed the drafts to Janet telling her that I would explain the circumstances when I could. She urged me to take as much time as I needed but asked if I was sure that I wanted to resign. I said yes and arranged for the resignation and a copy of the proposed statement to be printed, signed and delivered to Freedom House at about 10.30 am by my son and daughter in law, Nikhil and Sharon. They somehow sensed the situation and asked nothing.
During the afternoon, a few close friends, connected to the Party but not to the events, called repeatedly trying to persuade me to change my mind. No one had called after the event the day before. No one ever did, after the many similar events in the past. No one would have been asked to call if the draft press statement was not included with my resignation, indicating my intention to go public. They could not have cared less about my resignation and would have welcomed it, if done quietly. Their only concern was the negative publicity.
At about 4 pm I sent my statement to the Stabroek News. After that I felt such a surge of relief, perhaps because the deed had been finally made irrevocable, that only then did I muster the strength and courage to attempt to haltingly tell Janet what had happened. She listened without interruption or comment fearing, I believe, from my manner and tone, that if she did I would not be able to finish.
We remained silent for a long time, sharing our unspoken but deep sorrow at our having been forced to end my fifty year connection, and Janet’s forty-five year membership, with a Party that we had deeply loved and where most of our friends were located; in which we shared so much with lifelong comrades, and derived our most enduring and challenging experiences; which gave us a sense of satisfaction that we were loyally doing our duty for our Party and our country by passionately serving, every day for four decades, with all the dedication that I could command, as my father did, a Party that was committed to the poor and disadvantaged and to noble ideals and in which I was socialized every day, accompanying my father everywhere, from childhood to teenager, clinging to him perhaps because of his imprisonment, years of restriction and privation, then branching out on my own later.
It was not until late the following day, Sunday, that Janet explained the desperation she felt and the frantic efforts she had made during the hour to get some information as to why I had lost my speech so she could tell the doctor who she intended to call. Not surprisingly, she was unable to contact by phone any Executive Member, from the President right down, although she spoke to two later, who she contacted by a circuitous route, but who told her only that there were ‘angry exchanges.’
It was during this conversation with her that I realized that my inability to speak was not due to the actual event. There had been worse. I was so deeply affected because I instinctively knew, as soon as I left the meeting, that the time had come, that this was the end. I was not merely forced to leave a room. I was degraded so often that this time it could only mean that I was being kicked out of a treasured life of shared commitment and endeavour, achievements and setbacks, joys and sorrows, arguments won and lost, great debates in the Cheddi Jagan era, playing a role in the direction of the country, great friendships and fraternal comradeships. Snatching this life and these memories away from me in such a vulgar manner was a punishment more cruel than any that could have been devised, and devised it was, awaiting only the opportunity to spring it.
The limp attempt at an apology in my absence, too little too late, could not disguise and did not address the real problems as outlined above. The steps which could have stopped my impending resignation, or reversed it even after it became public, were not taken. It was bad enough that I was expected to sheepishly return after an interval as I did before. Worse was the Party’s failure to acknowledge in its statement that I was in fact the insulted victim, rather than letting the offender off the hook by claiming that I ‘felt insulted.’ No member of the Executive uttered a single word while I was dragged over the coals and finally driven out. That was because they all knew who the conductor was, knew the tune that was being played, knew that silence was necessary for the music to be heard, and for them to remain members of the audience.
My tormentors knew that I was considering retiring from active politics at this Party Congress. But their desire for vengeance, because of my challenges to the new order as it was being established and now fully entrenched, outweighed any sense of fraternal charity which would have allowed me to leave in peace and dignity.
But, notwithstanding the pain, I now feel that a weight had been lifted off my shoulder because I no longer have to take the abuse, insults and torment. I no longer have to toe the line. I could say what I want, when, and to whom. Though sad for a long time, the Harris cartoon in the Stabroek News, which had me joyously shouting the famous words ‘free at last,’ presciently captured the mood I would later settle in to. Nikhil and Sharon, with intuitive grasp, printed, framed and, and with my two grandchildren, gave it to me for Christmas six months later. It now hangs prominently on a wall in my study.
This is the first Party Congress we are missing since 1974. Our nostalgic solidarity goes out to those comrades who continue to believe in the ideals of the old PPP – the elimination of poverty, democracy, socialism, ethnic unity and solidarity, tolerance for contrary views, winner does not take all, (or, in the new dispensation, loser does not take all) and who continue to work for the realisation of these ideals, even if only by whispering about them to other comrades in quiet corners. We hope that the outcome of the Congress benefits all Guyana and her courageous and deserving people.