Home Letters History unkind to those who supported rigging
History would not be kind to those who defended or were complicit in the March 2 attempted electoral fraud and/or supported the regime. The same holds true for those who participated in and or supported Forbes Burnham’s rigging and his dictatorship. The ABCE countries and Caribbean leaders saved Guyana from the establishment of another dictatorship, perhaps along the lines of the one institutionalised by Burnham.
As I travel around Guyana, reflecting upon the Burnham regime, I am reminded that Shridath S. Ramphal, Mohamed Shahabuddeen, Joshua Chowrimootoo, Vibert Parvattan, Sase Narain, Steve Narine, Vincent Teekah, Cammie Ramsaroop, Seeram Prashad, Ranji Chandisingh, Harry Lall, Gowkarran Sharma and a few others served Burnham’s dictatorship at a time when the country was suffering. An ethnic apartheid-like system was being institutionalised. As explained to me, some of these characters did it for survival or opportunistic reasons, and others for status and fame. People say they sold their souls for roti. They were all considered as pariahs in the Indian community.
Several prominent Indians were offered positions by Burnham, but they walked away from the offers to preserve their integrity. Unlike those who sold their souls, the honourable men did not attain global fame or status, but people respected them. The latter included Sir Fenton Ramsahoye and Balram Singh Rai. Both were offered the Attorney General position by Burnham, and they both declined. They could not associate themselves with an unsavory character. Both were brilliant lawyers and scholars par excellence. They both studied in England.
As an old-timer commented, “When it came to law, Ramphal, Shahabuddeen, and the Luckhoos can’t even poojay Balram and Fenton. They can’t even wash Balram and Fenton feet when it came to integrity. They did not sell their souls”.
Both Fenton and Balram had a falling out with Jagan over strategy. Burnham did recognise Rai’s brilliance. In a speech to supporters, in commenting on the break between Rai and Jagan, Burnham stated: “The most brilliant star of the PPP would be leaving”. He enticed Rai to come over and join him. Rai was not like the nimakharams who embraced Burnham for personal survival.
Instead of linking up with Burnham, Rai and Ramsahoye parted ways from Jagan. Rai formed a party, but was rejected at the polls by Indians, polling just 1500 votes, and he left for England. Rai could have contested the 1968 elections, but he recognised election rigging was coming, and did not wish to lend credence to fraud.
Rai recognised he lacked support to defeat Jagan, and would not have emerged as leader. Fenton left for Trinidad, where he established the Hugh Wooding Law School. Neither one opposed Jagan after they left Guyana.
In the late 1980s, Fenton linked up with patriots abroad, including this writer, to lobby for free and fair elections. Balram did not involve himself again with Guyana’s political affairs, but he did warn when he was leaving Guyana that the country would descend into a dictatorship for choosing the wrong political leaders.
Aside from Fenton and Balram, there were several Guyanese who rejected Burnham’s offers and instead fought against the dictatorship. Also, several Guyanese fought against last March’s rigging. They were heroes. History won’t be kind to those who were silent or endorsed the rigging.