Kwayana and the PPP

Mr Eusi Kwayana’s 99th birthday was recently celebrated, and I offer my belated best wishes for him to score a century and more. Over the years, I have been privileged to engage him in public discussions on various matters of national concern. One was his response to my paper on the 1998 ethnic riots in which Indian Guyanese were assaulted in the streets of Georgetown by African Guyanese. He claimed (summarised in a booklet “Guyana: No Guilty Race”) that I thought he “believes in some guilty race”.
The following is excerpted from my 2010 response.
‘I would not pretend to know what Mr Kwayana believes. I can only follow the argument he has consistently made on the genesis of political violence in Guyana: ‘There is no guilty race’, he affirms, but insists that Guyanese political violence began on August 28th 1961, a week after the General Elections, when some Indians of Port Mourant murdered an African PNC supporter, Felix Ross. Every other observer (including myself) has placed the beginning of political violence on Black Friday, February 16th, 1962.
Mr Kwayana originally made this argument in 1962 (in his booklet “Next Witness”) after he felt that the British Commission enquiring into the causes of Black Friday was biased. In the booklet, he states his case about “guilt” explicitly, to expose ‘(‘the coward’) Jagan’s racial insolence and his cold-blooded organisation of the East Indians for the conquest that has always been their dream.’ He concluded: ‘The (PPP) Government, the guilty party in the matter of racial conflict, wished to hide the truth because it wants immediate independence under a constitution which will leave it free to strangle the breath of the African people and the minorities, to create here an East Indian State, to plant the East Indies in the West Indies.’
Every proposition, as R.G. Collingwood noted, is an answer to a question. The question that confronted Mr Eusi Kwayana (EK) when he made that claim – whither the African minority in a polity distinguished by ethnic mobilisation? – is still dominating our political agenda today. In this respect, at least we share the problem space of Mr Kwayana, one of our first politicians to directly confront the African Ethnic Security Dilemma. As I emphasised before, ‘My object in raising the issue (is) not to determine who was “right or wrong”, but whether the strategies (are) applicable for our present problem space; and if not, what might be possible alternatives.’
To understand EK’s answer of 1962, it is vital to understand the circumstances in which he was enmeshed at the time. I would never ever imply, much less “condemn”, EK “as an inventor of incidents”, as he suggests, but would point out that the circumstances generating a particular question inevitably colour the mindset of the respondent/actor. Why is it, for instance, EK only records incidents of Indians verbally and otherwise assaulting Africans before and after the 1961 elections, when the newspapers of the time recount both groups as initiators? To paraphrase Nietzsche, propositions, as much as concepts, do not only have definitions, but histories.
As one of the earliest supporters of Dr Jagan in the latter’s bid for Parliament in 1947, EK introduced and endorsed him to Buxton, even in the face of disapproval from some Africans. Before and after the PPP’s victory in 1953, in Burnham’s quest to assume the leadership of the PPP, EK thwarted the latter’s machinations on several occasions. However, in the fallout of the PPP’s removal from office, EK became disillusioned with several of Jagan’s moves – especially after the 1955 split.
In addition to Jagan’s condemnation of the “ultra-leftists”, which included EK, his stand on the proposed West Indian Federation (negative) and his 1956 speech to the P.P.P. Congress (to mobilize upper-strata Indians he now defined as “progressive”) convinced Kwayana that Jagan was pandering to Indians to the detriment of Africans. The final straw was when Kwayana decided to run as an independent in the 1957 elections and the PPP opposed him with Balram Singh Rai. He lost, became even more strident about Jagan and the “Indian threat” to Africans, and became one of the founders and General Secretary of the PNC.
Between 1958 and 1961, more than anyone else, as editor of the PNC’s “New Nation”, in a series of unrelentingly strident articles, EK helped shape the definition of the post-1957 PPP government as an Indian government that was out to destroy Africans. The perception remains.