Phagwah and Power

A short while back, there was a dispute about which day exactly we should celebrate the festival of Holi or Phagwah. Thankfully, that has been resolved, but this year Guyanese are confronted with another challenge: what to do when the agreed-to date for Holi happens to coincide with the date when the present Government loses its legitimacy through the operation of the Constitution, which both parties across the divide, the PPP and PNC (forget about the “others”: they are “rounded up”), agree on the supremacy of that Constitution? How should we Guyanese deal with the intersection of these two putatively unrelated events??
Interestingly enough, the festival of Phagwah – which, after Christmas, has become most widely celebrated across the various divides – itself offers a perspective on the matter. As most Guyanese ought to know by now, Hindu festivals are meant to inscribe particular values in the society and its people by celebrating “the conquest of good over evil”.
But each festival contextualises this eternal struggle based on narratives from different places, times and circumstances. This makes it easier for us in the present to imbibe the particular value — if we can relate to its application — in our own lives.
Phagwah commemorates – indeed celebrates – the instance when a king who had acceded to power quite legitimately allowed that power to go to his head and inflate his ego. He began to believe he was greater than even the entity from which all power flows – the Supreme Being – according to the beliefs of his society, and that he could make or break the rules to do whatever he wanted. His people were oppressed and quite unhappy, but what were they to do??
The son of the king – still at an age when he was in school – answered that question. He started to tell everyone that the king was not the Supreme Being, and that therefore they did not have to obey his biddings any longer.
The king, not surprisingly, became furious, and ordered the boy be silenced through all sorts of machinations; one of which was that he be immolated in a fire in the lap of his aunt Holika, who was immune to fire.
But the boy survived all his challenges and continued to invoke the Supreme Being, who appeared one day to destroy the king by cutting through all the immunities with which the Supreme Being had once conferred him.
Phagwah/Holi celebrates the victory of the boy, who held true to the principles that when power is conferred on a ruler, it ought to be used for the benefit of the people, and not for his/her self-aggrandisement. The lesson, I believe, is quite apropos to the circumstance in which we find ourselves in Guyana today.
We have a President/Government which acceded to power quite legitimately, but became intoxicated with power, and focused only on living the good life while leaving the people “on their own”. Through the actions of one of the President/Government’s own MPs, who invoked the Supreme Law/Constitution, the latter mandated that the term of the President/Government be ended immediately and they should elect another President/Government in three months.
Sadly, the President/Government has refused to comply with the dictates of the Supreme Law/Constitution, and as such, we have reached a very dangerous impasse.
What do we do, when the President has all the forces at his command to quell any rising up of the people, who subscribe to the Supremacy of the Constitution? I believe that the followers of the President’s party have a special responsibility at this time. They should understand that when they once supported an earlier leader to break the rules of the Constitution with impunity, what tragedy befell our dear land of Guyana.
Those who ignore the lessons of history – much less the message of this ancient festival – are doomed to repeat them. Surely, we cannot take that risk. We are on the cusp of so much wealth flowing into Guyana that we do not have to view politics as a win-lose game, but one which can be win-win if we stop supporting rulers who are only obsessed with power for their own aggrandisement.
Happy Holi, this March 21. And may the Supreme Constitution also triumph through our efforts and unity against possible tyranny.