Today, Hindus across the world will be celebrating the colourful and joyous festival of Holi or Phagwah as it is known. From a Guyanese standpoint, this, like some other locally-observed festivals, has transcended religious boundaries to become a most-anticipated national occasion. Guyanese from all walks of life, more importantly religious and ethnic groupings, participate to share in the fun and frolic that are associated with the celebrations epitomised by vibrancy and the fusion of colours.
Celebratory activities have grown across the country allowing for more focused gatherings for interactions. This augurs well for national unity as it serves in many ways to bring people together. Over the years, it was evident that the various levels of society are seemingly dismantled on that day as the diverse colours mask the lines of separation.
It is also demonstrative of the unison of our diversity and being true to the locally embedded custom of the various ethnic groups sharing and participating in each other’s cultural traditions and celebrations. This is not just confined to Phagwah, but is very evident at Easter and Christmas as Guyanese generally do not see the religious boundaries, at least in that context.
That reality generates a wish for the spontaneous camaraderie to not be confined to those particular days. The desire of many, if not all, would be for this to be built upon. That aside, these national festivals do offer, through their significance, pertinent lessons for the advancement of humanity. If these are genuinely heeded, then the forging of national unity could become less challenging. For that to work, the messages must, therefore, not be lost in the celebrations.
One of the overarching themes of Phagwah is that good will always triumph over evil as captured in the story of Prahlad, who refused to submit himself to the dictatorial commands which his father, the King, dictated to his subjects. The young boy would not allow what he personally believed in to be expunged by the King’s whims and fancies. In simple terms, Prahlad stood up to his own father by refusing to allow a particular tyrannical wish to be imposed upon him.
His defiance was not without consequence as his own aunt, Holika, who was bestowed with the boon of being indestructible by fire. She urged the King, to have herself and Prahlad placed in a fire, convinced that the boy would be destroyed leaving her untouched. The King agreed and the rest is history. She was destroyed and Prahlad was unharmed. This aspect of the story is captured through the symbolic burning of the Holika on the night before Phagwah.
What could be the possible relevance of this at present? Foremost, there is the imposition by the Government of a convenient interpretation of the Constitution regarding what is mandated following the successful passage of a no-confidence motion. Much has been said about the Government’s refusal to accept and abide by the supreme law of the land which clearly states that elections in the circumstances must be held within 90 days after the vote is carried.
That period expires today and no effort has been made by the Government to have the elections held in the required period. Further to that, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has, according to the three Commissioners representing the Opposition, brought another imposition: elections being only possible in November, or thereafter. That’s close to a year after the passage of the no-confidence motion and eight months after the constitutional 90-day period!
These impositions are in clear violation of the Constitution. With regard to GECOM’s latest position premised on the need for house-to-house registration to “clean” the voters’ list, it brings back into focus the fact that just mere weeks before the no-confidence vote on December 21, 2018, Local Government Elections (LGE) were held on November 12. Those elections were held with a list that received glowing commendation from GECOM, more especially, the three Commissioners representing the Government.
Now, in a convenient twist, the Government Commissioners are the ones who claimed, very early in the 90-day period, that the said voters’ list needs “sanitising”. Again, much has been said about the deliberateness of the Government to avoid the holding of the constitutionally-mandated elections. In doing so, it has also imposed the view that there would be no constitutional crisis after March 21.
Aside from the Opposition, many in civil society are making their voices heard in reiterating the constitutional process as upheld by the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chief Justice, and calling for the elections to be held. Some were unmistakably close to the Government in the recent past. As time progresses, more and more are standing up in defiance of the Government’s imposition for the rule of law must be respected.
Of course, in the process some are vilified, but they are not deterred. This is where inspiration and strength can be drawn from the story of Prahlad. With the deadline expiring, coincidently on Phagwah Day, with no immediate resolution for the elections to be held soonest and for impositions not to be imposed, Prahlad’s story becomes immensely relevant. All of us have a duty to do the right thing.