Today is the commemoration of the Hindu festival of Phagwah, or Holi. It is a festival that has taken hold in Guyana and spread beyond the Hindu community to a point where most Guyanese participate in its celebration in one way or another. The dousing of water and smearing of red powder by roving bands of young people in urban areas, not noted for Hindu residents, has become an annual feature that is much anticipated.
However, along the way from its origins in India, there has been a gradual attenuation of the understanding of the rationale for the festival by both the descendants of the original immigrants and, not surprisingly, also in the wider Guyana populace. It has now become the excuse for a Guyanese “sport”. But this is quite unfortunate, since Hindu Festivals especially are each supposed to not only remind the participants of a historical event that might be associated with that festival, but through them to impart values that are relevant to a more harmonious functioning of society.
With Phagwah, as with almost all Hindu festivals, it is all about the “triumph of good over evil”, but that term has become such a cliché that one Minister of Education actually mixed up Phagwah with the festival of Diwali. While the maxim might be platitudinous, it does remind us that there is an existential struggle between two forces, symbolised by light and darkness; good and bad; right and wrong. While some may use the word “evil” as above, in Hindu axiology, unlike in Christianity, there is no “evil” or “bad” outside of the individual.
In the struggle between good and evil then, one cannot get away with the statement, “The Devil made me do it”. We are all responsible for our actions, and as a corollary, if “bad” is being done in our family, village or society, then one has a duty to confront it. The festival of Holi, like all the Hindu festivals, is associated with several narratives that are not only supposed to bring home the message, but to exemplify how we should act in our individual capacity.
The most popular Holi narrative is about the King Hiranyakashipu and his son, Prahalad. In summary, the king was a tyrant, and ran roughshod over his subjects with increasing fervour. Finally, he demanded that he be worshipped as the supreme power. While everyone grumbled and sulked, they went along with his megalomania – excepting for his son Prahalad. He opposed the king’s arrogance, and finally the latter was destroyed by a greater power, who had been supplicated by the son at great risk to his life and limb.
Unlike some other narratives, the story behind Holi does not need any gloss, it is as clear as the instruction in our laws about what the Returning Officer has to do when he receives the SOPs from his region: tabulate them in front of the designated stakeholders. If there is a ruler, the story advises us, who is exceeding their designated powers to the people’s detriment and the rule of law, it is the duty of everyone, even those who may be related to him by blood, to oppose him.
In Guyana, we are witnessing a naked grab for power by the incumbent APNU/AFC government through their influence over the putatively autonomous GECOM. As mentioned above, the Representation of the Peoples Act, Sec 84 lucidly spells out the process for determining the overall distribution of votes in the regions. The procedure was used in nine regions with no dispute; but, in Reg 4, the RO has refused to conduct the count in a transparent manner in front of the assembled stakeholders. Yet, the RO announced a tabulation that was accepted by the GECOM CEO.
It is clear that Granger intends to rig himself back into power. In such a scenario, the message of Holi reminds us that we have a duty to resist the move. There can be no celebration unless the move is blocked and the rule of law restored.