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Abuse has no place in political discourse- Ralph Ramkarran

The slow dismantling of Cheddi Jagan’s legacy of reasoned debate as a method of convincing opponents and educating supporters began at the turn of the century. It created the opening for the introduction of  an alternative approach to political discourse – the cuss-down. Many had hoped that with the change in Government, this particularly degrading and offensive type of verbal assault would come to a welcome end. It was felt that necessity would dictate a change of course because it was believed that the cuss-down tactic caused the PPP to lose votes at the last elections. However, it appears to have been given a new lease of life at the rally at Babu John on March 3, in the name of Cheddi Jagan.

Cheddi Jagan always reserved his anger for systems and policies, not people. He fought against colonialism with the greatest zeal and the sharpest language, but never abused colonial officials and, in fact, worked with them between 1957 and 1964. He condemned imperialism not only in Guyana but worldwide. But he was unfailingly polite to its representatives. The same Cheddi Jagan proposed coalitions with the PNC and good relations with the United States throughout his life, never insulting or abusing their leaders.

During the authoritarian era a large number of people defected from the PPP and joined the opposition for opportunistic reasons. These were painful experiences. Cheddi Jagan’s attitude was revealed in the case of Patrick Alleyne of the now defunct Sawmill and Forest Workers Union, a PPP activist and Freedom House employee. He defected to the PNC in the early 1970s. The PNC made the usual propaganda. But he had little else to offer and after a while he dropped out of active politics. A few years later he suddenly turned up at Freedom House, was given a chair and desk by Cheddi, and commenced working. No one,  except Cheddi, knew what work he did, since he reported only to Cheddi. Many were furious. Alleyne worked for a year or two at Freedom House and defected again to the PNC with a second splash in the newspapers! He is the only person who defected twice from the PPP, facilitated by Cheddi Jagan himself. He was not the only defector who was welcomed back.

Ranji Chandisingh, deputy leader of the PPP, was arguably the most important defector to the PNC amidst great bitterness in 1978. He remained loyal to the PNC until he died after serving as a Vice President and General Secretary under Burnham. Many leaders of the PPP attended his funeral just over two years ago and General Secretary Donald Ramotar paid a glowing tribute on behalf of the Party.

It is extremely hurtful when one of your colleagues and friends leaves and criticizes. One is tempted to lash out in anger. But the PPP would be far better served by taking a leaf out of Cheddi’s book. He was hurt, distressed and angry, like everyone else, but held his head high and answered the argument rather than abusing the person, as he did with Chandisingh. He knew that politics was all about winning an argument.