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Jagdeo, opposition coalition tussle over race comments

Former President Bharrat Jagdeo.

Even as the opposition coalition condemned the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) for exploiting racial divisions earlier this week, former President Bharrat Jagdeo denied that was his motive and instead said it was his part of his anti-racism crusade.

“I take offence at someone saying let us throw these people out, let’s throw these coolie people out so when I want to fight that (you say) it’s evidence of some divisiveness” he told a news conference.

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) , in a joint statement, accused Jagdeo of appealing  to racist politics at the PPP’s commemorative event for late Presidents Cheddi and Janet Jagan held at Babu John last Sunday. “His comments about a certain group of people “being in” contradict all the pleadings of the PPP being a multi-ethnic party representative of all Guyana,” said the coalition.

The parties called Jagdeo’s remarks a “subliminal call for racist politics which is just a despicable modern call for apaan jhaat (for your own race).

But Jagdeo told a news conference Tuesday afternoon that he had no apology for highlighting that at the last election APNU had allegedly engaged in a “whisper campaign” against the PPP by beating drums early in the morning and urging people to go and vote against the East Indians.

“In the last elections they went to some of the Afro villages and beat some drums at six in the morning and say let us throw out these coolie people. Get up and go out and vote,” he said at Babu John. He reiterated that had anyone used that kind of language in the PPP, that person would have been expelled. “We are committed t fighting racism. This is what we are about. Our track record is clear on this,” he said.

At the news conference, Jagdeo remained unapologetic for his remarks, and said that it was not part of a strategy to mobilize East Indian supporters.  He urged Guyanese to talk about politics and race, rather than sweep it under the carpet.

Asked whether he had any evidence to support his claim of drum-beating and racially offensive remarks, he said he knew at least five persons. He acknowledged urging a “PPP crowd” to say that they would depart from Cheddi Jagan’s vision if we do not fight racism.”

He challenged the coalition’s presidential candidate David Granger to address his faithful and tell them that they would depart from Forbes Burnham’s vision if they do not fight racism. “They can’t tell their own base this because when they go to the whisper campaign then people would say how you told this on the platform,” he said.