Martin Luther King Jr., Walter Rodney and Guyanese East Indians

This article mentions an article by Moses Bhagwan.  Here it is:   Being Indian in Guyana- The challenges – Moses Bhagwan   < click

Martin Luther King Jr., Walter Rodney and Guyanese East Indians


The week just gone has marked the 50th anniversary of the famous speech of Martin Luther King Jr. that has been given the title, “I Have a Dream.” The world got to see the video as the US celebrated the 50th anniversary of the march and speech. What was clear for all eyes to see was the multi-racial attendance when King spoke. There were lots of white folks in attendance.

Part of the problem Martin Luther King Jr. had with the Black Panther Party was over that same issue. He never gave up hope that white folks would come around one day to accepting that there was white racism in America and the US must confront it as a united people. In multi-racial nations, groups discriminated against run the risk of alienating large sections of the population if they succumb to the dogma that it is their struggle and their struggle is best left for them to see it through.   

This is where we enter a polemic on the current role of East Indians. African Guyanese activists who feel that their ethnic community is being discriminated against endure psychological moments that sometimes take an inelegant shape. They see their race group being discriminated against in 21st century Guyana, and they point to Black activists against the Burnham Government who weakened the PNC administration, that eventually led to the loss of power by the PNC party which was predominantly African.

In the midst of East Indian silence, they then transform their frustration onto a generation of African radicals from the seventies and say; “you are to be blamed,” And the person that they point to is an internationally respected expert on African civilization, Walter Rodney. Much of the bitter bickering against Walter Rodney by a section of the African Guyanese movement is that it was the participation of Rodney and the WPA in an Indian resistance bandwagon, led by Indianized groups like the PPP, GAWU, GADM, DLM etc., that undermined the rule of the PNC from the seventies until the end of the Hoyte presidency.

When looking at the present state of African marginalization, these sections of the African human rights movement return to history and see Walter Rodney and the WPA as the blame. The complex question that enters the polemic is would this blame game and return to history have been possible if the East Indians would have been supportive in large numbers of the grievances that African Guyanese are constantly adumbrating?

One feels that the answer is no.  One would like to think that if the African movement in Guyana today that speaks of racial discrimination would be joined by other ethnic constituencies, there may not have been these acidic condemnations of Rodney as witnessed by a young activist in Linden two weeks ago that found extreme dissatisfaction in well known Linden citizen, Frank Fyffe, to the point that Fyffe had to write a public letter expressing his disagreement.

Nationally known African activist, Ras Tom Dalgetty remains the only one so far from the African Guyanese community to publicly state in a letter to the press that it is his belief that Walter Rodney should not have confronted the Burnham Government.

Moses Bhagwan, in a long letter published on September 10, 2006 in this newspaper and the Stabroek News, best conveyed to Guyana the context of the politics of Martin Luther King Jr. It is titled, “On Being Indian in Guyana.” It is a masterpiece in the study of the problematic of race relations in Guyana. It is one of the finest pieces of scholarly analysis to come out of post-1992 Guyana. It ought to be read by every East Indian who has an interest in seeing Guyana into the future.

Link to  article: Being Indian in Guyana- The challenges – Moses Bhagwan 

It was written by a Guyanese activist who has given more than forty years of his life to this country. Bhagwan argues that in Guyanese sociology you cannot neatly have a compartmentalized existence of the Africans and Indians. It is that the dialectics in Guyana make the freedom of each of these two ethnic communities intricately intertwined. In other words, Bhagwan is telling East Indians in Guyana what King Jr. told white people when he made his speech.

If Indians had accepted the core argument of Moses Bhagwan, then the Rodney versus Burnham controversy may not have arisen. That still leaves the question as to if it was wrong for Africans to have participated in a struggle in the seventies and eighties that was essentially an East Indian problem. The answer is no. And Bhagwan would say that now is the time for Guyanese Indians to emulate the call of Martin Luther King Jr.

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  • Thinker  On 09/02/2013 at 9:05 pm

    The PPP of the Jagans portrayed itself as a Marxist-Leninist party. Cheddie Jagan himself educated Guyanese young people on the workings of Imperialism as part of their general understanding of the world. It was absolutely fascinating to listen to him. His vision of a “planned economy” and the example of the rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union made many feel that it was a model for the future development of Guyana. “Scientific socialism” gave a sense of historical inevitability. So issues of race as far as Afro-Guyanese socialists were concerned were considered minor. I was particularly horrified when abroad, people would meet me and automatically presume I was pro-PNC and therefore “anti-Indian”. The Burnham regime was a minority group which had conducted fraudulent elections and was somewhat akin to apartheid South Africa. The defection of Ranji Chandisingh and Vincent Teekah to the PNC was incomprehensible. All this time it was clear that many of the prominent people in the PPP had no real understanding of Marxism. When the charismatic Walter Rodney came on the scene, one had the impression that here was someone who really knew what he was talking about and wasn’t just interested in mere electoral politics. Many wanted to see him succeed and save Guyana from its backward ethnic cleavages. How naïve we were on all things. That someone like Roger Luncheon could state publicly that no Afro-Guyanese was qualified for a high post in the diplomatic service (without any sort of retraction from the PPP) made me want to sit down by the rivers of Babylon and weep. In the present state of affairs Afro-Guyanese need to concentrate on economic empowerment.

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