BALRAM SINGH RAI – By Ralph Ramkarran


Ralph Ramkarran

Ralph Ramkarran

Posted on June 6, 2015 by Ralph Ramkarran

Guyanese who have served their country with distinction can once again look forward to being recognized. National Awards to three persons, Brynn Pollard and Llewelyn John, the latter a vintage politician going back to the 1940s, and Hamilton Green, a politician from the 1950s with a controversial past, revive the possibility that distinguished service given in the distant past by those ignored by the PPP can still be recognized.

I refer to Fenton Ramsahoye and Balram Singh Rai, of the same era as the above three, but this article is about the latter. The atmosphere may now be more conducive and the time opportune to raise the issue of Rai. 

Balram Singh Rai has remained an iconic political figure in Guyana’s political history, even though the last political event in which he was involved, the general elections of 1964, occurred fifty years ago.

Balram Singh Rai - Home Affairs Minister 1961-62

Balram Singh Rai – Home Affairs Minister 1961-62

A book, Against the Grain, by Baytoram Ramharak, was published in 2005 about him. Although sympathy for Rai drips from its pages, it indicates the considerable interest that his name still evokes. His great successes and enormous contribution as well as the respect in which he was held across the board, come out clearly. Apart from Cheddi Jagan, no other leader of that era has been subject to such academic scrutiny.

Fully contextualized is his Hindu faith of the Arya Samaj persusion, which was probably the cultural and religious foundation for his anti-communism and defence of Indian interests against PPP’s ‘communism.’ At that time, among some circles in the PPP, intolerance was high for anti-communist views. Had Rai been active today his defence of ethnic interests in the same manner would not have been unusual. Eusi Kwayana, who has spoken well of Rai, was substantially more vocal during Rai’s time in defence of African ethnic interests and is today regarded as an ‘elder.’ I understand that Rai made an effort at reconciliation with Cheddi Jagan in 1992 but received no response.

Rai had an early interest in politics. Together with Ashton Chase and Eusi Kwayana, he is the only other towering political figure who is still alive today from the 1947 era when he supported Cheddi Jagan in his successful contest for a seat in the legislature. He opposed the PPP at the elections in 1953.

By 1957 he was a well-known lawyer. He emerged into political prominence when he won a seat in the legislature on behalf of the PPP in that year and served as Minister of Education and later, of Home Affairs, in both of which he performed with distinction. It was when he decided to challenge Brindley Benn, for the post of Chairman at the PPP’s Congress in 1962, that all hell broke loose.

At that time the Chairman was the next most important position after Leader, the post which Jagan held. Brindley Benn, a prominent African Guyanese, had held the post of Chairman for some time. He was supported by the PPP leadership because he was popular, having emerged from the youth ranks and, a well-liked Minister of Agriculture and an African Guyanese, an important consideration in the context of Guyana’s divisive politics. Although Rai had become a respected and popular figure by 1962, he could not compete in the eyes of the leadership with Benn’s credentials, even omitting the issue of ethnicity.

The campaign against Rai mounted by the PPP leadership became increasingly bitter and culminated in his defeat at the Congress. The famous statement by Fenton Ramsahoye, then Attorney General, that “the PPP works in devious ways,” was made at the Congress. Rai was expelled from the PPP for accusatory remarks he had made.

His Justice Party secured only about 4,000 votes in the 1964 elections. He then migrated to the UK and has remained silent ever since. He is in his nineties and the state of his health is not known.

The PPP should have long recognized Rai’s contribution to Guyana. Brindley Benn left the PPP in 1968, a mere six years after, and became a fierce critic for 20 years. Welcomed back in 1992, he served as High Commissioner to Canada and in other positions. He was recognized with a national award. Ranji Chandisingh, considered to be Jagan’s deputy in the 1970s, crossed over to the PNC in 1977 with great bitterness, causing much consternation and upheaval in the entire PPP. He served as a Vice President, General Secretary of the PNC and Ambassador to the USSR. He remained loyal to the PNC to the end. However, at Chandisingh’s funeral in 2009, Donald Ramotar, then General Secretary of the PPP, spoke for the PPP in glowing terms about Chandisingh.

We should not allow Rai’s contribution to Guyana to be defined by the PPP’s antagonism, which has already devolved to another generation. Rai’s achievements in government have been recognized by many outside the PPP. Hamilton Green, Eusi Kwayana, Llewelyn John and Ashton Chase have become recognized as national icons. The time has come for Balram Singh Rai to be given due recognition in some way for his contribution to Guyana – to be literally brought in from the cold – and for his parliamentary pension, which he has sought for many years, to be paid to him. The Government’s magnanimity, not only for Rai, but for so many others deliberately ignored by the PPP, including Fenton Ramsahoye, would go a long way in correcting egregious historical omissions.

This entry was posted in Discussion, History, People, Politics and tagged balram singh rai, guyana, guyanese, guyanese politics, history, Opinion, politics, PPP by Ralph Ramkarran. Bookmark the permalink.

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  • De Castro  On 06/10/2015 at 1:58 am

    My friend “to Caesar what is Caesar s to God what is God s.
    The evil that men do live after them
    The good often buried with their BONES.

    Their DNA usually lives “forever” so let it be.

    You are indeed a historian and deserve the credit for wishing to rewriting Guyana history which is a mere 49 years old.

    However it is “political” to honour these “politicians” just yet.
    Am sure they will eventually be remembered now
    Thanks for the historical enlightenment.

    Que sera

    • BenK  On 06/10/2015 at 8:44 am

      OK, Mr De Castro, I so hate when you are right. but do keep up the good work with your far sightedness. You done it again.

      • De Castro  On 06/10/2015 at 9:32 am

        My friend thanks the kind words of encouragement.

        Hey am Guyanese born and bred …..a country boy whose grew up with grandmother who was my mentor……although illiterate a philosopher.😇

        Her DNA lives on so will mine…in my 4 and 6 grandchildren.

        Us old farts are writing/rewriting Guyana s history for next generations of Guyanese.


  • Thinker  On 06/10/2015 at 7:43 am

    There is an important fact that Ramkarran does not elaborate on: Rai was an anti-communist while Brindley Been is recorded as saying It is easier to stop tomorrow than to stop communism. Rai would have challenged Cheddi Jagan next. Politically Jagan had to curtail him. Did not Rai also bring up some issue about his own Brahmin origins. I heard that as a small boy..Ramkarran should also talk about his own dad who identified as a Marxist. An avowed anti-communist within the leadership of the PPP, hoping to get Indian support was a no-go from the start. Cheddi and Janet were no fools.

  • Deen  On 06/10/2015 at 7:56 am

    Balsam Singh Rai was an outstanding figure in Guyana’s political history. His performance as Minister of Education was notably remembered when he discontinued the precondition to be a teacher required being a Christian. He had the profile of being a great leader. He was a man of role model character and integrity. His silence over the years speaks volumes of a man of virtue not of venom. Guyana lost a fine politician when he left. He was one of the few political figures in Guyana that I respected.

    • Thinker  On 06/11/2015 at 11:36 pm

      The problem is that he flew too close to the sun.

    • Thinker  On 06/13/2015 at 12:45 am

      Just to clarify matters: it was PPP policy to end the precondition of being Christian to enter the teaching service. Not merely a bright idea coming from Rai. Same thing for the policy of recognising pandits and imans as marriage officers. Ramkarran talks of PPP antagonism to Rai but at the time it was certainly justified. Rai could not just be allowed to parachute on to the progressive train of the PPP and then divert it to his own ends. Mercifully he didnt have to deal with a Saddam Hussein, a Stalin or any of the Korean Kims. We are not here to discuss how nice a person he was. We have to understand the historical background..

  • goodluck34  On 06/10/2015 at 6:46 pm

    Truly, it is indeed a tragedy when ones memory fails them. I remember that guy,
    Balram Singh Rai (GOD BLESS HIM).Very likeable, approachable by all who had the good fortune of meeting him.

    Adolphus Goodluck.

  • Clive Bettencourt Gomes  On 06/13/2015 at 6:30 am

    Balram Singh Rai often cane into our store Bettencourts Unique on Water Street. He was always immaculately attired. I had many conversations with him,never did we discuss politics.I liked him.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/13/2015 at 4:53 pm

    Thinker: “The problem is that he flew too close to the sun.” – To my Guyanese way of thinking about Guyanese politics – That was the United Force Party – Peter D’Aguiar ….. Did you intend to say ….. please clarify??

  • Thinker  On 06/13/2015 at 6:28 pm

    In other words the sun was Cheddi and Rai by trying to take over the PPP Chairmanship and being a non-communist Indo-Guyanese was preparing himself for leadership. He would have been more popular than Ranji Chandisingh or Boysie Ramkarran, if anything had happened to Cheddi. Moses Bhagwan, the PPP heir-apparent suffered a similar fate when he dared disagree with the party line as laid down by Cheddi and Janet. Nothing personal. He was a nice guy too. Having experienced Burnham in 1955, Cheddi could not allow anyone to challenge his authority. Benn, on the other hand was trusted to the degree that he could never challenge Cheddi for the leadership. Potential Indo leaders had to be kept firmly in line. Like Icarus, Rai flew too high too quickly and overplayed his hand, Not suprisingly he got his feathers burnt. Happens all the time. Ochoa in Cuba was just too popular for Castro to put up with him for long.

  • de castro  On 06/14/2015 at 2:31 am

    Over the years I have changed my mind on “dictatorship” governments.
    Both in Cuba Russia and now China……east west détente.
    Capitalism v communism now socialism doctrines.
    Some flocks need powerful Sheppard others survive with weaker Sheppard.
    But the flock survives…even without the right to vote…bla bla 🐐
    An interesting perspective on Guyana s past leadership challenges.
    How international politricks influenced our early leaders thinking.
    Let’s hope today’s leaders learn from the mistakes of past
    by not repeating them.

    Que sera

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