The call for power sharing is a just one
By G. Nurse
Should colonial immigration policy determine who wins elections in Guyana?
Abu Bakr, in his letter to SN on December
20 (What is it that Mr. Corbin’s detractors want?), touches on a matter that needs greater ventilation in the Great
Guyana Debate. He makes reference to colonial immigration policy and how it has placed the PNCR at an inherent electoral disadvantage.
plain words, Bakr is saying that the large number of shiploads of indentured labourers imported from India to colonial Guyana
have fortuitously led to an Indo-Guyanese numerical advantage.
Indian immigration began in 1838 and continued mostly uninterrupted
In that time, over 239,000 Indian labourers were imported into Guyana, by far the largest amount in the English-speaking
and non-English-speaking Caribbean. Of this number, only 30% returned to the land of their birth.
By the first post-war
population census in 1946, persons of Indian descent comprised 42% of the population and those of wholly African descent (excluding
those of mixed origin) totaled 39%. By 1960, the gap widened, with 49% of the population of Indian origin and 33% of African.
1970, Indo-Guyanese comprised the majority of the population (52%). The widening gap is attributed mostly to higher birth
rates among Indo-Guyanese women, not to PPP tactics or Cheddi Jagan’s brilliance.
There’s an additional factor
to consider. Guyana’s history (even before the 1960s) is littered with incidents of racial tension, conflict and clashes,
many of which were triggered by the colonial strategy of divide-and-rule.
From our early history, therefore, racial identity
and group consciousness were firmly entrenched.
By the onset of race-based politics in Guyana in 1950s, Jagan’s PPP
had inherited from our colonial history not only an Indian numerical superiority, but also a group of people who were cohesive
The reasons therefore why the electoral mathematics favour the PPP have little to do with the party’s
political skills or strategy.
It had mostly to do with decisions made in London and in the mansions of colonial governors
and sugar barons.
History, in a word, presented the PPP with a gift. The problem is that this gift was wrapped in the blood,
sweat and tears of not only Indian indentured labourers but of other Guyanese groups as well.
The point is that the quirks
of our colonial past cannot be legitimate grounds to keep any group in Guyana out of political power, unrepresented in the
highest national decision-making forums. And the longer elections in Guyana remain nothing more than an ethnic census, the
more one-party rule becomes unjustifiable.
The predicament that some in the PNCR leadership may face is they assume that
in asking for power-sharing they are asking the PPP for a donation. As such, they are easily discomforted if accused of seeking
power through the back door, or if told that the PNCR can never win an election.
The PNCR and others have to be convinced
that the call for power sharing is a just call for a level playing field for all Guyanese, a playing field made uneven by
the decisions of our colonial masters, a playing field that has unfairly given one group exclusive rights to something that
belongs to all Guyanese.
This is not an argument to deny Indo-Guyanese their due. It is another justification for a new
political system in Guyana, one in which all Guyanese can meaningfully participate.