As a journalist/cum political commentator with over 40 years experience, I reported on hundreds of speeches for the mass media. Mr. Ralph Ramkarran’s speech on Oct 8 in Queens was about the best speech I heard from a Guyanese on the politics of Guyana in the diaspora since the time of Dr. Jagan.
This speech is rated in the same category as one I heard from then President Jagdeo about 17 years ago in Queens. Ramkarran comes from a family of political figures. His father, Boysie, a witty and sharp, charismatic Member of Parliament and former Minister under Jagan, was de facto deputy to Jagan. There was a widespread appeal for the former politician to re-enter the political arena having been excommunicated by his former colleagues.
The speech of Mr. Ramkarran, who is viewed as an elder statesman by the New York diaspora, was terrific. He stayed on point and supported his contentions with facts or details. He gave a deep and detailed description (narration) of electoral fraud and the role played by the diaspora and local forces within Guyana to expose the fraud and to champion the return of democratic governance. He paid glowing tributes to the work of the diaspora and the varied forces within Guyana (including religious and civic groups, political parties, GUARD, etc.) that assisted in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in the homeland. He thanked all of them for their work. He did not bash anyone, and he was even kind to former President Jagdeo praising his handling of the economy although the two had a running battle within and outside the PPP over party leadership and perceived corruption.
Aside from the speech itself, something also needed to be said about the atmosphere of the hall – it was very quiet. People were attentive to Mr. Ramkarran throughout the 45 minutes speech and the 35 mins question and answer period. In the end, Ramkarran asked the diaspora to stay focused on Guyana to ensure democracy is never threatened again. Ramkarran also urges racial unity and power sharing as a solution to our political conflict. He wants the nation to come together and for there to be a multi-party government that represents the interest of all the ethnic groups.
Ramkarran thanked the organizers for inviting him to speak on the subject and for taking time and effort in organizing such a session that benefits the diaspora. He was very impressed with the large turnout. He told the large gathering he was honored to speak to them on such an important subject as democracy.
There was much decorum in the hall. A lot of deference and respect was shown to the former PPP stalwart who was ex-communicated from a party he helped to build. No negative response or any heckling was heard throughout his lengthy presentation. The only other time I heard Mr. Rakarran was at the funeral of Dr. Jagan in March 1997 at Babu Jahan (John) after I flew from Manila, Philippines to pay respects to the fallen freedom fighter. That was one of the finest speeches paying tribute to the late Cheddi in Port Mourant. This speech in Richmond Hill was also exceptional in tone, tenor, delivery and content. It was a very serious speech replete with a compendium of facts. It was not laced with humour or witty comments and it was not interrupted by applause or laughter. But it was not boring unlike speeches made by other Guyanese politicians come regularly to New York.
Ramkarran was very fluent. He spoke with authority on the subject of election rigging, the rise of the racist authoritarian state, and the struggle for the restoration of democracy and free and fair election. He knew his political history although he is not a historian. The speech was very clear, well supported with facts and anecdotes, logically presented, and epigrammatic. The audience listened in rapt attention.
Ramkarran was very articulate throughout the presentation. And after the speech, as he mingled and socialized with the large gathering and posing for pictures, he was very chatty and conversational. In his speech and in his exchanges, he was compendious, engaging and very eloquent. He spoke frankly and fearlessly.
Before the speech, I queried from the audience their views on Mr. Ramkarran and after his presentation, I inquired about their views of it. What he said impressed everyone who gathered at the hall that Sunday afternoon and later that evening at another location for a reception for the eminent lawyer. As many said, “the man spoke well”. It was one of the more striking speeches by a Guyanese in the diaspora. Many said “that man should have run as President for PPP”. And almost everyone felt had he been the PPP Presidential candidate in 2011 and or 2015, the PPP would have retained the government with a large majority. No negatives were heard about the speech. There were only praises for his presentation. But there was disappointment when Ramkarran stated he is not interested in active PPP politics. He was urged to return to the PPP and throw his hat in the Presidential ring come next election and or to form a political or civic organization. Ramkarran said he does not want to attacked by his former party colleagues in publicly expressing interest in politics or returning to his former party that he and his father helped build. He did not want forces in the PPP to feel uncomfortable with his appearance in New York or giving speeches within Guyana interpreting it as a return to active politics. He said he enjoys his non-political work and his writings, and that he has a lot of followers of his writings who offer him a lot of encouragement to write and analyze events. He did say that he is available to give talks if invited. He emphasized he is not actively seeking political office. But if approached, and if the public or the PPP feels he has a role to lay, he would give it consideration. “It is not something I would actively pursue”, he reiterated.
However, in response to follow up questions, he did not completely rule out a return to some kind of political engagement including working with the PPP if the party atmosphere is amenable . The door was left ajar for some kind of political relationship or engagement (perhaps as a civic) with PPP if the leadership of that party wishes his assistance. But he reiterated he would not grovel towards anyone for a position to help the party or the nation. Ralph Ramkarran and his father played such an important role in Guyana’s politics and in shaping and building the PPP. He has much to offer. The public urges him to reconsider his non-involvement in politics.
With regards to how Mr. Ramkarran is viewed by the New York diaspora, people expressed respect for the former politician, now elder statesman. They say he has demonstrated outstanding character and leadership throughout his public life. There were only praises — a person of integrity and someone who has earned the respect of the Guyanese nation through his long years of public service — at Gecom, in parliament, and serving in several commissions as well as in private law practice. He is seen as non-racial and who wishes to build a society free of corruption. As many commented, he would be the ideal candidate for President and many volunteered to set up an exploratory committee towards that goal.
In sum, there was a lot of enthusiasm among the diaspora towards Ramkarran. He brings a breath of fresh air to political discourse on Guyana in the diaspora. It was an amazing presentation. As some commented, other politicians visiting the diaspora should learn to speak in that manner – respectful, honest, and to the point. The attendees were grateful to the organizers to bring a fresh face from Guyana to New York rather than the same old figures that have lost appeal among the diaspora.
Dr. VISHNU BISRAM IS AN INDEPENDENT COLUMNIST. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.