Naipaul and Guyana’s Democracy Movement

Balkrishna Naipaul (left)

Dr Vishnu Bisram

It is with deep sadness that I join with others to pay tribute to Balkrishna Naipaul, cousin of the iconic novelists VS and brother SS Naipaul.

BK Naipaul was very supportive of Guyanese in North America and global causes, especially humanitarian ones and democracy. The two Naipual brothers wrote about lack of democracy in Guyana. Bal Naipaul played a role in the Guyana democracy movement and he encouraged those of us who were deeply immersed in that struggle. He condemned human rights violations in Guyana during the dictatorship.

My relationship with BK Naipaul began in the early 1980s through an introduction by Guyanese patriot Ramesh Kalicharran in Queens. We participated in several academic conferences including the one I co-organized for the 150th anniversary of Indian indentureship to Trinidad in 1995 and same for 150th to Guyana in 1988. We also presented papers and interacted at varied conferences in Trinidad, NY, and India. He was greatly admired for his formidable writing skills. He published several books on varied subjects.

He was a Trini and Canadian patriot but he was also an Indian nationalist and an internationalist. And he constantly reached out to other people, regardless of nationalities or ethnicities. He was one of the founders of the Global Organization of People of Indian origin (GOPIO).

The NY Guyanese relationship with BK Naipaul grew as he joined the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Guyana. We worked together on several projects related to Guyana. He was the editor of a global publication that I used to focus on rights violations in Guyana during the 1980s.

Although a Trini, BK Naipaul might as well be called Guyanese because he spent considerable amount of time among Guyanese in Canada and New York since the 1980s patronizing their events. And he stayed at the home of Guyanese Kali whenever he was in New York including when he was posted at the UN; all of this time in NY was among Guyanese who were involved in the Guyana struggle or Indo-Caribbean cultural activities. He visited Guyana a few times including during the period of the dictatorship and after the restoration of democracy. He played a significant role in championing democracy for Guyana and was an ardent supporter of Dr. Cheddi Jagan. He promoted Jagan’s New World Economic Order at the UN as well as in his writings and travels overseas. Naipaul’s was an unmistakable voice — in advocating for a strong United Nations and the interests of poor developing countries. He, like Jagan, championed a more just and peaceful world.

Throughout his decades-long tenure in public and community service, he had a very unique and visible presence immersed in community affairs, rare among public servants and scholars. He made himself accessible to the public appearing on many platforms. He was willing to lend a helping hand on anything that would benefit the public and or promote democracy or cross-cultural understanding. He participated in several India Day parades where Guyanese human rights violation were highlighted and joined Guyanese in celebrations in NY.

Bal was a very strong advocate of the UN, and he would quietly talked to diplomats about rights violations in Guyana. He advanced UN interests on issues ranging from peace and security and conflict resolution to protection of religious sites, refugees, human rights, and humanitarian issues.  No matter what its shortcomings and problems, he was supportive of the UN and affiliated bodies like  UNESCO, UNDP, ICC, ICJ, World Court, and other institutions to which the world turns for solutions to some of the most intractable problems.

Bal’s work is entirely unblemished. Wherever he spoke and or worked, he did so with enormous graciousness‚ integrity and distinction. He handled discussion calmly and studiously, the hallmarks of a great diplomat. He was called in several times to resolve conflicts in NY among warring groups in various organizations, and he performed adeptly.

Bal was also a deeply religious man. I remember sometime around January 1996 initiating with Mr. Kali and other Guyanese an Akand Yajna (40 days of continuous prayers) on Liberty Ave.

Several Guyanese showered glowing tributes. Dr. Tara Singh, President of the Guyana Democracy Project, described him as an “outstanding human being”.  He commented: “Bal’s passing is a devastating loss to the Indo-Caribbean community. I learn so much from him about faith and other subjects”.

Indian Diaspora Council International President Ashook Ramsaran stated: “Bal was a renowned historian and writer with an unique and revealing insight on ‘our journeys’, a deeply motivated thinker who was deliberate and thoughtful in his speeches, essays and writings. He was a meticulous researcher-historian”.

Bal Naipaul provided a lot of support to Guyanese in the struggle for restoration of democracy in their homeland. He applauded the work of Kali, Yash Pal Soi, myself, Pandit Ramlalll, Arjune Karshan, and others who dedicated time M, resources, and energy to liberate Guyana. His contributions to Guyana will not be forgotten. And while he was honored by the Indo-Guyanese community in NY, regrettably his role was never acknowledged by succeeding Guyana governments.

He will be sorely missed. His legacy will live through his writings and his work.