By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Guyana has lost a stalwart in the passing of Feroze Mohamed. He joined the anti-colonial struggle (1960s) and was forefront in the struggle against the PNC dictatorship (1966 to 1992). He was hard working as a PPP activist and as Minister of government.
Perhaps, as some critics said, Ministry of Home Affairs was not ideal for him. His appointment attracted a lot of discussion with critics saying although he had a lot of power, he lacked the skills to effectuate it. But Feroze tried his best with limited resources at a most difficult ministry that was replete with corruption and indiscipline. He did try to clean up the mess and to de-institutionalize a culture of abuses of citizens. He had to transform personnel, re-training them to become professional, to obey laws, and show respect for democratic concepts. After his term ended in December 1997, Feroze said he had enough and did not wish to serve in government again. With crime continuing and with the anti-Indian pogrom that accompanied the December 1997 elections, Feroze decided to call it a day as a Minister.
Feroze brought infectious energy to his work whether at Freedom House or in the Ministry he headed. He worked long hours and unlike other Ministers he found time to meet people. He was very modest, extremely honest, and caring. He put people before self. He was a man of principles, uncompromising on ideology and in opposing racism as well as championing issues pertaining to the working class. He was a socialist to the core, to the point of perfection in the mold of Jagan and Janet determined to make Guyana a better place and championing the fight against poverty and for workers’ power. But like Jagan, he apparently did not quite understand the implication of socialism in Guyana’s geo-politics and or the concept of realpolitik vis-à-vis the West. I will share anecdotes below.
During the 1980s thru 1990s, whenever I had teaching holidays in New York (where I would join two other colleagues, Vassan Ramracha and Baytoram Ramharack, in the anti-dictatorial struggle), I would journey to Guyana to join the freedom struggle or engage in academic research, visiting Freedom House or Michael Forde bookshop to acquire materials. I used to notice Feroze (as well as other PPP stalwarts) in the office but did not interact with him. However, from 1991 onwards especially for the 1997, and 2001 elections, I engaged him quite a lot for research materials and that exercise continued thereafter but with less frequency. I believed he ran (or played leading roles in) those campaigns. He was very helpful directing me to Thunder, Mirror, various PPP publications, and the works of Jagan and Janet. Feroze himself wrote a few articles in PPP organs. I was on the picket line with him a few times and experienced first hand harassment, intimidation, and violence. And I faintly recall his coming to Port Mourant to offer support for the 1977 teachers and students strike (that commenced at Corentyne High School) of which I was a student leader.
On his commitment to socialism, I remember an interaction I had with Feroze (December 1991 or earl 1992). I had returned from a 1991 summer travel tour for research purposes of the former Soviet Union (Republics) and several east bloc countries, and interacted with Feroze about difficult living conditions in those countries. (I met many foreign students in Moscow and near Lumumba University and learned about their troubles including ethnic violence. It was hard to get basic foods, including in the rural areas, akin to the experience in Guyana during the 1980s).
Feroze was very defensive about the Soviet Union blaming some of its problems on the West that imposed sanctions on the Soviet bloc. In another anecdotal encounter in 1996, I engaged Feroze wanting information about the PPP administration and the coming elections in Guyana. I got a sense that Feroze, Cheddi and other communists were not very pleased with Gorbachev for presiding over the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union. He spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the elections in Russia on how the communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov was cheated barely losing to Boris Yeltsin. Indeed the international press said there was fraud. Other left wing candidates, including the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirnovsky, got some 32% of the votes. As Feroze pointed out, if the votes had not split, Zyuganov would have won. What stood out was his obsession with communism and Russia when all was not well in Guyana. Off course as he noted, communists or socialists, including those in Guyana, were not a threat to the West or the business community and his subscription to that ideology was his commitment to struggle for a better life for the working class. As those of us who study at universities in America can attest, Washington (or even London) fear socialists (communists by any name) and don’t distinguish between good or bad intentioned ones. They were undermined and or toppled from office everywhere in the West including in Guyana, not once but twice (1953 and 1964).
On his commitment to socialist ideals, I remember arriving at parliament building to hear his eulogy on Jagan laced with quotes from Marx and Lenin and even likening Cheddi with them. Those of us who did graduate studies in political science and or history (and even sociology) was required to study Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Luxembourg, and other outstanding communists in depth. It seemed that Feroze studied Marx and Lenin well although he never discussed Marxism/Leninism with me. Apparently, he did not recognize that socialism was the root cause of Guyana’s political and socio-economic problems. I later found out how the Jagan tribute was put together at the Ministry of Information including inputs from an excommunicated member. Feroze was also at the Jagan cremation at Babu Jahan cheering his then close colleague Ralph Ramkarran who gave a magnificent stirring final farewell to Jagan.
Not many are aware that Feroze, like several of his comrades in opposition to the PNC, suffered scarring physical abuse at the hands of the Burnham and Hoyte dictatorships. He had his fair share of abuses from PNC (House of Israel) thugs, police and para-military goons. A normal form of abuse from thugs was to dip an opponent’s head in the toilet bowl or a waste drawn. Many opponents suffered that fate, with Laurie Lewis sanctioning it. But neither Cheddi nor Feroze sought to bring up charges against the perpetrators of that heinous crime.
Another mistake of Feroze and his colleagues was in preparing for crisis should they be removed from office through a fraudulent election and or prevented from taking office as a result of electoral fraud. Guyana is facing a crisis of tragic proportions over the recently held March 2 elections with the defeated incumbent unwilling to give up power, a repeat of the situation in October 1992. Neither Feroze nor successors in the Home Ministry planned for how their party would respond to such a situation. They had enough time, almost 23 years in office, to prepare for such a crisis. There is need for an urgent, effective, efficient, and bold response.
Feroze was held in high esteem among colleagues including by those who left (like Moses, Khemraj, Joey, Ralph, among others) the PPP. Those he helped trained and with whom he worked spoke fondly of him while he was ailing. He was a very good parliamentarian. It was noted that he inspired the youths to serve the party with dedication. At one time, he held leadership position in the PPP’s youth organization. His death comes a month after that of his bosom friend Komal Chand who also served the party and country well. They both dedicated their lives to the country they loved. They struggled to help improve the lives of countless. And they both left an indelible legacy of service and advocacy.
Whatever his shortcomings, Feroze’s contributions to the country are enormous and will forever be appreciated. The life he lived and the legacy he has created will be felt for generations to come.