Whatever may be the motive underlying the campaign style of former President Bharrat Jagdeo, there is widespread agreement that the rhetoric, invectives and undisguised race-baiting in all his speeches bode ill for the country.
It is true that many of the PPP/C’s more extreme, grass root supporters admire Jagdeo’s aggressive style, targeting the APNU’s African-Guyanese leaders and their supporters. But APNU too has persons with extreme views and sentiments, and who consider Jagdeo’s message grave provocation. At some point their patience and tolerance could snap. This country has made much progress in relations between the two main race groups following 1997. But that improvement must not be taken for granted and there is no doubt in the minds of more sober persons that Jagdeo’s conduct and his speeches are undermining that progress.
On March 8 at Babu John, Corentyne, Jagdeo’s target was the PNCR and its leaders in “African villages”. Jagdeo told his audience then that on elections day November 28, 2011, those persons went around the African villages beating drums and calling on residents to go out and vote to throw out `coolie people’.
Despite the grave concerns expressed about that speech from no less than the Media Monitoring Unit of GECOM, Jagdeo daringly and defiantly raised the level of vitriol at the PPP/C Albion rally on April 19, predicting that if the elections are won by the opposition, the ex-military officers in the APNU+AFC leadership would link up with the [serving] Military and go to the homes of mainly Indian audience and start kicking the doors down. The message was clear: African-Guyanese are lawless, dangerous, to be feared and not to be trusted with the reins of government.
Retired Rear Admiral Best who had earlier announced his support for the opposition coalition sought to defend his former colleagues and the serving men and women of the Army. Jagdeo then pounced on Best, questioning his integrity and demanding that Best explain the source of his wealth.
Had these come up in a less tense environment or time, Jagdeo’s call would appear ludicrous. If there is any explanation to be done for source of wealth, then surely it is by Jagdeo. After all, Best is older than Jagdeo, has worked and saved for much longer than Jagdeo, bought a house lot that is one-seventh the size of Jagdeo’s, and built a house that is a fraction the size of Jagdeo’s, with none of the grandeur.
Jagdeo it seems considers that he as a former Commander-in-Chief has the right to freedom of expression and association with the PPP/C but that his former subordinate Best has none. The truth is, and his attorney Bernard De Santos, SC might wish to confirm this and advise him, the kind of speech Jagdeo is making is not protected under Article 146 of the Constitution.
There is no question that the attack on Best by Jagdeo has caused some serious reflection at the level of officers and ranks in the Defence Force.
The PPP/C with a lacklustre campaign headed by the uninspiring Ramotar-Harper pair decided to contract out its elections campaign to Jagdeo, a man who for a long time has enjoyed and abused constitutional immunity. Even if Jagdeo’s strategy were to work in the short run, it is dangerous in the longer term. The PPP/C needs to rein him in. If it does not, then it will not escape responsibility for the consequences of Jagdeo’s race and hate speeches.