Sunday, June 28, 2009

Obituary-Ranji Chandisingh, January 5, 1930 − June 15, 2009

Obituary-Ranji Chandisingh, January 5, 1930 − June 15, 2009

Posted By Stabroek staff On June 28, 2009 @ 5:09 am In Features, Sunday | No Comments
Ranji Chandisingh, January 5, 1930 − June 15, 2009

Ranji Chandisingh, a former Vice-President of Guyana, Ambassador to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Minister of the Government, died on June 15, aged 79.

Ranji Chandisingh was a communist. He became seriously involved in politics in London when he was appointed editor of Caribbean News – a newspaper that had been launched in 1952 by the Jamaica-born, Royal Air Force World War II veteran William ‘Billy’ Strachan as the left-wing answer to the foreign edition of the right-wing Gleaner newspaper. Strachan was a well-known member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and was also President of the London Branch of the Caribbean Labour Congress. He and Chandisingh became comrades.
When, for example, Strachan addressed the CPGB’s ‘Conference of the Communist and Workers Parties within the Sphere of British Imperialism’ in April 1954, speaking on ‘Terror in the West Indies,’ Chandisingh, referring to the suspension of the constitution, deployment of British troops and the state of emergency, spoke on ‘Terror in British Guiana.’ Billy Strachan recommended Chandisingh to his friends, Cheddi and Janet Jagan, who were the leader and general secretary, respectively, of the People’s Progressive Party which had returned to office when democratic elections were restored in 1957.

Chandisingh started his political career in 1958 as journalist on the PPP’s Thunder, then still a newspaper; it later became a quarterly journal and he was appointed editor. He was elected a member of the Legislative Assembly for the Lower Demerara River constituency, which included East Bank Demerara, in the August 1961 general elections. At the age of 31, he was appointed Minister of Labour, Health and Housing in the Council of Ministers in the PPP’s 1961-64 administration.

The labour ministry in early 1960s, however, was a bed of thorns. There was turmoil among the country’s three main political parties of the day – the People’s Progressive Party, the People’s National Congress and the United Force – behind which not only were the major trade unions mobilised but the major ethnic groups were also aligned. Political contests could readily trigger a chain reaction that would degenerate into racial rivalries that were played out vicariously through labour disputes and, ultimately, in street and village violence. In 1962, 1963 and 1964, it was not uncommon for those disputes to erupt into strikes, arson, murder, riot and sabotage.

Holding the labour portfolio, Ranji Chandisingh was in the eye of the storm. Particularly in 1963, his introduction of the Labour Relations Bill which sought to “ensure the compulsory recognition by employers as bargaining agents on behalf of workers, those unions which, after due enquiry, appear to the Minister of Labour to be truly representative of the workers in the particular industry…” ignited a political and industrial firestorm.

Richard Ishmael, the President of the British Guiana Trades Union Council, the displacement of whose union – the pro-UF Manpower Citizens Association by the pro-PPP Guiana Agricultural Workers Union – was thought to be the ultimate objective of the proposed legislation, opposed the bill and coaxed the BGTUC into a general strike on April 18, 1963. The protracted nature of this strike is now known to have been ensured with the aid of CIA money. It was not until Robert Willis, a good officer dispatched by the British TUC, was invited to Georgetown that an agreement was signed at Red House on July 6, ending the strike after 80 days. Failed in its bid to gain recognition in the sugar industry through legislation, GAWU tried other means, calling a strike against the British Guiana Sugar Producers’ Association, the next year in February 1964.
Ranji Chandisingh [1]

Ranji Chandisingh

It was thought that the strike was really a pretext for the PPP’s political campaign to derail the proposed general election under the system of proportional representation which, by the ethnic arithmetic of the day, the PPP was not expected to win. Given the pattern of political relations and the volatile situation in the country at that time, the GAWU strike quickly degenerated into communal violence that continued even after it was called off in July. In December that year, the PPP was replaced in office by a PNC-UF coalition administration.

Chandisingh, in his own words, considered it his mission in the PPP “to help develop cadres with a communist outlook, loyal to Marxism-Leninism and the principles of proletarian internationalism.” Thus, he became the party’s leading ideologue and was appointed director of studies of the ideological institute, Accabre College, first at Success Village, ECD, then at Land of Canaan Village, EBD. He was also a member of the party’s General Council and Executive Committee and served as Secretary for Education, Secretary of the New Guyana Company Ltd, the PPP’s commercial arm, and was a member of the delegation to the Inter-American Conference for Freedom and Democracy in Venezuela in 1961.

Chandisingh’s life-changing experience occurred in the mid-1970s as the result of personal, national and international changes. The PNC, to mark the 10th anniversary of its accession to office in December 1974, published its Declaration of Sophia, a manifesto proclaiming among other things, that its goal was to build socialism in Guyana. By that time, Guyana had become a republic and had started to develop diplomatic and trade relations with the USSR, PRC, DPRK, GDR, Cuba and other communist states, support anti-colonial liberation movements and play a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement. The administration also embarked on a programme of nationalisation of the “commanding heights” of the economy.

When Dr Cheddi Jagan, then designated as general secretary of the PPP, went to Havana, Cuba, to attend a conference of Latin American communist parties, he was persuaded by Cuban Vice-President Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba to modify the PPP’s traditional hostility to the PNC which the international socialist movement was convinced had taken the road to Marxism-Leninism. As a result, at its 25th anniversary conference in August 1975 at Annandale, the PPP announced a change in its political approach from one of non-cooperation and civil resistance to one of “critical support.”

This new situation provided an opportunity for Chandisingh, and others who had become disenchanted with the PPP’s policies, to leave that party and join the PNC. Chandisingh published his letter of resignation to the PPP General Secretary and Central Committee in which, in some detail, he explained his reasons for leaving the PPP. In a later PNC elections pamphlet, he wrote:
As a socialist, I functioned in the PPP for 18 years, believing that the leadership of that party was committed to the cause of socialism. To my deep regret and dismay, however, I discovered from bitter experience – at a crucial period in Guyana’s history when the PNC has demonstrated its commitment to socialist transformation and development in deeds, not merely in words – that the PPP leaders were less interested in socialism and the unity and well-being of the Guyanese people than in furthering their ambitions for personal power and prestige.”

Chandisingh, became Director of Studies of the Cuffy Ideological Institute − the PNC’s answer to the Accabre College. He was appointed a member of the party’s Central Executive Committee and was later to serve as General Secretary. Government appointments followed. He became Minister of Higher Education in 1980; the following year, he became Minister of Education, Social Development and Culture and, in 1984, he was appointed Vice-President, National Development and Deputy Prime Minister. In a peculiar, Guyanese, political paradox, he served as a member of the PNC delegation to negotiate a reconciliation and unity agreement with his old colleagues in the PPP. He was later the appointed Guyana’s Ambassador to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and had the responsibility, ironically, to close the mission in a country that he admired.

He published several articles in the Thunder journal, including ‘The Erosion of Civil Liberties’ (1969) and ‘Socialism and Democracy’ (1975). His two major pamphlets included: Why I left the PPP (1976); and Education in the Revolution for Socialist Transformation and Development, which originally, was delivered as an address to the 3rd Biennial Congress of the People’s National Congress in August 1979.

Ranji Chandisingh was born in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago, the son of Dr Charles Washington and Amelia Chandisingh. His uncle, Joseph Chamberlain Chandisingh served as principal of the Corentyne High School which was later named after him. He was educated at the Buxton Methodist School on the East Coast Demerara and the Modern High School, in Georgetown and, at the age of 16 years, went up to Harvard University in the USA in 1946. Intending, initially, to study the natural sciences in order to pursue a medical career like his father, he was caught up in the post-war political ferment on campus and switched to the Social Sciences, graduating with a BA degree in Social Science in 1949. He was the only Guyanese known to have received the Lenin Centenary Award from the USSR in 1970 to mark the anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, regarded as the founder of the Soviet state.

Ranji Chandisingh is survived by his wife Veronica, née Persaud, and his son Yuri,

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