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Guyana president does a Buddha

Guyana?s President Bharrat Jagdeo is shedding his Socialist image, like the West Bengal CM, reports Shekhar Iyer.

india Updated: Nov 09, 2006 14:58 IST

Guyana’s socialist President Bharrat Jagdeo does not know who is Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. But, like the West Bengal Chief Minister, he is shedding his Marxist-Socialist image to woo private investment in a big way.

Groomed by legendary Marxist leader Cheddi Jaggan who won for Guyana independence from Britain, the Moscow-trained economist says, “people are not bothered about isms. They cry for development. They don’t like speeches. We need investment.”

Jagdeo held discussion with visiting Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat on ways India could increase business involvement in Guyana and in the Caribbeans. He urged India to take note of the active interest taken by China in the region.

“The United States and the UK had once sought to paint our country as another Cuba,” Jagdeo recalled in an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times.

“Elections won by our party (People’s Preogressive Party-PPP) under Jaggan in 1953 were annulled by the British and the government was even dismissed because we were deemed pro-Communist.”

“But,” Jagdeo said, “everyone today knows Guyana is not Cuba. We do not think the Bolivian experiment will work for us. We want investment. At the same time, we have no quarrel with our neigbhour. Venezeula President Hugo Chavez is doing his best for his country.”

At 42, Jagdeo is the youngest head of state of the Caricom (Caribbean Community) countries. He is of Indian descent, and bonds with his ancestors from Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh, who came as indentured labourers to work in sugar plantations in the 1900s.

Jagdeo is proud of his Indian origin. Nearly 43.5 per cent of Guyanese are of Indian origin. “Rahul Gandhi told me that my ancestors belonged to the constituency represented by his family in the Indian parliament,” he said. Congress president Sonia Gandhi handed even him a document during his visit to India in August 2003 that showed his ancestors’ origin.

Jagdeo was taken to a remote village called Pura Thakurain Masra Nawawa in the Rae Bareli district from where his fore-parents came to work as indentured labourers on the sugar plantations in then British Guiana.

“Unfortunately with a state visit, there's a lot of protocol, so I did not get a chance to see as much of the real India that I wish. But I managed to trace back my ancestors, some of them. Many had died. But I managed to meet some distant relatives and it was amazing for me. The place where they live seems to have been stuck in a time warp.”

Jagdeo said, “there were so many people, but unfortunately I couldn't communicate with them, because as you know, Guyana lost Hindi. But, I could feel the emotion. It was a touching experience for me because I keep thinking of my grandfather, who'd left India and he was only 17 years old.”

“Leaving that area, that remote part of India at 17 years of age, not knowing where he was going and having to make that distant journey to Guyana. It must have been very brave of him to do it,” he said.

As President since 1999, Jagdeo was re-elected for another five-year term on August 28, 2006, with his party, People's Progressive Party garnering 54.6 per cent of the votes. Jagdeo is keen that he does not stay in office beyond his second term. “I wish to do farming in my native village in Guyana. I will teach a bit.”

First Published: Nov 09, 2006 14:58 IST