Stirring Tributes at Funeral Ceremony

by: Michelle Nurse

( Courtesy of the Guyana Chronicle - March 11, 1997)

They quoted the Bible, Shakespeare, Khalil Gibran and Indian scholar and philosopher, Dr. Radhakrishnan yesterday.

And they all concurred: he was a great man, a fighter of the working class and the downtrodden. Some called him the greatest Guyanese of the 20th century.

Whatever the sentiment, whoever the messenger, those who publicly paid homage to the late President Cheddi Jagan yesterday, did so with respect and admiration for a man whose life was fraught with battles, the last of which ended at 1:23 a.m. March 6 at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington.

In death, he was taken back to the place where he fought some of his more crucial battles for his country, including those for independence, democracy and justice.

Yesterday morning, at a more than three-hour Public Buildings funeral service, his wife, Mrs. Janet Jagan, and son Dr. Cheddi Jagan Jnr., government ministers and members of the Opposition, representatives of the religious community and others, saluted Dr. Jagan.

Said President Samuel Hinds: "Time has borne away our dear comrade and captain, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, a Guyana patriot unto his death; still as enthusiastic, still as full of fervour, still as passionately committed to the Guyanese nation, the Guyanese people as when he first hoisted the flag for a people's party 50 years ago."

Saying farewell to "our President, our leader, out teacher, the father of our nation", Mr. Hinds said the greatest tribute Guyanese could pay to the late President, would be to carry on along the paths as he has indicated.

"Dr. Jagan's spirit and governance will continue. I and my Cabinet will continue, as a President and government in the service of all our people," Hinds promised.

"In Dr. Jagan's death, our nation is experiencing great agony - the long, disciplined, reverent lines of people from all walks of life, all ages and all races, paying their respects, must have been a great consolidation and reassurance to his dear wife and family and to us all. That service to the people and nation will not go unrecognised.

"Our nation shall go forward in greater unity, stronger in all ways because of the life and death of Dr. Cheddi Jagan. He would want nothing better. It was his life's work to weld...[fax transmission unclear].

Information Minister, Mr. Moses Nagamootoo who chaired the ceremony said the "brightest sun in the galaxy of our lives has been eclipsed."

He too noted the "unprecedented solidarity and togetherness" of the nation in their time of bereavement.

"The death of President Jagan has touched us all and has brought out in us out true humanity as a compassionate and united people. Never has there been so much concern and os much love in our land.

"Our life will not be the same again. It has been cleansed by the supreme and selfless sacrifice of the greatest and the best son that has ever lived in this land", Nagamootoo said.

Agriculture Minister, Mr. Reepu Daman Persuad who led prayers for the late President said: "Dr. Jagan, an integral part of our history, moved among us and touched us deeply."

The Leader of Government business in the House said in his glowing tribute that while the late President's mortal body will shortly be consumed, "his great and unequalled contribution to his country will remain indelibly imprinted in our hearts and minds."

Persaud noted Dr. Jagan has been described as a humanist, a consistent and tenacious fighter for peace, for freedom, for political and economic independence, and for Caribbean and Third World integration with the ultimate objective of social justice.

Dr. Jagan, who would have celebrated 50 years as a Parliamentarian on December 18 this year, entered the Legislative Council in 1947 after victory at the 1947 general elections. At the time he was 29, the youngest among some prominent personalities.

Credited with changing the dull tone of the debates in the Legislative Council in the colonial days, Dr. Jagan, according to Persaud, filled volumed with constructive proposals and ideas for the development of Guyana.

During his parliamentary life, Dr. Jagan served on both sides of the House and contributions were always informed, decisive and innovative, the minister recalled.

When Guyana attained independence in 1966, he was designated Guyana's first leader of the Opposition, a post he held until he became President in 1992.

During that "turbulent" period and in sometimes "dramatic" ways, the late President used the parliamentary forum to sensitise the nation, he said.

"His aggressive advocacy to reverse undemocratic and unilateral interventions alien to parliamentary norms led to the people's leader being muzzled for almost four years. Indomitable and courageous, Dr. Jagan defied the odds and vehemently insisted on his constitutional right to address the National Assembly. He spared no opportunity to intervene and represent the rights of the electorate.

"On one occasion, in flagrant disregard for the standing orders, a contemptuous attempt was mad to prevent him from voting. I recall vividly my own intervention on a point of...[fax transmission unclear]...privilege and, relying on established authority, successfully argued that this veteran Parliamentarian was entitled to have his vote recorded. Characteristically, Dr. Jagan refused to acquiesce to any imposition which he was convince was unjust and wrong," Persaud said.

In recent times, Dr. Jagan addressed the National Assembly shortly after his party's victory at the historic October 1992 polls and again when Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Guyana.

Among other paying tribute to the President were cofounder of the Political Affairs Committee (the forerunner to the People's Progressive Party), Mr. Ashton Chase; Education Minister Dale Bisnauth who recited excerpts from National Poet, Mr. Martin Carter's 'Poems of Resistance'; Public Relations Advisor to the President, Mr. Vic Insanally; Home Affairs Minister Feroze Mohamed who read the eulogy and Opposition representatives - People's National Congress Leader Desmond Hoyte; Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine of the Working People's Alliance and Mr. Manzoor Nadir of the United Force.

Minister Mohamed described Dr. Jagan as a "great man with an indomitable spirit".l

The President was a leader with understanding and whether he was working on practical, political work or theoretical strategy, his unswerving commitment to principle was always foremost, he said.

The late Guyanese leader imbued the PPP with the revolutionary spirit and always advocated politics of the working people, the Minister noted in his lengthy tribute.

The final years of Dr. Jagan's life, he added, were most satisfying, politically, since he had the opportunity to make some of his dreams come true.

Paying homage in song were students of the Marigold Choir, West Ruimveldt Primary, Bishop's High School and Queen's College, as well as Rupert Singh who rendered 'Hands across Guyana'.

Prayers were also read by Anglican Bishop Randolph George and Al Haj Fazeel Mohamed Ferouz.

Several Heads of State from Caribbean countries attended the ceremony including Jamaica Prime Minister Percival Patterson; Prime Minister Edison James of Dominica; Sir James Mitchell of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister Basdeo Panday of Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St. Kitts and Nevis, Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. Keith Mitchell, Suriname President Jules Wijdenbosch and his predecessor, Ronald Venetian.

They, along with Mrs. Janet Jagan, her son, Dr. Cheddi Jagan Jnr., government ministers, members of the opposition, representative of religious organisations and other dignitaries, were seated on the balcony of the Public Buildings, overlooking the canopy where the President's body lay.