Mohan Ragbeer, The Indelible Red Stain: Destruction of a Tropical Paradise - A Cold War Story, pp.1390. Self Published.
A review by Frank Birbalsingh
The Incredible Red Stain: The destruction of a Tropical Paradise – a Cold War Story by Dr. Mohan Ragbeer, a physician who practises Geriatrics and Family Medicine in Hamilton, Canada, consists of Book 1 - A Journey into Darkness and Discovery : The Man from Port Mourant - which considers the career of Dr. Cheddi Jagan who was born in a sugar plantation - Port Mourant - and became a politician; Book 2 - Return to Conflict, Intrigue, Anguish, Fire, Killings, and Exodus: The Firebrand from Central Kitty - examines the political career of Forbes Burnham, a lawyer, who was born in the village of Kitty, and became the main political rival of Dr. Jagan.
As the title implies “The Incredible Red Stain” refers to the ineradicable influence of communist ideology on both Dr. Jagan – an Indian-Guyanese, and Mr. Burnham – an African-Guyanese, and the disastrous effect of their political policies on Guyana. According to Dr. Ragbeer, the red stain on Dr. Jagan led to the destruction of Guyana as a tropical paradise, while in Mr. Burnham`s case it led to fire, killings and the continuing flight of tens if not hundreds of thousands of his countrymen to form a Guyanese diaspora chiefly in North America, Britain and other parts of the West Indies.
After completing studies in dentistry, in the US, Dr. Jagan returned to Guyana in 1947, and along with his Jewish-American wife Janet Rosenberg and other Guyanese, including Mr. Burnham, formed the People's Progressive Party (PPP) which won elections in 1953 to be come the first popularly elected government in Guyana. Since Dr. Jagan and the PPP were suspected of being communist, and Guyana was still a British Caribbean colony, the PPP government was dismissed by the British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, and replaced by an interim Government of nominated members. In 1957 Dr. Jagan and the PPP again won elections, as they did yet again in 1961. By this time, however, the original, multi-racial PPP had split along ethnic lines, and was seen as a largely Indian party while Mr. Burnham's newly-named party, the People`s National Congress (PNC), was regarded as African. With the introduction of voting by proportional representation in elections, in 1964, the PPP lost power to the PNC which, through support from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and continuously rigged elections, remained in power until 1992.
The general argument of The Incredible Red Stain is that Dr. Jagan’s party - the PPP – espoused communist ideology during a period – the Cold War in the1950s and 60s – when two super-powers, the US which advocated free enterprise, and the USSR which advocated communism, controlled the world. It was then evidently impractical if not dangerous to introduce a communist régime in Guyana, a tiny country next door to the US. The danger was already illustrated by the experience of Fidel Castro who had established a communist Government in Cuba, in 1959.
According to Dr. Ragbeer, vigorous attempts were made to dissuade Dr. Jagan from his alleged communist design by far-sighted and well-intentioned Indian-Guyanese such as Dr. J.B. Singh a well known activist and philanthropist, and Tulla Hardeen, an enlightened businessman and brother-in-law of the author who was rather less well known. However, Dr. Ragbeer concludes that these attempts were unavailing, and Dr. Jagan proceeded with alleged communist policies, which provoked the US to install Mr. Burnham and the PNC as the Government of Guyana and inspire the fire, killings and exodus already mentioned.
The main lines of Dr. Ragbeer’s argument are not new: they have gained increasing currency in recent years especially from Indian-Guyanese scholars such as Baytoram Ramharack in his Against the Grain: B.S. Rai and the Politics of Guyana (2005), and Clem Seecharan in Sweetening Sugar: Sir Jock Campbell the Booker Reformer in British Guiana 1934-1966 (2005). Ramharack claims that B.S. Rai, an Indian-Guyanese lawyer and former PPP minister, might have been a more effective leader than Dr. Jagan because he was not communist, while Seecharan suggests that improvements for Guyanese sugar workers, initiated by Sir Jock Campbell, head of most sugar estates in Guyana, could have achieved change in Guyana if Dr. Jagan had cooperated instead of courting confrontation with the US. Both Ramharack and Seecharan agree with Dr, Ragbeer’s negative conclusion that Dr. Jagan was impractical, naive: “quixotic, doctrinaire and indecisive.”
There is no doubt that The Indelible Red Stain is the author’s magnum opus, “great” both in the sense of being a lifetime’s achievement for the author, one that consumed his attention from 1997 to 2010, and “great” also in size as a two-volume work with one volume stretching to 700 pages, and the other to 690. In the end, though, The Incredible Red Stain will be judged less by its politics than by its structure and writing; for while the book’s political argument is coherent, consistent (even repetitive, perhaps inevitably in such a lengthy text) it consists of at least four different strands narrated in the first person by the author. The main strand is political; a second shows the narrator as a doctor on a forensic expedition to investigate a murder deep in the Guyana forest; a third narrative offers a superbly researched history of India, while a fourth presents an autobiographical account of events in the author’s life. There are also useful maps and photographs which strengthen the documentary aspect of the work. The question is, from a structural point of view, whether these narratives cooperate to form a political, historical, sociological, autobiographical , documentary or perhaps all-combined whole.
The Indelible Red Stain certainly contains elements of an encyclopaedic compendium or pot-pourri. Dr. Ragbeer’s research is incredibly impressive, fortified both by its astonishing variety and bewildering detail of facts and figures, names, dates and verbatim dialogue.
Above all the author’s fluent and graceful writing proves remarkably sustaining over long sections such as one on Indian history from pages 131 to 280 of Book 2.