The independent province of Guyana was forged in the ruse of contention. It was in 1946 that Dr Cheddi Jagan and his wife Janet, together with Jocelyn Hubbard and Ashton Chase formed the Political Affairs Committee, and it was out of the CAP that the first mass-based nationalist party in what was then Guiana Britain in 1950 – The People’s Progressive Party. Three years later, a new constitution was in place that first introduced a universal vote and made possible internal self-government, and in the election that followed in April 1953, the newly formed PPP won with a handsome majority. Supporters of the party reflected the multi-ethnicity of the society, but more importantly included the colony’s two largest groups, the Indians and the Africans. The PPP was led by Cheddi Jagan, while chaired by Forbes Burnham. The secretary was Janet Jagan.
The tenor of the new administration was a determined left-wing, and this coupled with the fact that the Jagans and some other senior party members were seen as communist persuasion did nothing to bring the PPP government to the Office Colonial. In a Cold War environment, with Winston Churchill as British Prime Minister, the new government was not meant to last long, and within a few months the constitution had been suspended and all democratic developments abandoned. Thus in October 1953 the British Guiana was returned to government by the Governor, who at the same time prevented any increase in independence.
By 1957, the British were required to return to a democratic format, albeit within a more limited governmental framework, and at an election held that year, Cheddi Jagan’s PPP won a majority again. However, he was no longer the only party to win the 1953 election; the PPP had split in 1955, with the separatist group led by Forbes Burnham, who took many African members with him. After losing his part of the party in the 1957 opinion poll, Burnham formed the National People’s Congress, and it was in the context of this split that the country’s subsequent full steps towards independence were taken.
1960 Constitutional Conference
The first formal discussions concerning independence were held in London in 1960 under the chairmanship of the Secretary of the Settlement Iain McLeod. Dr Jagan led the PPP delegation consisting of Brindley Benn and Balram Singh Rai, while the opposition PNC was represented by Burnham and WOR Kendall. Jai Narine Singh attended on behalf of the Independence Movement, and two nominated members of the Legislative Council were also present.
They were all interested in moving towards independence, but not in exactly the same way. The PPP wanted independence in 1961, while Jai Narine Singh sought independence outside the Commonwealth. Burnham’s situation was a little more complicated; he argued for full internal self-government immediately, with independence as part of the West Indies Federation. However, the PPP had already refused to join the Federation when it was formed in 1958, and said the country could always join the Federation after independence.
Several other issues divided the parties, but where the issue of independence itself was at issue, McLeod effectively rejected the PPP’s position by announcing that internal self-government would be based on a new constitution coming into force in August. 1961.
By the 1961 election, a new party was in the mix, the United Police, led by businessman Peter D’Aguiar. In addition to support from the Portuguese community and big business men, Amerindians also attracted to its fold. On the PNC, by this point, in conjunction with the other parties, Burnham was also campaigning for independence directly. In the end, the PPP won another solid constituency victory, or a first-past-the-post electoral system.
1962 and 1963 Constitutional Conferences
Before the 1962 conference was held (it was postponed more than once) unrest had broken out. The ethnic divide that had now received political expression was the fuel for the upheavals, which continued until 1964. The United States’ concern over independence for what Washington saw as a communist government, put pressure on the British to prevent the outcome. while some of its agencies intervened in the local situation.
This time the conference was chaired by the new Colonial Secretary Duncan Sandys, but the gap between the PPP government and the opposition was not bridged. The PNC and the UF wanted elections held before independence, while the PPP wanted immediate independence. The voting age and the electoral system were also the bones of contention, and were raised at earlier conferences. Unsurprisingly, the meeting ended without any agreement.
The parties reconvened in 1963, with positions unchanged, though on this occasion, with independence farther on the horizon than ever, all parties eventually signed the decision into Sandys’ hands. What the Colony Secretary decided was considered a betrayal by the PPP, because he decided to surrender everything to the opposition, and nothing to the government. Before allowing independence, an election was to be held under a proportional representation (PR) system, rather than the current constituency that Jagan preferred; while the voting age was to remain at 21, compared to 18 for which the PPP had argued.
1964 elections; 1965 Constitutional Conference
In the 1964 elections, the PPP won a plurality of votes; however, a coalition eventually formed between the PNC and the UF gave them the overall majority, and so Burnham became the new premier alliance with D’Aguiar as finance minister.
The final Constitutional Conference was held in November 1965, where the date for independence was set – May 26, 1966. The PPP did not send a delegation because, among other things, it wanted the state of emergency to be raised first, but this was not made. This conference was chaired by Anthony Greenwood, British Foreign Development Minister, PNC and UF members, Sir Richard Luyt (the governor), David Rose, then Governor’s adviser on Defense, Lionel Luckhoo and Sonny Ramphal, the Attorney . -General. According to Hamilton Green, one of the attendees, “May 26 had no historical significance. Burnham wanted Independence to be February due to February’s historic slave rebellion, and D’Aguiar wanted August since it was August (from 1834) that the British had granted enfranchisement. May was the middle ground between the two months, a compromise.
The motto of One People, One Nation, One Destiny had been endorsed by Brindley Benn as far back as 1958, while the flag was the winning design of American vet, Whitney Smith. A decision on the National Anthem was longer in the making, both in terms of words and music, but at the end of a competitive process the words written by the Rev. Archibald Luker were selected with music by Cyril G Potter. The name Guyana was decided as far back as 1962.
The Independence celebrations lasted for a week, with pageantry, a float parade, cultural performances, parties, fireworks and all the various ceremonies. The highlight was the lowering of the British flag at midnight on May 25, and the raising of the Golden Arrowhead, and in a different sense, by the infamous Jagan-Burnham cuddle.
The political formalities followed on May 26 when the Duke of Kent, representing the Queen, read a speech on her behalf, and subsequently handed over the constitutional instruments in which Guyana was recognized as an independent nation, to Prime Minister Forbes Burnham.