Cheddi Jagan Research Centre
Dedicated to Cheddi & Janet Jagan
CJRC Banner

Biography of Dr. Cheddi Jagan

Iron Rule and Treachery

Cheddi Jagan being arrested in1954
Cheddi Jagan being arrested in1954

A wave of terror against the PPP, its leaders and the working people ensued. Cheddi Jagan's  movements were restricted. As part of the Party's civil disobedience campaign he broke the restriction order by the colonialists, was arrested and sent to jail for six months. But not before he had his say in the dock.   

"Today," he declared, "Guyana is a vast prison. Whether I am outside or inside matters little. Prisons hold no terror for me. I expect no justice from this or any other Court. Justice has been dead since the British troops landed. I am hoping for the day when there will be greater justice in Guiana."

"Thunder" articles by
Dr. Jagan about this period

At this juncture, Guyana experienced a bitter period in its history and many of its current problems can find their roots in the sad days of British occupation. The British used all its experience at subversion and division to maintain its rule. It did everything possible to break the PPP and its mass support. And there were many willing opportunists of the local brand ready to do their bidding. The most significant success of the British was the split in the PPP in 1955. At a time when the people needed a united national front against colonialism, it was the same time that Forbes Burnham and others saw it fit to split the movement in pursuit of personal ambitions. It was clear that the British engendered the spilt.

When the British thought it had everything under control, and had manipulated the constituency boundaries, it held general elections in 1957. The results astonished them and proved to all who had the support of the people. The PPP won 9 of the fourteen seats, the PNC three. In fact the votes received by Cheddi Jagan were more than the combined support of the 5 opposition seats.

               Read more about this period: A Piece Of Guyana's History by Janet Jagan

In Office but Not in Power

Members of the 1957 Cabinet with Sir Ralph Grey
Members of the 1957 Cabinet with Sir Ralph Grey

The years 1957 -1964 were the period of the PPP in office but not in power. The government was deemed PPP, but the real power remained in the hands of the Governor. Cheddi Jagan became Minister of Trade and Industry in 1957. Janet Jagan became Minister of Labour, Health and Housing.

During the period from 1957-1961 Cheddi Jagan had the opportunity for the first time to embark upon the program of social and economic reform for which he had advocated over the years.

Although the PPP did not hold the main Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Administration, it was successful in opening up agriculture, providing benefits to workers and improved the health and education system. Because of its goals reached and its representation to the working people, it had no problems winning the 1961 general elections.

It was Dr. Jagan's dream that all Guianese would have a chance at attaining a higher education and that is how the University of Guyana was opened in 1963, on a shoe string budget. Classes were held after school hours at Queen's College and because of this critics called it "Jagan's Night School."  It would be impossible to contemplate the University education in Guyana without paying tribute to its architect, Dr. Cheddi Jagan who had the vision and the commitment, in the face of militant opposition, to persevere in its realization.  The University started then with 164 students; and by a strange coincidence, a similar number laid the foundations of the Berbice Campus which was opened in November 2000.

On the constitutional front the PPP embarked on a campaign for cabinet status and independence. This  fight for Guyana’s independence had remained the core objective of the People’s Progressive Party from its conception.

The Fires Started

Cheddi Jagan after winning
Cheddi & Janet Jagan after winning
the 1961 General Elections.

The 1961 general elections was contested by three parties  - the People's Progressive Party, the People's National Congress led by Forbes Burnham and the United Force led by Peter d"Aguiar. The PPP won 20 out of the 35 seats despite the "gerrymandered" constituencies changes made by the British Government in 1960. The PNC won 11 and the UF 4.

Cheddi Jagan was asked to form the government and was designated Premier and Minister of Development and Planning. On October 25, 1961 Cheddi Jagan met with President John F. Kennedy in Washington. On December 18, 1961 he addressed the 4th Committee of the United Nations calling for the British Government to decide on a date for Independence. His address set a precedent at the United Nations in allowing other delegates from non-self-governing countries the right to address the UN as petitioners.

The next three years, 1961-1964, were a period of strife and disturbances, the principle object being to remove the PPP from government and to prevent Independence while they were in power, even though it had been understood that the party that won the elections would lead the country to Independence.

Meeting with President Kennedy
Meeting with President Kennedy in 1961
/Addressing the United Nations in 1961

The PNC raised high the banner that under no circumstance were the British to consider independence under Jagan.  They concentrated their attacks on the PPP and its leading members who were harassed, framed on trumped-up charges, jailed. They plotted and planned and unearthed every conceivable trick to destabilise the country. The communist bogey was always used as a pretext. The British and local reactionaries rallied to stop the march for independence. They succeeded in dividing the country along ethnic lines and in the early sixties the country erupted in bitter racial conflicts. It was all done in the name of freedom and liberty.

The pretext for the riots and fire in February 1962 was the PPP budget with new taxation proposals. These same tax proposals were described by the New York Times as "courageous and economically sound" and by the London Times as also "courageous and certainly not far from what Guiana must have."

The disturbances failed to bring down the PPP Government, but they succeeded in postponing the Constitutional Conference slated for May 1962 to October 1962. The PNC and UF opposed independence and called for new elections under a system of proportional representation. The PPP rejected this call but put forward many other compromise proposals. Talks broke down. The breakup of the 1962 Conference was the signal for the violence of 1963.