OP-ED | The Norton/Jagdeo moment has been blown out of proportion

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By GHK Lall

Much has been said and written about that momentary meeting of two leading political men.  Sometimes we read too much into things, and end up making them what they are not.
I came to this early conclusion on that now famous (or notorious) camera shot of the Vice President and Opposition Leader of Guyana at arm’s length conversational distance on the occasion of a reception hosted by the EU’s Ambassador in observance of Europe Day. I hate to disappoint those who hoped for otherwise, interpreted the exchange differently, but it was not a picture of a thousand words, or of the face(s) that launched a thousand ships.  Nothing of the sort was present that evidenced a ‘heated spat’ or an in-the-face confrontation, in that diplomatic space, on an evening set aside for cocktails and conversations.

I listened and looked at that audio video of the two men, two leaders on opposite sides of the Guyana divide, brought together by circumstances to close proximity.  No! they didn’t come to blows; nor put up their dukes in taunting call to arms; nothing in the temperature of the conversation attests to such a state.  Both men were always in control of themselves, and obviously conscious of the moment and the many watching eyes.  If one of the leaders had something to lose in any deterioration of dignified comportment of himself, it stands to reason that it would have been the new Leader of the Opposition.

I was surprised that in reconciling my own assessment with others, it matched theirs.  Sober and watchful minds agreed; so also men who were physically near to the two leaders, and others attuned to politics in this country.  Just about everyone agreed that this moment has been blown out of proportion.  I am glad that this is so since the last thing that our leaders need to do is make utter fools of themselves in full public view, and on such an occasion, with so many foreign dignitaries around.


An examination of the body language of the two leaders does not provide any signals of men under duress, or who have lost control, or who were rearing to go.   That is, having a verbal scrimmage, which it was not.  The tone and pitch of their voices in the accompanying audio spoke of leaders largely aware of their surroundings, while making their respective position clear in no uncertain terms.  Taking this scrutinizing and sleuthing of mine still further, I notice that not one of the onlookers right within touching distance of the two appeared to be unduly nervous, alarmed, or tense, as if expecting a sharp blow out of nowhere to descend.  Truth be told, I sensed that some were of the belief that it was a light moment, and representing nothing out of the ordinary.

What I think did happen is that the expectations of observers on the outside (and from deep within both sides of our political fences) is for our leaders to conduct themselves in a certain manner, given where we stand as a society.  To put frankly, the expectation, even the hope, was for some hostility and aggressiveness on the part of the Opposition Leader, and bravado of like kind from the Vice President.  My sense is that polarized citizens were going beyond the point of wishing, and almost willing, that to happen.  We may wish to forget (but we can’t) our last devastating elections season.  It was not merely from March to August 2020 from counting to declaring of the result of the polls.  Rather, the more realistic time on which to concentrate our attention is from the November-December 2018 interval, just prior to the parliamentary no confidence motion, and all that was unleashed and came to pass afterwards.

Our passions and psychological wars were very evident then, and they were scorching.  Those have not eased since, and were intensified in the five-month interlude post March 2, 2020.  This is why when the Vice President and Opposition Leader come near to each other, there is the well-grounded thought that the sparks will fly, and fireworks will explode.  I would prefer not to use this kind of language at this time, given how delicately we are poised as a society.  And when it is was not so, men and women, who know better, decided to generate their own storms and walk with their ready teacups.

This is because so much of the extraordinary (as in fevered energy) is expected of, and rests on the shoulders of the Opposition Leader. It is because the Vice President-recognized far and wide as the de facto spirit and heartbeat of the ruling PPP Government-is for his part, relied upon to stand his ground and hold the fort won at such great cost, and after such a grueling struggle.  As said earlier, this is the reason that so much ado was made about nothing, where that picture and the associated expressions from the leaders are concerned.  Partisans on both sides had to have something to grasp at, if only to instill some helpful confidence to their respective positions and outlooks.

When I consider the sum of what has made the rounds since the picture of the two men at close quarters came to light, I arrive at a most troubling place.  For more than a few to make so much of a momentary sharing between two pivotal leaders is an indication of how shaky the foundations of this society are.  It is as though there is this pent-up nervous energy waiting to be released into action; as though many are hovering for a development or call to race out of the paddocks and into what either we haven’t spent the time to weigh sensibly; or lack the interest and patience to care anymore.  This is how misinterpretations and misjudgments come about, how irreversible mistakes are made.

It would be wiser to detect more of the sobriety needed currently.  Unsurprisingly, I think that that is a long time from coming.  There is no psychic value inside.

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