Democracy at stake?

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Deeply ingrained in its ethics is Mauritius’s strong adherence to the rule of law and the spirit of democracy. There is therefore legitimate cause for concern after the recent rampage in an emblematic building in the world’s oldest democracy, which stands as an example for countries which genuinely believe in the spirit of freedom and law. Hence a keen interest in how the law is going to handle the issue in the coming days, and the importance of an in-depth analysis of facts and the interests of different stakeholders. Emotional reaction and hasty conclusions drawn from round-the-clock repetition of brief media reporting are certainly not conducive to a serene analysis of events.

On January 6th one policeman died of his injuries, an unarmed woman demonstrator was shot and killed by the police, and three other protesters were crushed in the stampede. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund felt concerned about the size of pro-Trump crowd expected to gather in protest. The Democrat majority in the House of Representatives and the DC police controlled by a mayor, an ardent opponent of Trump, did not respond to his request. Most of the 2200 members of Capitol Police were told to stay at home for the day. When riots broke out, Capitol Police had only 400 police officers on hand. Police Chief Steven Sund has resigned. The truth has to be established over the lack of response from the authorities, which led the situation to spin out of control.

In 2002, in the state of Gujarat in India, the erstwhile Chief Minister, who is now PM of India, asked Delhi’s central government headed by the Congress party to send troops to handle ethnic riots sparked by the death of travellers in the Godhra train burning incident that occurred on the morning of 27 February 2002. 59 pilgrims and karsevaks returning from Ayodhya were killed in a fire inside the Sabarmati Express train near the Godhra railway station. No troops were sent and local police lost control of the situation. The ruling party and media pinned all the blame on the Chief Minister, and constantly used the ethnic riots to thwart the political ambition of Narendra Modi to run for the post of Prime Minister.

A propensity for exaggeration is pervasive in mainstream leftist American media and related political circles, a habit to stick the label of fascism, Mussolini and Hitler on democratic leaders. To some commentators, it was a blip with Mussolini’s 1922 ‘March on Rome’; others spoke of attempted coup or full-blown coup d’Etat. Only past right-wing nationalist examples of subversion are brandished randomly in the press, not Communist regimes’ crimes nor the brutality of neo-fascist regimes ruled by a toxic combination of military and extremist bigots. Seeing Republican Donald Trump as a new Mussolini is as hilarious as branding Centrist Macron or Biden as Stalin.

The attack on the Capitol was not a March on Rome nor was it a popular uprising in the style of Tianamen Square which ended with the massacre of thousands of protesters. Nor was it an anti-despot insurrection like in Tehran and Caracas among other places that left thousands dead in the streets and many others in prison in the past few years. Neither was it ‘unprecedented in a democracy’ as described by European Union foreign policy spokesman Joseph Borrell.

Such grand statements erase the memory of the seizure of the Spanish Parliament in Madrid in 1981 by the armed gang of Colonel Antonio Tejero, who barged in with rifles, shouting “Que se callen, los conios!” (Shut up, you bas…..”), and forced all MPs and ministers to leave Parliament, hands up.

A few years earlier in 1968, students’ uprising and a lost referendum drove the much respected Général de Gaulle to leave Paris and go to Germany for two days – for respite or flight? In 1919 only blockades set up by armed police forces in front of the Elysée prevented Yellow Vest protesters from storming into the presidential palace in Paris.

The assault on the US Capitol was a mini-riot that disrupted the democratic process of formalizing Biden’s victory for a few hours, and the national legislative body resumed its work in full serenity. The 2020 crowds, a majority of Democrat voters, who pillaged shops and burned neighbourhoods in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ upheavals and asking for Trump to resign, were not described as pro-Democrat rioters in the press.

The swearing-in ceremony of Joe Biden took place with a sample of showbiz glitterati celebrities in bright colours – albeit a romanticized showcase of ‘diversity’ and gender – which feeds the phantasm of press editorials abroad parroting US academia and media obsession with minorities, ethnicity and colour.

The leftist crowd, some of them known for peddling anti-capitalist propaganda, was dressed up in Ralph Lauren suits and other expensive brand clothes. A song in English by a white blonde singer, another in Spanish by a singer of migrant stock, and ending with an African-American young lady in a yellow Prada dress reading out a poem with obvious Martin Luther King undertones. She has had the opportunity to develop her talents in a free society and is lucky that her forefathers did not leave America and embark on a ship to live in the new state of Liberia founded in Africa as a new home for descendants of slaves in 1822, a land of Liberty, a utopia sucked into the maelstrom of African wilderness and passions despite U.S funds poured into it.

American democracy is alive and well, with robust institutions capable of dealing with any political crisis within a constitutional framework. Politics is not showbiz. At the end of the day, politics is a serious matter driven by Reason and by people with lofty ideals in a democracy, not by ideological romanticism, idealists, and dreamers of utopia and diktats of religion.

The recent event at the Capitol injected new vigour in the hate-America crowd across the world who are rubbing their hands in glee to write off the US as no longer a viable model of leadership in the international arena. They are looking forward to bury democracy and replace it with models of authoritarian rule and tyranny which are rejected by the younger generation from Hong Kong and Alger to Baghdad and Caracas, but which find favourable echo in some people comfortably enjoying the blessings of free societies in big countries and small islands. Popular uprisings in oppressive regimes send shivers down the spine of dictators and tyrants, who are easily overwhelmed and resort to violent crackdowns. Democracies with solid foundations have the strength to face protests and restore sanity.

Indeed, it matters a lot to Mauritians to follow the outcome of events and observe whether a spirit of justice prevails in assessing responsibility for the assault on the US Capitol. A sound conclusion which sets itself above the motivations of scheming rival political parties is expected. An awareness of various forces at work in Mauritius, invisible silent conflicts operating underground, legitimate claims for effective policies, the stakes of geopolitics and the superior interests of the country in the long term should also be of prime concern to the public.

* Published in print edition on 26 January 2021

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