Editorial

Here comes the
Politics of Division, again
 

 

To the best of our knowledge, no one has challenged Paul Bérenger against his becoming Prime Minister on account of the ‘colour of his skin’. If anything, he actually became Prime Minister during 2003-05 without any reference to skin colour. Yet, Paul Bérenger has put up this argument in his recent campaign speeches claiming that despite the colour of his skin, he will become Prime Minister and that there will be respect for meritocracy if he were voted to power.

An argument of the sort is merely a figment of his imagination. It is calculated to create the impression that someone from the opposite camp would have tried to frustrate his aspiration to become PM on this ground whereas meritocracy should have taken him there. We have to spot out who the fool could have taken any stand of the sort. Of course, no one has done such a thing. The sympathy which is calculated to be earned through this sham defence can only have its roots in an objective to create racial animosity by depicting Paul Bérenger in the position of a victim of racial prejudice. His personal attitude and conduct, apparently, has nothing to do with his ability (to rally a majority of voters behind him as it behoves in the democratic game) or otherwise to secure this high office.

 

 

 

This is only part of the overall plot to thrust the coming general elections into the grips of divisive politics. When Rama Sithanen failed to secure a ticket for the elections, this was portrayed in part of the media as a victimisation of the Tamil-speaking community. No less. No question was raised as to serious differences that could have arisen between Rama Sithanen and his party on specific points that would have made reconciliation impossible. The sheer fact of his not having failed to secure a ticket has been passed on by that part of the media and by members of the MMM as an affront to the local Tamil-speaking community. This kind of generalisation was politically correct and no doubt calculated to alienate this specific community from Labour, if possible, abstracting from the fact that the Alliance de l’Avenir has fielded other candidates from the Tamil-speaking group. In other words, for Labour to continue to remain in the good books of the community, it was sufficient that it should have yielded to whatever unreasonable demands Rama Sithanen would have imposed upon it. Clearly, the agenda of that part of the media and the MMM (which has everything to gain in the process) is to portray Labour as the villain without going into the pains of verifying the actual facts that led to this situation.

 

After the Labour-PMSD-MSM alliance was formed, Catholic priest Jocelyn Grégoire ventilated his anger against Labour for not having included the Creole language in the schools curricula whereas he was considering that this should have been done before dissolution of the last Parliament. He has been vindicating that the Afro-Mauritian Creole community should be identified with the Creole language. It is as if others who also speak the Creole language should not identify themselves with it. Let’s leave that debate aside because he condemns them to their original languages, whether they are conversant in them or not. In the past days, he has gone further. At a recent meeting of the Federation des Creoles Mauriciens (FCM), which he heads, in Pamplemousses at the Arche de Noé, he stated, in the wake of the coming elections, that he will now stage a war “pour l’égalité des minorités”. He added that he will “ne pas pouvoir croiser les bras en regardant la majorité piétiner les minorités”.

 

He had referred earlier to the need for an adequate representation of Creoles in the public service. He could not but have referred to the Hindus when he alleged that the majority would be trampling down the minorities. Besides, he is championing the cause of minorities, implying, in other words, that the majority community would be responsible for all the unknown ills he is attributing to the minorities. Can the intended juxtaposition of Hindus against all the other minorities be treated as simply innocent? In clear terms, the statement is being made that Hindus would have got the better of it at the expense of minorities, without any evidence being adduced in favour of such a grave allegation. One thing is certain: if some Hindu leader had said the equivalent of what he has said with regard to the other communities, the media would have targeted and brought down such a leader to shame immediately for creating dissension among the communities and the DPP would have instituted proceedings. There has been none of that and we are expected to continue believing that press when it presents itself as the champion of the national cause.

 

In the case of the priest, we do not even know whether the Church has summoned him to give him some coaching on elementary bedside manners that public figures, being representatives of the Church, should adopt in a multi-ethnic society. Any convenient condoning by the Church of such an unacceptable attitude would run the risk of damaging the image of the Church in the public. It could have referred him to an interview given to this newspaper some time earlier by the Chairman of the Public Service Commission (himself a Catholic) to the effect that the public service cannot recruit but from among those who actually submit applications for posts in the public sector purely on the basis of qualifications and merit. The PSC was not in the presence of any directive requiring it to recruit specific numbers from specific communities. Briefly, the whole of the current manoeuvre may be perceived as calculated to pitch part of the population in a position of hatred against the other, seen as “beneficiaries” of we-don’t-know-what. It looks suspiciously like an all-out move being mounted by part of the media and certain leaders to discredit the Alliance de l’Avenir so as to favour the other grouping, namely the Alliance du Coeur. A whole battery of ammunitions is being lashed out to bring down Labour and its allies after its failed alliance with the MMM. It now becomes clearer why some very keen advocates of a Labour-MMM alliance were claiming that such an alliance would be in the interest of national unity; the underlying threat was that, short of such an alliance, the forces of divisive politics would be activated.

 

As if all of the above were not enough to consolidate the politics of divisiveness, the concerned newspapers have not been at rest to derive the maximum profit out of the situation. In the Week-End newspaper of last Sunday, Harish Boodhoo, a former politician has, presumably with the Alliance de l’Avenir in the background, stated that Mauritius “does not belong only to the Vaishs”, identifying the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Commissioner of Police, among other key post holders, as belonging to this group. It is clear where the wedge is being driven. It amounts to an appeal not only to the non-Hindus to unite against those he has named as belonging to the particular group who would be “accaparer” the top positions. It really amounts to an appeal to all the others within the Hindu community to rise against them or, squarely enough, against the Alliance de l’Avenir which is being portrayed as the promoter of this kind of interest.

While it may be said that the elections of 2005 had relegated for good this kind of divisiveness within the Hindus to the remote past to which it really belongs, this is a renewed attempt to bring back the fissures that had threatened to tear apart the Hindu community in the 1970s when clannish vindications for the sake of personal power were rife, pitching one caste group against another. It is normal that pro-MMM, yet self-professed independent, papers should want to recuperate this kind of fracturing in the current political context.

 

We know that the part of the media which deals in this kind of activity does not do so for the sake of the pleasure only. It acts to divide the population into bits and pieces along with the frequent hypocrisy such as: that it would like to see the Best Loser System abolished because the latter fosters communalism and is therefore opposed to national unity. The real agenda is to serve the purposes of its masters in the private sector. What are these purposes?

 

To prevent anybody from questioning its acquired rights such as the guaranteed super-normal profits from IPPs for the next 20 years or so to the detriment of electricity consumers; to prevent new entrepreneurs to emerge as would threaten its supremacy and control over key economic activities; to get the government to do its bidding including accepting that its expenses be shifted to taxpayers without reciprocating socially ; to keep the pressure of taxation on the general public so as to reduce its own contribution in the national tax effort; to pass on the negative consequences of currency devaluation to the public as well as that of inflation without adequate worker compensation therefor; to concentrate all rents and new income generation centres in its limited hands; to stay off ambitious government projects to get to a viable future plan for the economy and society preferring to protect its short-term interests, and to raise the scare of communal hegemony whenever its purposes are best served by this device. If divisiveness comes to be suppressed, the private sector and its media would lose a key lever of arousing divisiveness, something that they have been manipulating to get whatever and whenever they want it. It will be a shame that a party like the MMM, which has got some realisations to its credit though, would endorse this politics of divisiveness which puts us back down many rungs of the ladder each time it is activated for temporary political benefits.

 

M.K.

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