Elections in India

More than 800 million voters started casting votes in India on 7th April for a 543-member people’s assembly or Lok Sabha.

Votes will be counted on 16th May. It is generally believed that the current elections will be a watershed in India’s political history. Opinion polls predict that Narendra Modi’s BJP is likely to secure the largest number of seats. His victory is predicated upon his track record of successful economic management in Gujarat, the state for which he has been the Chief Minister till late. The Congress Party, led by Rahul Gandhi, is not expected to secure power once again after its last two terms in office. The reason being given is that it has ruffled up feelings of its traditional supporters due to various scams in which some members of its leadership are said to be involved but also on account of inefficient economic management.

Mauritius has always remained in close relationship with political parties which have ruled India since the country’s independence in 1947. Over time, we have developed deeper economic bonds between the two countries. Since the 1990s, the economic relationship has become stronger still as Mauritius made itself into a successful platform for directing international investments into India under a 1983 Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) binding the two countries. Mauritius’ success as a driver of a significant amount of investment into India has come under negative scrutiny on the back of certain lobbies campaigning against Mauritius, helped by rival service providers from another country and a hostile press in part of the Indian media.

As it was the case before these elections, India will be in need of substantial investments after the elections in order to develop its infrastructure. A country like Mauritius could continue to play a significant part in the international funding of investments going into India, given the attractiveness of the India-Mauritius DTAA. There have been attempts on the part of certain Indian tax officials in the past to empty the DTAA of its attractiveness. The risk exists therefore that they may persist to undermine the treaty.

While political relations between the two countries have not suffered despite the uncertainties created around the tax treaty, there still exists the risk that India may look up to joining a bigger club of emerging economies. As it will prioritize its economic uplift, it may shift its attention to bigger things. Undoubtedly, Mauritius would have to pay a big price, if that were to happen, for having centred too much of its provision of international services on India in the past decades. In such an event, there is a likelihood that Mauritius would turn its attention increasingly to serving other “frontier markets” (e.g. Africa) with as much zeal as it has had towards India in past two decades.

That should not mean that we could not keep up our economic partnership with India from another broader perspective, especially if we succeed to formulate a concrete policy to serve as an effective and useful bridge between Asia and Africa as a whole. Like Singapore, we need to drive that agenda with clarity and firm determination to change our perspective for the better. We should therefore work up the skills we have acquired as service providers to India and serve other countries in the world with great efficiency, dealing with more complex products for which demand can be sustained. This calls for an astute economic and financial leadership of the country.

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Secretary for ‘Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie’

In the context of the coming end of the term of Mr Abdou Diouf as Secretary-General for the ‘Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie’ (OIF) in November 2014, Mr Jean-Claude de L’Estrac’s name has been proposed as candidate to succeed him. It is a prestigious position that permits the Secretary-General to cut a figure dealing with important international issues, very much like a head of state, while also conducting business for ‘La Francophonie’.

There is an unwritten rule that while the Administrator of the OIF can come from one of the countries of the North, its Secretary-General should hail from one of the 57 Francophone countries of the South. In this regard, Mr de L’Estrac’s candidacy is well placed. He has the backing of the Mauritian state. Former newspaper editor and writer of a series of books (mostly historical) in French, a past Minister of the Mauritian government and current Secretary-General of the Commission de l’Océan Indien grouping South-West Indian Ocean islands, he has the necessary depth of understanding of international matters to be able to lead this highly respected position.

Mauritius has remained a part of the Francophone tradition since 1814 when the Treaty of Paris was signed up between the British and the French on the cession of Mauritius. The French language is one of our cherished belongings and many Mauritian writers have excelled in it. Mauritius has had extensive political and economic ties with France before and after independence and it has played a key role in fostering the strategic importance of the South West Indian Ocean in the world. We support Mr de L’Estrac’s candidacy for this prestigious international post as we feel he is quite capable of sustaining and contributing to the multi-polarity of the world’s cultural and intellectual diversity.

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Loto – Going beyond decent bounds

The past few weeks have displayed where the excesses of gambling could lead to. As the size of Loto jackpot went on climbing from week to week until it was brought to the level of a Rs100 million, the frenzy of bettors climbed to unsuspected heights. We do not have figures as to how much more was placed on bets when the jackpot reached the Rs100 million level, but there was a widespread craze with everyone believing that he could be the winner of this crazy amount. That should have raked in a huge amount into the kitty of the organizers, with the jackpot going up to Rs120 million the coming Saturday.

Too many people want to have it easy. It is a culture of facility that has been gaining ground where the sky appears to be the limit. With such huge amounts of money being staked week after week, the time has come for the organizers to come out clean by stating who is getting the real jackpot without risking money as the bettors are doing. Publish the accounts which show how the distributions of betting money are allocated to the different stakeholders.

It might have been judicious not to foster this mentality of the more the better. That could have been done by fixing a decent limit (say Rs 30 million) when the kitty should be distributed out among several winners. We seem to be going otherwise in a direction that imposes no limit and that keeps making people lose their money by shining up the prospect of a huge gain that materializes once in a while to a few but in consideration of losses suffered by the hundreds of thousands. We should know when to apply a brake to this frenzy.


* Published in print edition on 11 April 2014

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