Those who voted a new government to power on December 10th 2014 looked forward to politics being done differently from the way it was being done for the past several years by the incumbents in power. Sad to say, they haven’t been requited in this regard.
Let’s take a look first at the opposition.
It is supposed to be the alternative government in waiting. Nine MMM elected members and four from Labour constitute the official opposition. The MMM leader, having announced his party’s decision to split away from Labour, its ally in the last elections, immediately after the results of the elections were proclaimed, has taken up the position of the Leader of the Opposition.
We’ve been witnessing a continuing struggle within the party. This began with the formation of the Muvman Liberater by Ivan Collendavelloo, sometime before the last elections when Paul Bérenger decided to join hands with Labour. Internal rifts continued after the party’s electoral defeat. Successive waves of former leaders of the party as well as swathes of traditional supporters have been abandoning it to this day, mostly in protest against the authoritative grip of Paul Bérenger at the head of the party.
It’s anybody’s guess how far this hemorrhage will go on. Clearly, the party has neither the voter base on which its strength was based nor the unfailing commitment of its main protagonists. On the other hand, the Muvman Liberater and the PMSD are posing as those wanting to recover the MMM’s dissipating voter base. Seen from this angle, the MMM looks increasingly like a spent force as the country’s main opposition party and less so as an alternative government in our model of democracy.
On its part, Labour has vacillated under great uncertainty after its defeat in the last elections. There was a view in the party that Navin Ramgoolam should cede the party’s leadership after his defeat in the last elections. No decision was taken by the party in this regard, despite the silent view held by many that it was necessary to rally the followers of a party with such a glorious past and historical contributions to social advancement under a credible and incisive new leadership, notwithstanding the electoral defeat. Even when a decision was taken in this regard of late, it has looked like a half-baked solution, unmindful of the massive amount of work needed for the party to convince voters and to refurbish itself again.
It was necessary for the party to send on the war front a forward-looking conviction politician as leader, flanked by others equally strong, having the strong charisma of the party’s great leaders of the past but adapted to an upcoming younger generation fed up with the classic way of doing politics. Additional young faces on the party’s frontline would have demonstrated that it was really turning over a new leaf. Instead of that, the party has dithered and delivered uncertainty at a moment of its history when it needs to be most affirmative and assertive in public.
For these reasons, the best that can be said about the current opposition is that it does not carry sufficient weight. Collectively. Yet, the work has to be done efficiently to keep the government on its toes. Instead of that we are faced with a sort of void on the side of the opposition where internal bickerings rather than the nation’s preoccupations have taken the upper hand.
On the government side, one is not quite sure how much the different blocs it is made up of are sticking together in the on-going government action. In light of its handling of the BAI case, one thing is clear: in the public mind, at least, the government’s preoccupation about this group has overshadowed all other issues. Even though the budget has been presented and discussed in the National Assembly until its final adoption, such has been the overwhelming importance given to the case of the BAI that the budget and economic policies appear to have taken the backseat.
Now that the process of dealing with the BAI is throwing up possible financing gaps (some say, of Rs 5 billion only for the Super Cash Back Gold policies alone), there is an increasing risk that such a shortfall in the realized values of the BAI’s assets will have to be funded. By whom? People will not take it lightly if it is taxpayers’ money that will be employed to bridge the gaps. Even if the payment of the obligations is staggered out over a period of time, the question will still be: from whose pockets?
In these circumstances, it would appear that the government’s demarche to establish the financial guilt of someone who would have been a major funder of the previous government, could have a boomerang political effect. It may appease the people to be told that the government has dealt with a potential financial scam involving the BAI group. But it will not necessarily go down well if the public is informed that it will be made to pay up the bill for any shortfalls in resources.
One would have thought that the government might have addressed several issues of economic priority in the first place. Having shown its keenness to put the economy on a strong alternative track and onto a higher orbit, it might have used the feeling of confidence so created in the public to launch smoothly the new political generation of the country. This has not appeared to be happening, while all attention has remained focused on the objective to deal the decisive blow to the BAI group on the ground that it would have indulged in certain financial misdemeanours. Time will tell whether this was the best strategy for a government in which people had placed enormous trust and confidence that they will not face the same kind of arbitrariness which they appeared to be heading for in the last elections.
This said, the government still has the opportunity to go back to fundamentals and drive the country’s energies towards a social and national renewal, which is what the voters asked for in the December 2014 elections. Time is on its side. It can still manage to steer the ship of state not merely to deal with issues like venality and corruption in the public sphere but also towards removing unnecessary tension in the country’s work of rebuilding a viable alternative economic platform, as promised during the campaign. For this to happen, concretely, it needs to first get on to tackle the key parameters which impact on social well-being in the longer term and address firmly the much needed issue of raising the country’s economic potential. A redirection of immediate political objectives will do good to both the government and the country as a whole.
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The Himalayan Tragedy
In 2010, a massive earthquake wrought extreme havoc on the lives of mostly the poor people of Haiti. Such is the fate of developing countries when struck by a huge disaster that they take a long time to recover even to their erstwhile weak conditions. Haiti is still in the throes of the great misery inflicted upon it by that earthquake despite large scale international mobilization of aid to help get its poor people to stand up on their feet again.
On Saturday last, a disaster of identical scale hit Nepal and the surrounding Himalayan region, including Tibet and India. There were avalanches provoked on Mount Everest itself. The numbers that have come out so far about casualties are staggering. Eight million are directly affected by the widespread disaster in the region. More than 5,000 deaths have been identified in Nepal alone, along with 10,000 persons injured after the massive quake measuring 7.9 magnitude on the Richter scale hit the region. With work of unearthing victims from the rubble still on-going, the Nepali Prime Minister reckons that the death toll may increase to 10,000. Fearing after-shocks and the risk of constructions crumbling, large numbers have spent the past days since after the quake in the open in Kathmandu.
International aid is flowing into Nepal with India in the lead. This will hopefully bring to the battered survivors some sense of normalcy in life. However, as the Haitian case has shown, it takes much, much longer for people to recover from such a disaster in poor developing countries. The situation is worsened where the political structure is ineffective as in Haiti or fractured as in Nepal.
In the circumstances, we can hope and pray that those afflicted by this rare tragedy see quickly the rays of better hope to carry on in the not too distant future. One can also hope that the catastrophe will draw attention, in the massive work of rebuilding the flattened landscape of Kathmandu in particular, to the need for making quake-proof constructions in this area prone to movements of continental shelf. Our heart goes out with sincere sympathy to the suffering victims of the earthquake.
* Published in print edition on 1 May 2015