All major political parties of Mauritius have joined in alliance with one another at one time or other after independence. The power-sharing team has changed from time to time in the light of the most “auspicious” momentary coalition formed. But the heart of the political process in Mauritius has remained unchanged: securing power by all means. The ideological statement that once delivered the passion and inspiration of distinct political parties, even if that meant they could lose in the elections, is absent. Ideology has been hollowed out from the political message for decades now. In its stead, political parties have successively sought power by presenting themselves as the “problem-solver” and their opponent as the devil to avoid. With one difference, the “devil” in this case is not a permanent “devil”. This easier scenario has given rise to the politics of posturing.
The typical window-dressing resorted to in this context involves resuscitating past animosities in the struggle for power. The central image of each political party is frozen in the eyes of the electorate on whatever good or bad action it stood for in the past. The leaders of the two opposing coalitions are made to wear the masks of wolf and sheep the time of an electoral campaign, but, surprisingly, this picture does not taint the rest of the hierarchy of each political party. Why are the rest not so branded? It is clear, it’s all made up. Thanks to this kind of posturing, the forcefulness of an otherwise dynamic political system, had it not been undermined by this repetition of past scenarios, has not been given sway. From election to election, voters are equally not baffled at their own successive contradictory preferences in this context, as they swing their allegiance from one new coalition to another. They find themselves jolted from one extreme the last time to the other this time. In reality, they have no say in the matter.
Possibly, we don’t need ideologues anymore in politics but each political party should in the least be seen to stand with conviction for a grand cause of its own representing a national mission statement, around which to rally the people. The three parties which have dominated the local political scene in the past decades have chequered histories of their own. This may explain partly their incapacity to inspire deep and long-lasting adherences to hard-core intrinsic political values they distinctly stand for. For decades, even as alternating governments have succeeded each other, none of the three major parties has been able to secure victory at the polls on its own inherent strength. This factor explains the rise and consolidation of opportunistic coalition politics to the abandonment of the great ideological struggle that had marked politics in the period prior to 1982. This void, if continued, will impoverish politics the more.
In last week’s interview of the Director of La Sentinelle, Jean-Claude de l’Estrac (J-C L) was asked amongst others whether, in the words of the late Sir Gaetan Duval, Navin Ramgoolam was right to suggest that it was sufficient to have certain newspapers like L’express and Week-end opposed to a coalition standing for election for this coalition to secure victory at the polls and whether, in view of the fact that Paul Bérenger and Navin Ramgoolam may well find themselves allied on a common platform in view of conjectural matters, it was considered prudent for journalists to engage in the political fray or to give advice to politicians from the newsroom. J-C L quoted extracts of several articles he had written in the context of the last electoral campaign to suggest that the weight of the opinion expressed by him had rather been in favour of a Labour win at the polls. He also stated that perceptions change as to who is engaging in politics or otherwise, depending on where the person comes from. No doubt, he made his point. If however we allowed ourselves to travel beyond the sheer defence of positions taken or not taken, we see the political dichotomy referred to earlier being mirrored in several walks of life outside the political parties themselves.
There is a classic opposition of specific forces in the country which dates back to at least the election of 1967. In that election, the majority of voters in favour of Labour and its allies, being mostly Hindus, were pitched against the rest. This pattern is continuing without any sign of that changing in any profound sense. It has proved difficult for those who engineered the communal divide at that time to gain power on that basis despite several attempts along the same lines in the various general elections we have had since then, barring the election of 1982. They must have noticed that each such attempt has brought back the same communal syndrome, consisting largely of opposing the majority community to minority groups which still believe that this kind of communal clash will at all be productive or positive for the country. This kind of outcome just manages to keep a fruitless, and potentially dangerous, antagonism alive. It simply manages to keep the embers alive under the ashes.
Politics carried out on this basis is a non-starter from the very beginning. It is so because it has exacerbated our individualised reflexes over time. It has created pressures for gratification of sectional interests to the detriment of efficiency and modernisation of the country’s structures when it is this that should have been our priority. The correct political action has been incapacitated in several domains over long stretches of time because considerations to keep the flock united have overridden the superior interest of the nation. Instead of getting first-best solutions, we have had to be satisfied even with third-rate solutions in which certain voters expect their pound of flesh from those they have supposedly voted to power. Instead of our capital owners taking more risks to open up the scope of the economy, they remain conservative and look up to maximising opportunities with the right political blessings. This situation has encouraged our major stakeholders to remain encamped on their privileges instead of employing the talents of those not in the circle of power and privilege to increase our weight globally.
Many issues that should have been dealt with dispassionately have been poorly acted upon or not acted upon at all for fear of frustrating those capable of shaking the foundation of political power. In the process, the country has failed to embark on the right structural reforms that would have given it the necessary flexibility to forge ahead in a global economic environment which is becoming increasingly rule-driven and pitiless towards those who cannot keep pace. All of this is happening because we are finding it difficult to free ourselves from a given system that has imprisoned politics, institutions and society into an un-progressive mould. It needs courage to acknowledge that one has gone wrong over a long period for the much needed new start to begin. This will depend on more than symbolic gestures. Whether one likes it or not, we need that break in order to forge ahead with the best of our resources on board.
* Published in print edition on 1 July 2010