In the wake of the celebrations of the 115th anniversary of SSR at Kewal Nagar on last Sunday the 20th September, the Labour Party leadership may have got the feeling of a wave building up in its favour. It is too early to tell, and that does not matter as much as what the current leader Navin Ramgoolam himself stated in as many words during his speech. Namely, that it is not him who is important but it’s ‘you’, pointing to the people in the first few rows adjoining the platform where he was standing and addressing them.
Those present may have felt flattered, but independent observers cannot afford to be taken in by emotional outbursts, and must perforce take a more objective view of the situation based on ground realities and what is in store for the country as an uncertain future unfolds.
True, some issues were flagged: the unravelling of the BAI empire, the imbroglio at Iframac, the takeover of Courts by its original founder David Isaacs, the bailing out of Bramer Bank and the Supercash Back Gold and other schemes using taxpayers’ money, the loss of jobs so far and the “unrealistic” projection of the creation of 15000 jobs annually, the messing of the DTAA dossier with India, the dwindling of FDI into the country because of loss of investor confidence. There was also reference to the monies withdrawn by SAJ from the Bramer Bank as he came to know that the ship was sinking, and that all political parties receive funding. There was a mea culpa too, an admission of ‘erreurs’ committed.
As we have heard all this before, the question that arises is what next? In fact, what was expected was that there would be at least an outline of future strategy on two fronts: the political and the socio-economic.
Currently the ruling government is made up of a coalition of parties that has won a massive mandate for five years, through the established democratic process that we have adopted from the time of independence. The same democratic principles place an obligation on the country to have a strong opposition that acts like a shadow government, and that readies itself for alternative leadership when the time comes. Given that the Parliamentary opposition is minuscule, the other major party ‘out’ as it were, Labour Party, can and should be an effective extra-Parliamentary voice for the population. For this to happen, however, there must be an engagement with the latter through a reorganization of LP at the grassroots level, which would be a real beginning of the ‘reinvention’ of LP that was evoked. And also a very much-needed beginning towards setting up the sound internal structure within LP that would select by similar democratic means its leader and core leadership: and give an example for the other parties to follow, claiming at the same time the much-needed moral high ground that it has lost in the past few months with the exposure of the moral turpitude that had gnawed at its entrails. This issue – of electing the leadership in parties — has repeatedly been raised by several analysts, but no move in this direction has been seen anywhere so far. Instead, the dynastic mindset appears to be setting in.
There is the larger problematique of party leadership – of all political parties – hijacking the party to further its own agenda rather than serving the national interest, which remains only rhetorical. All their speeches give the impression that what they are doing is for the country, but when the curtains are lifted it is found that personal interest and that of lobbies have been promoted at the expense of the population at large. And any redress is driven by narrow considerations, vendetta-driven. Will this be changed, and how?
Besides that, however, there is also a need to take stock of the relative strengths of the major political parties currently on the scene, for the core supports may have shifted with the changing demographics in the country. In any strategy for the future, this is a crucial element to factor in, and a serious reconnect with the base in a formal structured manner is absolutely essential, following the admission of having lost touch with the population. It is only such a solid system that will ensure a sustained reconnect and regain lost support.
This is important from the point of view of the larger political picture and the power equation that the country needs for its inclusive development. Are we to be led by the self-destructive hostility that is currently being played out between the MSM and LP leaderships, and that is weakening further the traditional worker base on which it has depended and which has in turn relied on them to improve their lot? Mustn’t there be a more pragmatic assessment of this unstable situation and its potential impact on the future of these parties and that of the country rather than focusing on the fate of the individual leaders?
But more fundamentally, has the socialist ideal that led to independence been lost on these parties?
This is a critical worry, because in an age where ideology is supposed to have been jettisoned, it has been replaced by the non-elected driving national policy, as a recent article in Australia’s ‘The Conversation’ highlighted. The concern is genuine, and practically global, including Mauritius too.
The title of Ian McAuley, from the University of Canberra, says it all: ‘They’re rich, unelected and shaping public policy’. Referring to the thirty-five years of widening income disparities (that) have produced a sizeable number of “high wealth individuals”, leaving behind the struggling middle classes and impoverishing those further down at the bottom of the heap, he goes on to point out how these rich individuals are moving the goal posts in their favour – very much as obtains in other places including Mauritius too. A few extracts will make the point better:
‘The important question is whether the unelected super-rich are exercising a strong influence on public policy and, if so, whether such influence thwarts the interests of ordinary Australians and undermines our democracy.
‘A point of contention has been whether they pursue personal political ideologies or commercial interests that lead them to favour political parties.
‘But personal ideology seems to be the most compelling explanation…
‘There is no discernible pattern in the ways the rich influence, or attempt to influence, public policy, and that should be hardly surprising. By and large they are individualists, not given to collective action.
‘And it is often very difficult to gauge particular agendas that may be pursued through covert channels of influence…’
While celebrating is fine, at least let us not jettison the core ideal of socialism on which the masses of this country were able to better their standards of living, claim their rights and place under the sun, and gain their dignity. What are they being faced with? – an unceasing conflict between those who they have relied on to fight their cause, one that will leave a vacuum that will so willingly be taken up by the ultra-neoliberal ideologues aka the defenders of the unelected super-rich. To whom, then, these struggling masses will have to go begging again?
On the socio-economic front, what structures have been put in place to address the majors concerns facing the country? There was no indication given about initiating a collective thinking process across the board to do so, and coming out with solid documents on a variety of subjects such as the economy, finance, the welfare state, education, agriculture, health and so on. These would include in-depth situation analyses with recommendations and road maps, plans and programmes. All this cannot be done overnight, and that is why the next few years – forget about early elections! – must be focused on assigning tasks responsibly and preparing the genuinely solid ground for a shadow government to ultimately take over as a credible option – with an equally credible leadership, in the national eyes, in command.
Then only will any talk about reinvention make sense, and be in readiness to face the challenges awaiting the country. Does LP have the wherewithal to challenge itself and rise to what the future is demanding? Will the country be able to have, as soon as possible, a worthy shadow government with an agenda and plans afoot to take over and forge an innovative, sustainable and inclusive way forward? The people are in wait.
- Published in print edition on 25 September 2015