On Sunday last, Navin Ramgoolam, leader of the Labour Party (Labour), took advantage of the celebration of the party’s 80th anniversary to try and revamp the party’s public standing, seriously bruised since the December 2014 elections and the series of police arrests he has personally been subjected to since then. The party filled up the Octave Wiéhé Auditorium with partisans from all constituencies. It was the opportunity for Navin Ramgoolam to project himself into the limelight, being the sole speaker on the occasion and clearly putting himself in the garb of a political leader more than anything else.
He spoke about rejuvenating the party. The idea of setting up a think tank was evoked. He vowed that it was the MSM which was in direct opposition to Labour whereas he considered the MMM was attempting to split Labour apart in a bid to weaken the party. He ended up stating that Labour was going to introduce a ‘radical program’. It was not elaborated what the radicalism would consist of but it might quite well be part of a rallying strategy seeking adherence around a popular theme, to try to undo, if possible, the general disaffection the party has faced before and after the last general election. No notice, it appears, was taken of the strong revulsion expressed by both MMM and Labour voters against private personal enhancement previously sought by politicians.
In the course of a meeting of partisans in the same context in Constituency No 3 a couple of days later, the Labour leader reiterated to those present that Labour members should not fight each other. Instead, the direct adversary – enemy, to use his word — was, according to him, the MSM. This means that, just like the MSM leader Pravind Jugnauth entertains grave suspicions about Navin Ramgoolam’s motives towards him, Navin Ramgoolam has singled out Pravind Jugnauth as his principal target to finish off.
The two men could thus literally engage in a fight to the end, hoping to get the upper hand over each other. It is the apparently irreconcilable stand taken by the one against the other that is likely to drive down to a lower level a national debate about appropriate projects and policies for general advancement of the superior interests of the country, a level where the protagonists would be intent to go towards mutual annihilation. And where the higher national interest would be secondary.
One would have thought that politicians would have come up with something more plausible and elevating after voters decided that enough was enough. No. We are once again getting back to all the empty hyperbolic slogans of the past which achieved nothing of all they promised to the public. Whether it is the MMM or the MSM or Labour, voters are being served a rehash of the same personal rivalries as in the past. As if nothing has happened which would have made the politicians not take voters for granted once again. As if the same “cinema” can be played over and over again, with the principal actors playing on the same themes on which they didn’t deliver. No doubt, if voters get caught in the same old scheme of things, they will again be trapped by governments intent on self-perpetuation of political leaders and their idiosyncrasies.
There have been bitter personal oppositions among political leaders in the past. But when it came to fighting for a higher cause, they joined hands to promote national advancement. Private antagonisms have given way to superior national pursuits as being the essence of the political quest. Besides, when a small country like Mauritius is beset by so many economic and other challenges, the sole pursuit should have been to consolidate our common strength and pull the country up. This has nothing to do with politicians pulling each other down.
With time, politicians have narrowed down the principal objective as being the conquest of power and a focus on personalities of the leaders, irrespective of collateral and increasingly irreversible damage done in terms of national unity and higher collective seeking from the country’s point of view. Voters have felt let down by such behaviour. The last general election was one expression of the disgust which the public felt about this single-minded political pursuit of power at any cost.
There is little doubt that, for a political party to be viewed as coherent by the public and by both inside and outside observers, it has to speak with one voice when it comes to the crunch. But this voice has to be one which voters respect across-the- board. It has to be in harmony with voters’ aspirations about their well-being, given their collective progression from dark days – not the idiosyncratic opinion of a single person not having clearly weighed in an open forum of the party the pros and cons before decisions are announced and implemented in the public interest, no less.
The mutual attacks the MSM and Labour have been making against each other have been undermining the nation’s broader interest. Their failure to deliver has led to a loss of confidence in their sincerity to support the cause of their voters and the public. As they have rambled from one unimportant issue to another in their quest for power, this loss of confidence in them has got accentuated over the years.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Paul Bérenger, leader of the MMM – a party which was severely cast down by its own sympathisers a little more than a year ago — is gradually gaining confidence that his party can now go to the next polls in a three-cornered fight, proposing himself as Prime Minister for a full term of 5 years. Given the state of disarray of the MSM and Labour in the fierce private opposition of their leaders against each other, the MMM’s leader feels that he can topple them single-handedly.
Paul Bérenger is an astute politician, extremely well versed in the art of dealing with ethnic realities by proposing properly profiled candidates for election in each constituency according to its ethnic composition. He masters skilfully the susceptibilities to which particular voters are prone. He may therefore be taking a calculated risk to go out alone, leaving it to the leaders of the MSM and Labour to tear each other apart in their puerile quest for both power and personal vendetta against each other.
As the fight unfolds, there will be gainers and losers. One of the three protagonists currently posing as rival to the remaining two will walk away with the prize. Which one? Bérenger may have seen it more lucidly than them, placing his bets on a three-cornered fight, then instilling in the right measure and dose his party’s presentation before voters with the correct ethnic representation to be able to secure victory from voters disgusted once again with the fight-to-the-end staged by the two others.
The people on its part will find themselves in their majority without the solid moorings that have held them together against past calamities. Their pursuits, like those of the country, will be relegated to after the elections have been fought. As they like to say over here, voters have a field day solely on the day they cast their votes for the elections, After this, they have to patiently endure what the emerging new power structure imposes on them and whatever it stands for, in truth, over the ensuing five years at least.
Never had political immaturity touched such a low level. We can only hope that the country will rise from the useless conflict into which it has been getting mired for some years now, going deeper down each time.
* Published in print edition on 26 February 2016