Rallies of the 1st of May are now behind us. As expected, they were largely a show of force by the two major political blocs, in a bid to demonstrate to and impress upon each other the extent to which each one was able to rally its traditional core supporters. No epoch-making decision was announced; it was all a ritual re-affirmation of faith among the party faithful. Nevertheless, leaders speaking at each one of the rallies took the precaution to state that the assembled crowds in their respective places were representative of all groups of the population, young and old, men and women, from towns and rural areas. This was in reality an innuendo used to imply that all round communal adherences were achieved by each one of the two although none dared pronounce it in so many words.
It would have been a good thing if this had really been so for either side. Everyone knows that there are distinct communal concentrations on each side of the political fence. Divide along communal lines has been persistent since independence barring one or two short-lived episodes when the wave swept across party lines the time of an election only to resume its former position immediately thereafter. The aspiration of each party is to draw to itself as many as possible from all communal groups but this objective has proved to be highly elusive despite temporary semblances of a coming-together during the interval between elections.
Seen from the wider perspective of the country’s international interests, this concern about communal adherence is meaningless. In fact, it is counter-productive. It results in compromises that fail to produce the best outcomes for the country. It colours the overall framework of governance in a manner as to undermine our international standing and reputation, let alone our ability to drive up tough agendas for our future, as we do not always pick up the best elements we have to defend our cause. In brief, it makes it more difficult to govern an already complicated country by adding to it the administration of communal dosing in public decisions. Thus, the front benches of the government and the opposition have to be projected as suitably representative of this factor, notwithstanding the seniority and greater aptitude of other party members to deal more efficiently with issues than those who are made to front for them.
It is against this perspective that some politicians try to weaken their adversaries by ascribing communal colours to almost each and every decision being taken. In other words, what matters to them is not the justness of the decision taken insofar as the country’s interests should be preponderant but rather the degree to which the advantages arising therefrom favour one particular group and not some other. For this reason, we have limped our way from one decision at a time to another, taking care not to offend communal/caste susceptibilities. We have failed to embrace a fuller objective all at once encompassing all rational and objective parameters to be reckoned with, so as not to accidentally hurt particular considerations pertaining to specific communal groups. We have kept concentrating on the periphery of things that ought to be done without giving due regard to essential issues, so as not to offend specific groups or lose votes.
If we continue along this limping path, we will be overtaken. We will then want to catch up by copying from or emulating other countries that actually take the decisions which matter at the proper time, execute them and thus secure their future. The catching-up solutions will, in that case, be sub-optimal and we will keep operating below potential. There will be little or no clear signs of progress towards the chosen objectives were communal and similar sub-optimal considerations to continue clogging down the wheels of progress. One needs to break from situations like this if one is minded to show results before it is too late. Surely, there is more to do to firmly secure our future economic resilience apart from dealing in property development which is what the private sector has prioritized currently. More inventiveness is required to broaden the sustainable base of the economy. Decisiveness on the part of the government is a must if we want to evolve towards a more enlightened and higher stage of development.
All a government needs is to know what exactly it wants for the future. If it is convinced that a direction chosen is the best way forward, it has no choice but to forge ahead, come what may. It should be adamant about its ultimate objective and head for it even if there be some casualties on the way which do not want to adapt. If that process of adaptation requires replacing an economic elite that insists on thwarting the potential future of the country by continuing to play the game of communal divide of the 1960s, thus misdirecting the nation’s priorities, then truly, there is no choice even if one risks being taxed as being communalist or whatever for introducing a more dynamic and inclusive entrepreneurial blood in the system.
It is imperative to shift from a closed to a more open model able to accommodate newer entrepreneurs and developers who have a clear vision of the markets of the future and who, while taking some undue advantage in a minor area, give us access to permanent moorings for our broader economic activities in markets of the future. However, all this must be done tactfully enough so as to carry everybody along into the mainstream of development. We cannot afford to remain a prisoner however of a sectional model that is so self-centred as to thwart any progress that does not coincide with its particular interests. In this context, we do not need to perpetuate a formula based on an artificial communal divide of the country that has had its time during the past five decades.
All it needed was a gaffe by the protocol staff to spoil a good occasion. It was on the occasion of a function on Thursday last for the conferment by the University of Mauritius of the title of Doctor Honoris Causa on Smt Pratibha Patil, President of the Republic of India, at the Octave Wiehe Auditorium.
The Protocol personnel deemed it fit to shuffle Ms Aurore Perraud, deputy of the L’Alliance de L’Avenir, hither and thither from the front to the back rows of the auditorium, unable to make up its mind on where to seat the Honourable Member of Parliament. This is totally inexcusable as it gives rise to suspicions that the related misdemeanour on the part of the staff could have arisen out of deliberate prejudice against the skin colour or such other unbecoming perception of the person in question on their part. The Protocol personnel is usually trained to recognise and identify and treat with courtesy all invited guests of whom Ms Perraud was undoubtedly one. Its failure to do its job properly has ended up inflicting indignity on one of our representatives in Parliament. This reflects very poorly on the service.
Such amateurish behaviour can land us into serious trouble for any future breaches of Protocol and good etiquette. In the absence of any public excuses presented for the gaffe, this episode has been given wide interpretations of bad intent in part of the local media. This kind of mismanagement is evidence of how poor the public communication system is towards acknowledging its abject failures when they take place. There was a risk that this unacceptable behaviour on the part of the lower ranking staff could have been shifted to the political establishment. Now, it has been done. The country could have been spared such a serious gaffe had the preparation of the Protocol staff been carried out with a little bit more of earnest.
* Published in print edition on 7 May 2011