Interview: Nita Deerpalsing
* ‘Time will tell if we currently have a political leadership which can be on the right side of History’
* ‘What is the role of leaders? To kneel down and follow? Or to steer a better path?’
Nita Deerpalsing, former MP who took a break from active politics, avers that these last four years have given her time to revisit the foundations of her past political engagement. She has found them shaky, and has altogether new ideas about the running of the country and the structural changes required in the polity that will derive from this new orientation in the country’s way of doing politics. She calls it progressive politics, which is about using power to further the good of the country and its people and not for serving oneself.
Mauritius Times: We have not heard much from you since you are back, except when you publicly came out to set the record straight as regards Kishore Deerpalsing. One would have thought that the causes that the Labour Party is supposed to stand for, and indeed has for several decades, should have beckoned you back. Could it be that the Labour Party is no longer the party that inspired you at the beginning of your political career?
Nita Deerpalsing: The reasons for, and values upon which the Labour Party was founded will always remain my moral compass for public engagement. Politics isn’t a “career” in my view. The courage, the determination, the unflinching will to fight against injustice, even when the founders were probably fully conscious about how much the deck was stacked against them – this is the kind of inspiration that gets your blood running, isn’t it?
Upon my return, after a couple of conversations on the legacy we want to bequeath after we leave this realm of earthly existence, I regrettably had to conclude that I no longer found inspiration for action in the same old refrains of tactics, strategy, ‘moves’, just for the sake of reconquering power. And I didn’t get a satisfying answer as to why in the first place we would want to seek power. Call me naïve but honestly, I just can’t fathom how power by itself can in any way be fulfilling. Now power to wage war against all kinds of injustice and truly ‘bâtir une nation’, THAT is the kind of power one would dream about. How can power be fulfilling if, as a magic wand, it turns leaders into docile followers of a warped system?
Nudged by a couple of people, I decided to go out on a limb and create a space, free from the pollution of mere tactic making, where with a small dedicated team, we can at least reflect upon what exactly it is that we need to change in order for our country not only to get out of the mess it is currently in, but more importantly, to rise up to its true potential.
Today, there is a broken trust in the credibility of politicians. And as History teaches us, this is a dangerous terrain for all kinds of zealots to fester, and that can further endanger our common future. This is why authenticity, leadership by example, sincerity of purpose are absolutely necessary in order to set the tone in this mission to rebuild the public good.
* As regards the here and now, in the wake of the controversy stirred by Eshan Juman’s statement about the Labour Party’s capability to go it alone for the next municipal elections, which has irked both Paul Berenger and Xavier Duval, it has come out finally that the real reason for the current “mésentente” which has gripped the ‘Entente LP-MMM-PMSD’ has to do with the leadership of the Labour Party. How do you react to that?
No one can dispute the argument that it is for each Party to decide who their leader is. This is incontestable. But to any observer, it was clear that the real issue was the lack of an agreement between party leaders as to who should or should not lead an eventual “alliance” to elections.
In any case, while the unfolding episodes of this Mauriflix series may seem to be an engrossing topic of discussion for the ‘fans’ of politics, most Mauritians could not care less about these eternal unending tactics which concern the political future of a handful of persons, certainly not the future of the majority of Mauritians. These tactics have been served and rechauffées for over 30 years now. The large majority of Mauritians are in “been there, done that” mode. And they are more than ever thirsty for credible alternatives to these old games.
* To come back to the leadership issue, it’s quite probable that the MSM, in particular the Jugnauths, would find it easier to win future electoral battles with Navin Ramgoolam as their principal adversary – just like the LP, the MSM and the PMSD in alliance or separately in the past found a convenient opponent in Paul Berenger. Does this mean that Ramgoolam has today become a liability for the Labour Party?
I would say that the liability for any political bloc today is to be stuck in a tactic making mode. You know there is this little background music that I increasingly hear now from a number of people: that the population has become ‘rodere boute’ and therefore this or that regroupement/l’entente is justified on the hypothesis that this is what the ‘market’ wants.
I believe this is a completely wrong reading. Yes, it is true that we are witnessing a visible degradation of our common good, of civic behaviour. But the fish rots from its head! Who is responsible for this state of affairs? What signal do you give to a population when the model of development you pursue is based on a tacit understanding of ‘special privileges’ for both the political and the economic elite? Of course, that model isn’t sustainable and will nudge and/or induce the wrong kind of behaviour.
This is why the whole reward system is topsy-turvy all around. When a citizen sees that the political as well as the economic elite is flourishing on all kinds of simin traver, kass kontour, instead of a transparent, rules-based society, won’t he deduce that in order to get ahead, he too should subscribe to this warped model? Is it then a surprise that the very concept of rule of law is going down the drain?
By the way, just a little parenthèse – I prefer to talk of rule of law (which cannot exactly be translated to ‘Etat de droit’) rather than a problem of ‘law and order’. Talking about ‘law and order’ is looking only at the symptoms, talking about rule of law looks at the issue from a systemic perspective. I believe it is also important for us to change the language from which we apprehend our issues if we want our ‘constat’ to result in highlighting the solutions.
There are a couple of things we now all know about Homo Sapiens. It is an aspirational species. And leadership makes a difference. This is why a leadership éclairé – and I don’t mean only in the political arena — paves the way to a society where the reward system is rule-based and therefore people’s expectations and behaviour are more or less virtuous, where deviancy is an exception rather than the rule. And we don’t have to point to Canada, Scandinavian countries, New Zealand, South Korea, etc., for examples. It’s also worth talking about Rwanda’s achievement from where it was. And don’t we all agree that Mauritius itself, some 30 years ago had, by and large, a more collaborative society?
Personally, I don’t think it is a coincidence that the signalling got broken precisely in the aftermath of the advent of a new political party in the early 80s, resting on a ‘moralité pa rempli vant’ ethos. Ushering in a roaring political culture of ‘baz’ with its inevitable corollary of spiralling nepotism and corruption, of carrots for those who support us, and rotin bazar for those who don’t vote for us – the perfect recipe to destroy the concept of the common good.
That was the signal given, and everyone else soon followed, in varying degrees. Is it then any surprise that we are where we are today? Are we still going to lay the blame on the population? Raise our hands up in resignation and say ‘dimun la kumsa aster’? What then is the role of leaders? To kneel down and follow? Or to steer a better path?
* If the perceived loss of credibility of the Labour Party today has to do with its leadership – the same affliction would be affecting the MMM, it would seem –, what will become of the LP if this question of leadership is not thrashed out before the next general elections? And how should the LP go about choosing its leader?
I think it’s too easy to crystallize the across-the-board loss of credibility on one single person when in fact it concerns the whole existing political leadership. Everyone should take a long look at the mirror and ask themselves to what extent they have themselves created the current Frankenstein. Time will tell if we currently have a political leadership which can be on the right side of History. Not in terms of strategizing to win elections. But in terms of progressive politics. The only kind which can create a sustainable sense of common good.
* There is another ‘threat’ facing the Labour Party: Nando Bodha, who will be received not unlike the prodigal son in the biblical parable with open arms by Paul Berenger for another of his famous “winning formulae”: a Bodha-MMM-PMSD alliance. To start with, that’s going to change the ‘rapport de forces’ in the Opposition itself. What do you think?
I think that winning formulae are totally ‘rassi’ in terms of a paving the way to shape a better future. Not to mention totally aux antipodes of what the population is seeking.
* With all the competition for political mileage amongst the different parties in the Opposition and more in the pipeline from probably the Rama Valayden-led Avengers as well as Roshi Badhain, etc., many of whom may have skeletons in their cupboards, the question that many people may be asking is: ‘What’s our best bet in terms of a credible alternative to the government of the day?’ What’s your answer to that question?
If people want to be seen as credible leaders, they should first of all shed the in-our-face hunger to fan their macho egos. I mean I don’t know who came up with this silly ‘Avengers’ title, but isn’t that again révélateur of a hunger for ‘vendettariat’?
Politicians are not saviours. They are only human beings with their qualities as well as their weaknesses. Even the best-intentioned human being can fall prey to weaknesses. What we need in terms of credibility is certainly not the fanning of a ‘vendettariat’ culture, but the intent on empowering checks and balances in a rules-based society.
And it is certainly not with the kind of rash behaviour one day calling someone Mr Herbicide, another day chasing journalists away in that most vulgar ‘BLD’ manner that one can pretend to credibly stand for a non-toxic, rules-based system versus revealing an attitude of one rule for ‘nou dimun’ and another set of rules for those ‘ki pa adore/adule nou’.
* What are the pull factors that should come into play in the choice of that credible alternative?
I think it revolves around these key words: authenticity, integrity, credibility, leadership by example. In my view one of the most urgent tasks is to change the narrative on the subject of the relationship between politics and money.
It is astounding to me that when I talk about breaking the link between money and politics, people look at me with disbelief, sometimes with a condescending ‘all-knowing’ look, sometimes with pity. Does not that in itself demonstrate to what extent, like good homo sapiens, we are adapting to this corruption producing environment, to the point of saying there’s no going back? So those in the political class who demonstrate by their words, their choices and their actions this complete kneeling down to the power of money, are they leaders or have they themselves morphed into mere followers/worshippers of money in the system? Aren’t leaders supposed to show the way, to pave the way to a new virtuous territory?
So today we are in this incredible situation. On one side of a seesaw, in mainstream parties across the board, we seem to have leaders-by-title only, not by essence – in that the individuals have adapted so much to the system, that they are now unable to even imagine political life without the cocoon of this system. To the extent that in one of the parties, even the oxymoron-laced “reinvention” that is supposedly concocting itself on the back burner in some quarters, rests upon the oh-so-worshipped criterion of being a multimillionaire/billionaire, added to: being male and from one specific sociological profile. Talk about the reinvention of a new meaning for progressive politics!
On the other side of the seesaw, we have an increasing majority of the population – some vocal on the streets, others silent in their homes — completely up to their neck with all these shenanigans. Contrary to what some political leaders believe, the population is shrewd, perspicace, they see through all the manoeuvres and they are thirsty for a change they could possibly believe in.
I could be mistaken, but I sense that there is already an important lame de fond of change amongst the population at large. Whereas to date, in stark contrast, we see across the board, a political class incredibly struck-in-time and in denial about it too!
* Would you be surprised that, in view of political confusion and uncertainty presently prevailing in the Opposition, lots of people today would tell you that they have no choice than to make do with the current team… inspite of the procurement scandals, the Kistnen Papers, or even the suspicious deaths of party activists or alleged suicides?
We are truly at crossroads. We need a complete systemic overhaul otherwise we are only going to reproduce what has been on show to varying degrees for the last 30 years or so.
All of the things you mention, they are only symptoms of a much larger disease festering. People are so wrong to believe that oversight is needed only for political party finance at the time of elections. The disease has spread so much that we are now talking about political finance and its ramifications on almost a daily basis!
Do you have any idea how much money or in kind ‘donations’ are made on a continuous regular basis in constituencies? It has already gotten way-out of hand! In this vicious gargantuan appetite for more and more, created by politicians in the first place, do you think that party leaders or individual politicians have any ‘incentive’ to apply any form of due diligence to all kinds of financial or in-kind ‘sponsorships’?
* The political gimmicks of the opposition parties and the quest for answers in Court regarding the matter of the alleged job of a Constituency Clerk and about the suspicious deaths we spoke about earlier are deflecting from the people’s attention serious issues of public interest that should be addressed. Can you tell us briefly what’s on your mind in that regard?
You have used the right words: political gimmicks. In order to change the narrative about politics, I believe it is necessary to turn our backs on all this game playing, making tactical moves, etc., and focus on the essence of what we want to achieve through a virtuous political engagement.
If I had to pin down to one word the one common denominator to which all human beings aspire, it’s ‘byenet’; a sense of well-being which is possible if and only if, two fundamental conditions are present: 1) human dignity, and 2) equal rights.
This is what founders of the Labour Party lived and breathed in 1936. This is what, I would say, any genuine political engagement should be based upon. But it goes even beyond an individual’s basis for political engagement. To me, lazistiz, lespwar and the right policies – resting on human dignity and equal rights for each and every citizen, is central to, and in turn propel us to: byenet and lakorité.
Lazistis as delivered by trustworthy institutions which are systemically built so that checks and balances are triggered right away at the very first sign of deviant behaviour from rules-based principles. Lespwar resulting from an increase in quality of life through a sustainable productivity model; and the right policies for clean, green and smart policies through insightful strategy and planning.
This is why my team and I have come up with a schema which illustrates both the final aim and the propellers to a virtuous circle which can sustain the creation of a common good that can stand the test of time. I can share with you this rough still-under-construction first ébauche of this framework which will shape all the propositions we continue to share as we go along and eventually in a more detailed document.
I have already made a number of concrete propositions, such as doing away with fat cat packages and privileges for ministers and MPs, while making all public-funded contracts transparent to the public. I note that Mr Bodha took up this proposition I made in October last year on Radio Plus. Today, technology is already being used in a number of countries to ensure transparency in public procurement.
I have also proposed abolishing of the posts of President and Vice President to be replaced by a kind of Haut Conseil de Gouvernance/Senat/Governing council (the appellation is not important). With the same budget currently dedicated to two individuals going to an “Instance” with something like 11 individuals who will, for example, amongst other things, have final oversight over important HR issues of all public funded institutions. Like recruitment of top officials, promotions, renewal of contracts of such bodies as ICAC, etc.
Already, with 11 individuals – representative of our rainbow nation – whose names could be proposed jointly by the majority and the opposition, there will be an inbuilt check and balance against a system vulnerable to any tentation de magouilles when these powers rests solely within the de facto (even if not de jure) influence of one single individual, the PM. We could also envisage many other such powers vested under the post of PM to be transferred to this “Instance”.
There are several other propositions for a better Mauritius that your readers can follow on my Facebook page.
* Published in print edition on 26 February 2021