Of Politicians, Press and Preachers
Now that the tide has ebbed, let us for the time being enjoy the music of a culturally cohesive Mauritian symphony – until the barking disruptions appear again in five years!
Peace to our eardrums for we are no longer subjected to the deafening and croaking ‘allo allo electeurs electrices’, nor are we horrified by the visual galimatias of bleu/blanc/rouge and mauve buntings. We can now resume sincere cordiality with our neighbours who, over the past month, had plastered their walls with the colours of the rival political party. We can now openly mingle in the crowds of different communities and castes without fearing of being labelled as a partisan of L’Alliance de l’Avenir or L’Alliance du Coeur or being judged, from our caste appurtenance, as to the candidate of our constituency whom we shall be supporting. Have we, Mauritians, always lived so cautiously? Seriously, what went wrong with us starting 31st March? What happened that we vigorously woke up to sudden realisations of our ethnic and caste belongings and our hence apparent political loyalties? Do we really believe in and practice staunch communalism and casteism? Did this factionalism actually come from us or was it them – the politicians, the press, the pressure groups who instilled it upon us?
There is no denying that this May 2010 general election has been a game of political strategies containing new elements mixed with practices à l’ancienne. It kick-started with the lengthy seduction game between the PTr and MMM only for the former to ditch the latter and finally form an alliance with the MSM and the PMSD- known as Alliance de l’Avenir. This alliance presented itself with a Front Bench representing the cross section of the Mauritian communities. On the other hand, L’Alliance du Coeur posed itself as a national party but in fact took special care to perfect its image as the messiah of the minority groups of the country.
We then had the game of the visuals and the words; the MBC versus the so-called independent press; each with its own agenda and allegiance. The political rallies of the 1st May were overhyped to such an extent that it became the focus for each alliance to demonstrate their muscles. The diarrhoea of words created havoc and galvanised the crowds to unprecedented levels. The political pundits ran galore, each extrapolating their own theories, so much so that the poor voter was utterly confused.
We also had Père Grégoire, the self- proclaimed messiah of one community, who flew in all the way from the United States. Preceded by a reputation of being a holy man, many looked upon him to be the Mauritian version of Martin Luther King — who will be delivering the lot of poor and downtrodden minorities, especially ‘his own’ Creole community. The political leaders were quick to seek appointments with him in order to earn his grace and we had detailed accounts of his encounters with each of them. He even gave details as to how he refused cigars, black label, etc. He then started his journey of trying to spread his holy message of grouping his troops under a single entity and not to be dispersed in terms of voting patterns. His innuendoes and utterings were clear for all avid in politics as to which camp he was pushing for. It is only now, in the aftermath of the elections that we can deduce that the Père did more harm than good to the particular alliance.
A glance at the positioning of candidates points out that indeed the one leitmotif that both alliances betted on to fill their vote banks: communalism and caste politics. Communalism and casteism formulated in such ways that the religious and caste belonging of the individual equated him to a specific party. A simple ‘divide and rule’ game took place. Where on a normal day we greet each other by the so obvious ‘hi, how are you?’, the pungency of the tense electoral atmosphere spread such airs that when a Mauritian met another fellow citizen, the greetings that eagerly itched and twitched our tongues were: ‘hi, what are you?’ (No, it is not that some of us have grown tails and antennas lately). The eagerness to predict the outcome of the tight duel between L’Alliance du Coeur and L’Alliance de l’Avenir was so biting that each one of us suffered from shifty backsides (termed squeaky bum time by Sir Alex Ferguson).
Are you a supporter of L’Alliance de l’Avenir or L’Alliance du Coeur? Apart from the diehards who openly flout their political appurtenance, these questions were often speculated upon based on which community you belong to or even which caste you come from. Also, these pestering mental questions hip-hopping in the inquisitive Mauritian mind were shared in confidence in the boudoirs over tea, whispered in the office corridors or discussed over drinks in the nearby pubs. There, the political arithmetic began. Mauritian inner souls turned into judgmental quizmasters and concocted the following equations: If you are a Hindu voting for L’Alliance de l’Avenir, you are deemed a communalist by one section of the press. If you are a Hindu voting for L’Alliance du Coeur, then the same press will deem you a true Mauritian. For the same people, if you are a member of the General Population and vote L’Alliance du Coeur, you are a patriot but if as a member of the General Population you vote L’Alliance de l’Avenir then you are a ‘vendeur’.
Exacerbating this categorisation of people and their voting habits, the so-called independent press has been harping on the caste considerations of the majority community. Once again, the objective was to create a rift to create a swing in the favour of their favoured alliance. What they failed to understand that in the present day, there is no such thing as a pure caste. A vast majority of inter-caste and indeed inter-religious marriages have outgrown the periodic phenomenon of pure breeds – the kattars. The press ignores that there are now new breeds of castes in 2010, i.e. those happy souls who married into other castes or other religions. They should try to study the voting patterns of such people as the: Maraved (Maraz wedded to Ravived), Teleput (Telegu wedded to Rajput), Vailim (Vaish wedded to Muslim), Sinomil (Chinese wedded to Tamil), etc. I would like to ask the written press, which party do they suppose these people supported and which candidate of their constituency they voted for?
It requires no evidence that the unholy alliance of politics and faith has always been feared for its power and influence. It is a concoction that defies all – rationality and ethics – and makes everything negotiable. Père Grègoire personifies this: when he publicly talked about the rights of the Creole and asked them to vote only for Creoles, he made it clear that he was defending a social cause. It is very clear that the man had a singleness of purpose – to impose on the Creole community his subjective political conviction — which evidently neither served the Creole community nor the party he was seeking to support. His struggle for Creole rights, equal opportunity and identity through the integration of Kreol as optional language in school was a mere sham to disguise his personal communal convictions. (It is simple logic that Kreol as an optional language will only enhance the ghettoisation of the Creole community, decreasing their opportunities to integrate and enjoy mainstream education and professions. This in itself is another debate.) Père Grègoire’s juvenile disappearance act from the political scene on the very next day after the election results only confirms the sincerity of his intentions to deliver ‘his people’ from marginalisation. What is indeed sad is that his blunders seem to have been subtly supported and even encouraged by the upper hierarchy of the Church.
Used left, right and centre as a trump card, the display and instrumental practice of communalism and caste-politics reached its zenith during the May 2010 elections. Thankfully, for our peace of mind and living, politicians, press and Père alike failed in their strategic attempts to set their respective voting banks jingling by creating serious divisions. Let them be aware that if this is what they believe in, then they are living into a distant horrific past. The Maurice île arc-en-ciel we live in today is one where there is fraternity, unity and diversity.
Today, Creole ladies no longer hesitate to wear saris, Hindus do not find it demeaning to swing to the sega. Inter religious and inter community activities are more and more becoming current practices. The three Ps (Politicians, Press and Preachers) have to take stock of the responsibility which comes with the power, pen and faith. They are here to improve our lot and not to lead us astray nor to divide us. Fortunately, we were not duped by the make-beliefs they presented in crass glossiness and each voted as per their personal convictions. Now that the tide has ebbed, let us for the time being enjoy the music of a culturally cohesive Mauritian symphony – until the barking disruptions appear again in five years!