Interview Nita Deerpalsing

Interview : Nita Deerpalsing


“The Labour Party has its ‘force de frappe’ and anyone would be a fool to underestimate us”

“Every single reasonable person in this country knows that the MSM is worth less than 2% today and falling. They’ve already managed the incredible feat of snatching 50% of electoral tickets from the MMM”

“I also can’t recall any headline-happy clergy press conferences to voice concern about a banking institution such as the MCB which was caught in the winds of the UNPRECEDENTED scandal of the Rs800 million pensioner’s money”

“The MSPA is one unit when it comes to asking for government to support them as a group but suddenly it says that it is a collection of individual estates and is even disbanding when it comes to giving workers their due”

In addition to dispelling the apparent controversial points in connection with leadership guru Robin Sharma and his visit here, Nita Deerpalsing tackles head-on several other matters of acute interest in the polity in this week’s interview, and puts to rest once and for all the myth of the invincibility and strength of the ‘Refake’ as she calls it. She makes sharp observations about some historical drifts that could have overturned the boat of nascent Independent Mauritius, were it not for the sagacity and vision of its leadership under the tutelage of Labour at that crucial time in the life of our country. Read on…

Mauritius Times: It would appear that the Young Labour meet with Robin Sharma, last week-end, has met with a significant measure of success – with a good 5000 young and not-so-young people coming to the Swami Vivekananda International Convention Centre to listen to the leadership guru. Great crowd-puller indeed, isn’t he?

Nita Deerpalsing: (Smile). I am deeply amused as to just how much effort has been spent, specially from La Sentinelle group, to frantically downplay the overwhelming success which this Young Labour conference has had. But we know that when the guys at La Sentinelle feel so desperate to draw a picture which suits their hidden wishes, it’s actually very good news for us!

Let me give you some facts. We were really expecting some 6,000 youngsters, because this was a Saturday, what with the races, young people having university courses, tuition and so many other commitments on Saturdays, and a significant number observing religious fasting, etc. We only catered for about 1,000 chairs over and above the 5,000 seats which were in the main hall. Now anyone who was there would tell you that in addition to those taken seats, there were youngsters sitting down all over the place on the floor or on the steps of the ‘gradins’ as well as hundreds standing on the sides and at the back of the main hall. In addition, outside of the main hall, we had at least 3,000 youths and we had to scramble to find extra chairs for them, unfortunately there was a good thousand or so who had to stand. But there was more than just the crowd which went much, much more beyond our expectations. The palpable, crackling, energy of these youngsters was simply contagious!

Even Weekend had to recognise that it was the Prime Minister, Dr Navin Ramgoolam ‘qui a mobilisé ces nombreux jeunes’… and that the PM had “un show à l’américaine qui a déchaîné un auditoire tout acquis à sa cause.”

And you know what the bad news is for La Sentinelle ? It’s that precisely because of the reasons I have just mentioned, in spite of this astounding success, we were not even at our best on that day! Ideally we would have held it on a Sunday, not on a Saturday and definitely after Eid. But unfortunately the next available date on Robin Sharma’s schedule was not until January next year so we had to reluctantly keep the only date he could give us for this year.

* However the Robin Sharma conference would not have been “du goût de tout le monde” according to l’express, which adds that “une vague de contestation, venant surtout de l’opposition, a vu le jour…” in the wake of the announcement of his visit here. There is worse: the equation of Sharma’s alleged support to the Labour Party with his naturalisation as a Mauritian citizen some six months back, and which has prompted some anonymous MMM Facebookers to say that Sharma would have sold his conscience! Now that’s very serious if there has indeed been a trade-off. How do you react to that?

Well, allow me to paraphrase from Robin Sharma: some people get jealous when seeing the success of others, while smart people get inspired by the success of others.

So you see, what I’d say to those who cowardly hide behind ‘anonymous’ quotes and ‘sources’, and to the sour-grapes poor MMM folks is this: why waste your precious time and energy in such a negative, ugly and depleting emotion like jealousy? Get inspired instead, silly people!

And let me share two other facts with you:

First, the idea of bringing in Robin Sharma came up in a brainstorming session amongst Young Labour members when we were thinking of what could we do to innovate, to do something completely different, AND to bring value to the gathering of youth in the context of celebrating International Youth Day. At that time, I had absolutely no idea that Robin Sharma had acquired Mauritian nationality. So the question of trade-off was never even within the realm of imagination.

Second, Robin Sharma charged his professional fees for doing this event on a strictly professional basis as for all his professional engagements across the world, so there again, there is absolutely no question of trade-off.

But let me tell you what they are not talking about. Way back in March this year, we came up with a two-pronged activities plan for Young Labour: a series of iLEARN activities and a series of iCAN activities.

The iLEARN activities are held on a Saturday of each month and we started the first one in May. They are a ‘forum-debat’ style with a theme, a resource person and lots of questions and answers. The objective of this stream of activities is to give the Young Labour members a structure where they can hone their thinking about specific issues and delve deeper, through questions and answers, to enrich their knowledge. It’s essentially a LEARNING activity. So we’ve had 4 iLEARN events so far: the first was on the History of the Labour Party, the second was on Maurice Ile Durable, the third was on the Ocean Economy and the fourth was Youth and Leadership with Robin Sharma. And we have 6 other iLEARN events already scheduled till the end of the year. Those who wish to find out more are welcome to check them out on www.younglabour.mu.

The iCAN activities are on-the-ground activities and they are held at each constituency level on a Sunday of each month. The objective of this is to give a push to the “I Can” attitude of our youths and give them an opportunity to serve their ‘quartiers’ in a concrete ‘can-do’ manner. Here too, we’ve already had three iCAN events and the schedule for each month till the end of the year is already set.

We held a press conference, I think it was in April to announce all this and I did note with interest that at their 1st May gathering, Hon Berenger said some things about the youth.

All this to say that I am very pleased and proud that the Labour Party has innovated and tried to raise the standard and do things a bit differently from the usual humdrum. You will have seen that for this Conference, we did not put a single ‘affiche’ nor a single ‘banderole’ anywhere in the country. Not even an advert on Radio or TV. We only used new technology and I daresay it was a fantastic event, perhaps a life changer for many of these youths to have Robin Sharma speak to them. The sparkles in their eyes, the elevation they felt, will forever remain in my memory as something invaluable, priceless!

Anyway, like it or not, history will surely have to recall that we, in the Labour Party, have set the trend for others to follow!

* Anyway, it does look like the Labour Party had great and urgent need for a Robin Sharma-inspired shot in the arm, what with the “affairs” that have been hogging newspaper headlines since the beginning of the year and been casting a (bad) spell on the political fortunes of a few Labour ministers and MPs and chairpersons of other parastatal bodies. What’s your take on that?

Really? Have you seen the sorry sights of Anerood Jugnauth’s public outings lately? The MedPoint 2 refake alliance has Anerood Jugnauth as Dr Navin Ramgoolam’s challenger. Do you think poor Anerood Jugnauth can stand for hours on end, let alone walk on stage and display such ease in remembering facts and figures, and in answering questions with a mastery of minute details – and that too without a single paper in his hands — as Navin Ramgoolam did on Saturday? I’m sorry, but the contrast is too crucifying for them.

Besides, have you missed the fact that the Jugnauths are in vertiginous freefall as far as public opinion is concerned? I remember when Anerood Jugnauth was finally pushed to get out of Reduit, in a press conference I said: “good riddance, now he is the problem of the MMM”. And that’s exactly what the case is today! So from a purely political strength perspective, I have not a single iota of doubt that the Labour Party has its ‘force de frappe’ and anyone would be a fool to underestimate us, recent “actualités” or not.

Now let’s come to these infamous newspaper headlines you are talking about: it’s a mixed bag! Some are absolutely exaggerated, others are valid and needed critiques and doing their job — calling the Executive to account — and this is always healthy in a democracy.

So in the cases where the headlines are genuine, then it only goes to show that institutions are working! And shall we please say a little prayer to the Lord for that?! Shouldn’t we also praise the Lord for the fact that we are certainly not in the times when an institution like the Economic Crime Office was forcefully and unceremoniously closed down within 24 hours! In a terribly urgent amendment to our constitution! D’un trait de plume!

Strangely enough I don’t remember headline-happy priests running to press conferences then! Nor do I recall them splashing their oh-so-great-concern for institutions or for law and order between 2000 and 2005 in the cases of Vanessa Lagesse, Nadine Dantier, the little boy who was burnt to death, the couple who got drowned in Bassin Blanc, the manager who was murdered right in the safety of the ‘caveau’ of the Mauritius Commercial Bank.

Tiens, tiens, come to think of it, I also can’t recall any headline-happy clergy press conferences to voice concern about a banking institution such as the Mauritius Commercial Bank which was caught in the winds of the UNPRECEDENTED scandal of the Rs800 million pensioner’s money.

I also don’t recall even a little whisper from the clergy when the NTan report was out and revealed what it revealed. Nor do I recall priests rushing from their pulpit to press conferences when the advice of the State Law Office (SLO) was dismissed and legal advice was sought outside of the institution of the SLO in order to push through the Illovo deal!

So, the question is: where were our dear priests-cum-angel guardians of our institutions then? Selective amnesia – or does it have something to do with the fact that the name of the Prime Minister then was not Navin Ramgoolam? Anyone prepared to talk about inherent prejudice? Communalism perhaps? Am I treading on forbidden grounds? Or is prejudice officially reserved for one section of the population in this country?

* As regards the “affairs” that come to nag incumbent governments, you had earlier commented, in relation to the MedPoint issue, that “not everything that is legal is necessarily also moral”. You wouldn’t change your moral position as regards these affairs, would you? I presume the Jeannot, MITD affairs, etc., would also have made a Young Labour rather uncomfortable, wouldn’t it?

We all know that the MSM would still be happily in government today if the pressure from the MSM to ‘touffe l’enquete’ was fruitful. We also know that this Prime Minister has a standing record about people stepping down when there is a prima facie case established. So as I said before, we have institutions in this country and we need to let them do their work. I’m not saying everything is perfect under the sun. Where there are humans, there is greed. Look at the latest headlines about Thierry Lagesse’s car. I don’t know what the real story is but suffice it to say that there will always be denunciations – valid or not – and the important thing is that institutions must be allowed to do their work. That, if anything, is the sign of a healthy democracy!

That being said, I do think that there is a dire need of a shake up in the parastatals where some are sitting there as if they’ve been put there for life or even their afterlife! Not to mention the super-ego trip on which some are travelling. In any case, for the little that I know about the Prime Minister, I don’t think he thinks too highly of some of these guys. Anyway, let’s see what ensues…

* Other young persons have also expressed their discomfort with the state of affairs prevailing in the country – presumably under a Labour-led government – by choosing to stay away from the country (their Dad said in Week-end, last month, that “je suis content que mes enfants avocats aient quitté ce pays”). Another young intellectual said she was “fâchée” with the country and railed against what she termed the “hégémonie hindoue” which, according to her, would have taken over the Civil Service. That’s bad publicity for the country, especially so for a Labour-led Mauritius, isn’t it?

I’m afraid, for me there is no such thing as a Labour-led Mauritius, there is a Republic of Mauritius, tout court. And I really have no problem with people expressing their individual opinion. I don’t think we should get on high horses about those opinions. Let people talk! We are in a democracy. We can disagree with people’s opinions and we must learn to articulate our disagreements without attacking the person. People can be right or wrong. People can be wrongly motivated. People can be under loads of misconceptions. All these things happen in a democracy. What is important is that we face the issues in an intellectually honest and respectful manner. We don’t need to jump as if we want to put a ‘fatwa’ on anyone for having expressed their opinion!

Regarding the ‘hégémonie hindoue’, I personally find this to be terribly simplistic and it overlooks the very complex forces at play even within what is called the Hindu community. Anyone who makes such a reductive categorization is either oblivious to, or too readily overlooking, the deep fractures within supposed ‘homogeneous’ social groups in Mauritius. There are a host of newly manufactured identities in this country and this makes for a much more complex story than this headline grabbing ‘hégémonie’ story. So I wouldn’t get onto my high horses about this, I think we should engage in the debates without becoming over-sensitive about categorized identities.

* The interview of the Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Mr Brian Glover, last weekend, also makes depressing reading about certain things prevailing in Mauritius to this day – the undercurrent of ethnic discrimination, for instance, that still afflicts the labour market to a certain extent – both in the public and private sectors. He says that “Maurice est malade de ses passions claniques… nous sommes un pays d’otages, certains sont otages du passé, d’autres du pessimisme ambiant, d’autres encore d’un complexe d’épiderme”… Your opinion ?

Indeed we are still saddled with historical grievances, and we have ‘ingeniously’ manufactured new ones as well. We are almost going to reach a point where everyone has an imaginary ethnic grievance to gripe about! Despite the smallness of the size of our population, we have a social fabric which is hugely complex underneath the surface.

This is why the Equal Opportunities Commission is a game-changing and important institution. And may I remind you that despite all the talks in the past, it is THIS government, under the prime ministership of THIS Prime Minister, i.e. Dr Navin Ramgoolam that such institutions have been set up!

* We have heard you canvassing support for a secular Mauritius lately and very little about the going-ons in the sugar and energy sectors and much less about the democratisation agenda. What’s so urgent and important about this secular agenda ?

Let me first reassure you that I’m still following the issues you have mentioned even if I may not have been publicly vocal about them. On the sugar sector for example, I note that the MSPA is one unit when it comes to asking for government to support them as a group but suddenly it says that it is a collection of individual estates and is even disbanding when it comes to giving workers their due. It reflects one of those ‘otages du passé’ that Mr Glover was talking about.

And it is precisely in order to break free from ‘les otages du passe’ that the secular agenda is important!

Let’s face the facts. We started off at Independence with some 44% voting against independence. Let us not beat around the bush and acknowledge that the 44% happened to be aligned with one social category of the population, if you allow me some simplification that I myself abhor. But it is important in this analysis. So we are still carrying that societal fracture in our national psyche whether you like it or not or whether anyone wants to face it or not. And there is a whole slew of things that go with that fracture. Including the visceral fear of the “Indo” that was instilled in a vile, toxic prejudice campaign to pit dark-skinned Indo-Mauritians as ‘savages’ that one could never trust.

To a large extent, this social imagination is not dead and buried. On the other hand, as a reaction, the perception that non-Indo-Mauritians are less endowed with a sense of effort towards nation building still runs deep amongst Indo-Mauritians. Let me hasten to say that I absolutely hate making such wide generalisations but for the purpose of this commentary I’ve had to resort to some caricaturing. But the fundamental point is that there are still fissures along religious lines, not because of the religion itself but more because the religions were aligned at that time with specific wide social categorisations.

Then you have today’s modern Mauritius where a law about giving women’s rights over their bodies has to be whispered into Parliament because some religious people want the laws of God to be the laws of the State. These people want the State to invest, fund and run a police, an Executive, a Judicial system which would spend the State’s resources ensuring that the Sins of the Books become the sins of the State. I fail to see why we are so presumptuous to think that God needs a human workforce to do the job of punishing us for our sins!

Then you also have a system where people have the perception that one religion or the other has some kind of supremacy in the country. All this is unhealthy! You cannot have a modern, forward-looking nation with all kinds of existential insecurities lurking just under the surface. Unspoken but felt. We cannot push those under the carpet. If we want to get to a common sense of nationhood, over and above our rich diversity, we need to ensure that each citizen has an equal amount of existential security. And this is why I am insistent on this secular agenda.

This is why I would like it to be dead clear in our Constitution. This one word – secular – would be one common reference point for all of us to relate to our nationhood as equal citizens. Without sub-texts. Without under the surface sous-entendus. Without this space wherein doubts and perceptions (right or wrong), and all kinds of grievances – imaginary or otherwise — can proliferate.

And let me say that there are several flavours of secularism. We need to design our own to respond to our plural, complex society. I am convinced that until we’ve taken that issue of secularism head on, we will be pitching under our potential as a nation which is much more than the sum of its parts.

* The Leader of the MMM, Mr Paul Bérenger, will hold, on his part, a public conference on ‘Le socialisme aujourd’hui’ on Saturday 17th August 13 at the Municipality of Quatre Bornes. Too bad he has not chosen to expatiate upon his cherished latter-day ‘dada’: electoral reform, but his thinking on today’s socialism may be worth listening to. What do you think?

Well I for one, would be curious to hear the perspective of Honourable Berenger on today’s socialism! Let us hear what he has to say – so I reserve my comments until after that conference!

* As regards electoral reform itself, what’s the thinking of the ‘Young Labour’ wing of the Party on this subject?

As with any other political group, we have a diversity of views amongst the Labour Party and it’s Young Labour wing. We still need to have an open debate about the subject and we’ll probably have one soon. But I think we all have an open mind about the issue. What is important is that the nation comes out stronger after such a reform. All reforms have caveats but we need to look on balance what is best for the future of the country.

* You wouldn’t want the country to miss this “occasion historique de réussir une bonne réforme électorale”, as Mr Berenger puts it, given the MSM’s “100%” alignment with the MMM’s proposals with regard to the reform of our electoral system, would you?

I’m sorry I can’t help smiling when I hear about MSM’s 100% alignment with the MMM! Every single reasonable person in this country knows that the MSM is worth less than 2% today and falling. They’ve already managed the incredible feat of snatching 50% of electoral tickets from the MMM; in addition to almost 50% of illusory prime ministership for a candidate who would be closing in on his 90th birthday at the time of general elections! Boy, are those people desperate for power or what??? Now, given how desperate they are, you wouldn’t now expect the MSM to be so greedy as to say that after all that, they couldn’t be 100% agreeable with the MMM would you? I know… it is hard not to associate the word ‘greedy’ with the MSM… but please, do make an effort! (smiles)


* Published in print edition on 8 August  2013

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