“We have to find the right balance between the politics of ideas and the politics of representation”

Interview: Nita Deerpalsing – President of Young Labour

“We did not come into existence in the laps of power with the aim of keeping power for the sake of power!

“The only majority is that of grievance-holders. Every single person in this country seems to have a grievance to gripe about!”

The Labour Party (LP) is celebrating its 78th anniversary on the coming Sunday.


We have thought it fit to interview one if not the most outspoken of its members, Nita Deerpalsing, President of Young Labour, whose radicalism on certain issue may raise bristles, but this is what young blood is about. She is convinced that the LP is on the right path of the right dose of economic liberalism, and is not apprehensive about vested interests thwarting its road towards ensuring the national interest at large. She also believes in greater representation for the youth and for women, something more important in her view than the ethnic ‘sway’ that the MMM keeps pushing to rectify a presumed wrong to a specific community. The present and the future belong to LP, she says…

Mauritius Times: The Labour Party, the oldest in the country, is celebrating its 78th anniversary on Sunday 23rd February 2014. The Party’s ideology and leadership must have had a strong influence on its longevity, but there might have been a stronger correlation between the party’s survival and the fact of winning elections and wielding the levers of power over a long stretch of time, especially after Independence. It is said that it’s power that keeps a party going. Must be true for the Mauritius Labour Party also, isn’t it?

Nita Deerpalsing: There is in the Mauritius Labour Party a noble collective History which permeates throughout the party. I certainly feel imbibed by this and it is precisely our unending struggle for a progressive agenda which gives me inspiration and energy every day! And I would say that it is this which is our lifeblood.

Unlike the MSM for example, we did not come into existence in the laps of power with the aim of keeping power for the sake of power! This is probably why they now represent merely some 2% to 4% of the electorate. In fact when you really think about it, the toxic legacy of the very existence of the MSM in our political architecture is astounding. In a nutshell, they are the legitimate father and mother of a smarmy society, to say the least.

Further, when you analyse in depth what the advent of the MSM has done to Mauritian society, perhaps then you will understand the social degradation we have inherited from the ‘values’ perpetrated by that power-hungry Party! The MSM presided over the destiny of this country mostly from mid-80s to mid 90s. That was the roaring decade where in the name of ‘developman’ there was a State-sponsored rush towards material things at the expense of core human and societal values. It was the time when, under the threat of Hong Kong going back to China, we were inundated with business delocalising from Hong Kong to us which is principally the excuse for the media hype about some ‘pere du miracle economique’. But perhaps they were too ignorant to realise that there was also a ‘pere du debacle social et politique’.

Don’t forget that it was during their roaring decade that unskilled women labour were rushed from the home to sweatshops without one ounce of vision, of thinking about the void that was created for the children in the home at that time. These kids, born in the 80s and after, are now in their 30s and younger. Does it not strike you that it is amongst this very cohort that today you find those who are murdering their sexual partner, their mother, their father or any close relative in the name of either an inability to manage oneself or in the name of family in-fights for money, inheritance or property? Does it surprise you that it is mostly from this cohort that you find the ones who are in road-rage on our streets? Does it surprise you that it is from this cohort that you find those who will, in the most insouciant way, throw a plastic bag out of their car onto the street? Does it surprise you that it is from the same cohort that you find those who will leave a beach in a dismal garbage state after spending a Sunday afternoon there?

* Aren’t you here trying to lay all social evils at the door of the MSM?

Don’t get me wrong. No, not at all. But it is clear that during the roaring decade of the MSM in power, there was an egregious decimation of notions of social conscience, not to mention the transformation of what political engagement is all about! Don’t forget that those were the times when MPs were under the given impression that the door was open for all kinds of business transactions. Does it then surprise you that today we have a lot of politicians across the political divide who are confused about the distinction between service to the nation and service to their ego or their business enterprises?

Mr Jean Mee Desvaux is so analytically wrong to speak about Daby and Badry. They were outliers, not symptomatic of their times. Everybody knows, specially Mr Berenger – who talked about ‘bâtiment de la honte’ – that it is during the roaring decade of the MSM that fraud and corruption became systemically institutionalised. And don’t forget what Mr Desvaux recently confessed regarding (in his own words) the ‘butin’ of Rs 10 billion from the Illovo deal. He affirmed that the deal turned on its head when a big shot of the sugar barons got an appointment with the then Prime Minister, Mr Anerood Jugnauth. If Mr Desvaux is to be understood, there was an amount of 3 BILLION rupees which was swinging in the balance!!

So, no matter how much or how little the PTr founding values have seeped into the conscience of its cadres, we in the Labour Party have had the good fortune of having had, and still have, a leadership with a deeply enlightened political conscience. This makes all the difference regarding the sense of mission, the sense of purpose, the sense of responsibility for building the nation that characterises a genuine political engagement!

* The longevity could also suggest that the people do not have much of a choice in the present circumstances, hence their continued support to the Party in default of a better choice in terms of party organisation or leadership…

Look, at the end of the day, we have to see the big picture instead of getting muddled with the inevitable ‘noise’ that any organisation, any leadership, any democracy in the world is subjected to. Whether it’s a big company, a small business, an NGO, a trade union, a press group, a political party or a government, there is no single such entity on planet Earth which does not have its lot of bad apples, its lot of non-performing employees, its lot of lazybones, its lot of ego-sick people or its lot of dishonest people to deal with. This is inevitable and the Labour Party as any other organisation in this world is also subject to this. But what is important is to raise our eyes to the horizon and see whether there is movement towards a longer-term vision for the country. And I think only people of bad faith or those who are emotionally, sociologically or viscerally against the Labour Party or against the Ramgoolam name would deny that the governments under the leadership of Dr Navin Ramgoolam have made major inroads in terms of shaping a better future for this country!

Just look at how much the opposition barks about discrimination against a section of the population, etc., when they are in opposition. In fact their intellectual dishonesty is such that they surf on this for political dividends. Yet, the same opposition has had the opportunity to have almost absolute majority in 1991 and in 2000. Did they bring an Equal Opportunities Commission? Did they bring the Truth and Justice Commission? Did they bring the Public Appeals Tribunal? Did they create the Ministry for Social Integration? Did they come up with the Empowerment Programme? Under which Prime Minister have all these things been implanted in our institutional architecture? Under Navin Ramgoolam, the same one who is regularly bashed by the opposition and their lackeys in the media, for being supposedly communal! Do you or anyone else for one second realise what these things do for the overall concept of a nation belonging equally to each and every single Mauritian regardless of his/her birth certificate? It’s a long-term shot but this is exactly what enlightened leaders are supposed to do!

Now look how they are cynically playing with the death penalty issue! And I emphasise the word ‘playing’. They are so totally irresponsible! Come on, now we hear from this opposition that something as serious as the death penalty may be brought by a Private Member’s motion? How can they be more ridiculous? And knowing how this opposition voted on abortion, specially the shamefully retrograde stance of some women MPs of the MMM, there isn’t much chance of an enlightened position on this.

And why are they trying to surf on death penalty? Excuse the pun, but I’m dead against this most barbaric posturing of Anerood Jugnauth! Murdering a fellow human being is a despicable and base animal impulse. It happens when a human being has lost all sense of humanity and is totally driven by base animal instinct! Should the State also adopt such animal instincts?

* What’s your take on that? Do you personally think that society is better off without capital punishment?

In my opinion, only those who lack intellectual finesse fail to make the distinction between the age-old tension of human attributes that the Universe has given us, and the animal instincts which we also carry. At the end of the day, as individual human beings, we all have to find that equilibrium between what makes us human and the animal instincts we possess. On the other hand, the State should have no such equilibrium to search. The State is a collection of procedures, regulations, legislation and institutions made by humans yes, but in any State ‘digne’ of being called enlightened, these must be devoid of animal instincts such as the gut reaction to kill someone for what they have done! This would be replicating the exact behaviour of the murderer who has himself killed another human being on the basis of a supposed fault or deficiency ascribed to that person! It is absolutely shameful that this opposition should resort to such lame and cowardly ‘marche lor cadavre’ in their desperate attempt to excite the basest instincts that we all have. In any case, all the evidence is there to categorically show that the death penalty is NOT a deterrent!

Now look at what they did on the abortion legislation. Can you actually believe that women MPs of the MMM thought that in this patriarchal society women are not ‘grown up’, ‘responsible’ enough to be trusted to make their own decision but that they, as MPs needed to IMPOSE what decisions women need to take if faced with an unwanted pregnancy? Because at the end of the day, this is what their renegade vote on abortion was saying to every single woman in this country: I do not trust you to be woman enough, enlightened enough, responsible enough to make your own decision according to what is best for your life. Therefore it is I here who am going to impose on you what you SHOULD be doing, according to MY views of how I think you must act.

You think this should be a bunch of people that anyone with an ounce of progressive ideals would actually choose? They have absolutely no policy vision for the Mauritius of tomorrow! In my opinion, amongst all the challenges we have on our hands today, one is how to break the stranglehold of the patriarchal structure of society. All this violence towards women breeds on the unwritten social laws of patriarchy whereby most women are denied the social and educational conditions to develop what I would call Existential strength. I find it fascinating that even intellectually accomplished women are happy to restrict themselves to just a few aspects of a fulfilled human life. The need to be seen to belong to a man in order for a woman to exist with social legitimacy in this society is just another form of patriarchal imposition. If that’s not an incredible feat of invisible slavery by the patriarchal system we live in, then what is?

And have you noticed how at any social gathering – wedding, funeral, prayer, birthday, dinner parties, etc., – that the women self-segregate themselves to talk about all kinds of things except politics? I found this to be most strange when I first came back from Canada. I have never figured out why even intelligent women would automatically self-segregate themselves and feel they could not, or should not engage in an intelligent conversation with the menfolk! If that is not patriarchy, then what is? Now to be fair, I have to agree that while the men supposedly talk about ‘politics’ in these social gatherings, more often than not, these are hardly interesting let alone insightful or intelligent conversations, rarely rising above the level of juicy gossiping, or rants dripping with vitriol. So in a way I can fully understand why women find it futile to seek intelligent conversations there!

On a more serious note, to come back to your question, there should be no such thing as choosing the Labour Party by default, but rather because this is the Party which is transforming the country on all fronts, taking it into the future. It is certainly not with those MMM MPs who voted against abortion that we will break the patriarchal structures responsible for domestic violence for example!

* It could also be argued that the Labour Party’s longevity has also to do with its skilful political manoeuvring in our divisive ethnic-based electoral context. The erstwhile Part Mauricien/PMSD and the MMM have had no qualms in playing the minority card in spite of the ‘paravents’ placed in their window shops; the LP for its part played the winning card – the majority’s. Isn’t it a fact that ethnic politics has finally overtaken the ideology-based politics of yesteryears?

Well what have you been hearing so far from the current Opposition? Any actual IDEA, however stupid it may be, to write home about? I find it amazing that the ‘donneurs de lecon’ editorialists haven’t highlighted the fact that the supposed alternative to this government is ONLY about which ethnic card to place on which rank? Who will get what constitutional post? And what about what the population will get? Supposedly – the assumption is that sum of its needs will be satisfied by the placement of a communal pawn here and there? Divide the post of PM between 2 people (and no one finds this scandalous in the first place!), who will be President, who will be Speaker, who will be Ministry of Finance, etc? Do you find a vision of tomorrow’s Mauritius in all this? You think for half a second that Reza Uteem is being artificially propped up as shadow Finance minister because he has better skills for the job, than say Kee Chong or Luchmeenaraidoo or Khushiram or whoever else in the MMM? Of course not! There is no other certificate other than the birth certificate which counts here! Didn’t you hear Mr Berenger saying that he needs to rectify the political ‘error’ with respect to a specific community? What do you think this is? Politics of ideas or a skewed, deliberate sway to politics of representation?

Of course in any plural country, the politics of representation is important. And here, let us not forget that women form some 50% of the population and that any deficit of ‘representation’ is more a gender-based one than being ‘ethnicity’-based. I am sick and tired of hearing Mr Berenger wax eloquent about his worries for whatever ‘sections’ of the population while the actual problem of ‘representation’ is that of women!

At the end of the day, we have to find the right balance or the overlap between the politics of ideas and the politics of representation. But when we veer lopsidedly towards the politics of representation (communalism) only, this is highly dangerous for the long-term strength and fabric of the nation. What is most shocking is that the Remake 2000 is unabashedly openly proposing this as an alternative and I have seen very little protest or virulent denunciation of this in the media!

* To come back to the winning card of the Labour Party: the majority card – it appears to be in danger of being overturned. The witch doctors have been busy working on it – covertly and insidiously. The demographic profile of the population is changing and it’s quite possible that the younger generation would not allow themselves to be swayed by different ethnic cards in the future. Do you think there is a case today for the Labour Party to reinvent itself completely to meet this new challenging context and propose an attractive and coherent alternative? That need may be more pressing than ever before, isn’t it?

I can tell you for sure that the young are definitely not on the same wavelength as the hopelessly out-of-touch Remake geriatric lot. And as for this talk of majority or minority, I reject this simplification! First of all, I believe that every human being has plural identities and this sociological artefact of boxing people into a category on the basis of only one attribute of their human existence is so limiting. And in any case, this country is a collection of minorities. This majority thing is a myth! The only majority is that of grievance-holders. Every single person in this country seems to have a grievance to gripe about!

* It is known that Members of Parliament especially but party officials as well are aware that their careers depend on their parties and leadership. Meeting the new challenge may also warrant a review of party functioning to make politicians much more independent of party control and leadership. What do you think?

Politics is NOT a career! As I said before, where there are human beings in any form of social organisation, there will be vulnerability to all kinds of temptations. Read the Canadian press online and you will be astounded to read about the host of ‘scandals’ across that most institutionally strong country. What is important is that there are institutions which do the work that they have to do in order to protect society from the bad apples. I read one of Jean Mee Desvaux’s article in which he makes disparaging remarks about ministers in the Labour Party. But I thought that any right thinking person would celebrate the fact that under Labour-led governments, even ministers are not spared being confronted by institutions! Surely this is much more of a desirable ‘problem’ than that of institutions fighting fraud and corruption being unceremoniously dismantled overnight simply because a minister was supposed to be interrogated! And do you know whether anyone invented the utterly crass justification that Mr Anerood Jugnauth – the then PM – purportedly came out with? That, “sinon mo gouvernement ti pou grainer kuma zambalacs”? Does Mr Desvaux need a decoder for what Mr Jugnauth meant by that?

* The Labour Party has been in power for at least 28 years after the accession of Mauritius to independence. It’s sometimes alluded to as a “parti du pouvoir” just like the MMM is said to be more comfortable sitting on the opposition benches. What has power done to the Party? Would it be unfair to say that the Labour Party has also fallen prey to some form of embourgeoisement as some old Labourites would suggest?

I do find it distressing that in the current political class where paradoxically the religiosity index is super high, they are few and far between – across the political divide — those who draw their energy from a deep sense of mission for the country, a sense of purpose, a sense of non-toxic pride for being endowed with public responsibility but with a sense of humility for the limitedness and constraints of human action. But at the same time, I have to emphatically tell you that I am so enthused about the members of our Young Labour team. I am happy that the Labour Party will have no scarcity of right-minded people to continue the noble work of this Party for generations to come.

* But isn’t it a fact that our political parties are gradually losing their power with the real power in politics shifting inexorably away from party organisations to other power brokers – the financiers in the main but also diverse interest groups? Has the Labour Party been able to resist that and been able to remain anchored to its ideological roots?

All over the world, the politics of ideas is vulnerable to the global context in which we live. But it takes men and women to navigate through these troubled waters while keeping focused on the crux of what we are here for. As I said, the Labour Party has in its leader such a person and I certainly have no worry about Dr Navin Ramgoolam being swayed by interest groups, whoever they are! Quite the contrary in fact!

* But look at what is happening on the front of monetary policy with the on-going tussles at the Monetary Policy Committee: the Governor of the Bank of Mauritius, a former Labour Minister is pushing forward a policy that seeks to tame down inflation and inflationary expectations for the good of the economy; the PMSD Minister of Finance is pursuing a policy that seems prompted by the private interests of financial and other business lobbies. Whatever happened to the arbitrator and the Labour Party’s ideological grounding?

Well, as we all know, the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the BoM have met, and as far as I know it’s the Prime Minister himself who has insisted that the protagonists put an end to the sterile and unbecoming public ego-boxing. And it’s a good thing that they have agreed to meet regularly.

Now to come to the real issue at hand, I think we should resist the malady we have in this country to personalise everything. There is no categorically right or wrong answer in these cases and therefore it’s certainly not a match to see who’s right or who’s wrong; and even less who ends up being seen as the ‘mari’. There is a country’s future and best interest at stake here.

Now from the perspective of the Ministry of Finance, quite understandably they are on the hot seat to deliver tangible gains on the unemployment front, for example, in the short to medium term. The Bank of Mauritius has a longer-term perspective and wants to ensure that inflation is tamed. We tend to overlook the fact that besides being public enemy number one, specially for the poorer segment of the population, inflation taming is ALSO necessary for growth. In India, Mr Raghuram Rajan, the new central bank governor has shunned the notion that there is necessarily a trade-off between inflation and growth. He emphatically stated: “The best way I as a central bank can help the economy to grow is by keeping inflation low.”

I also think that the push to make us believe that it’s one or the other (inflation or growth) is simplistic and reductionist. Let us not forget that in the US, Paul Volcker as Federal Reserve Chairman, hiked up rates dramatically in the name of taming inflation. And that hasn’t exactly resulted in a dramatic crash of the US economy! So, even if we must take care to compare like with like, in my opinion, we must not get boxed in, into dogmatic or even less, egotistic stances. We must also deliberate on the fundamental structural and systemic issues, and at the end of the day, perhaps take the middle road between these two supposedly diametrically opposed views. It’s the long-term interest of the country which should win over all other possible considerations. And as always in these cases there is never a clear-cut answer to these complex questions.

But in this whole thing there is also a question which can objectively be put to the members of the MPC who owe their nominations to the Ministry of Finance. Given that we never hear any of them individually giving their motivations for their decisions, how can they – no matter how impressive their CVs may be — expect anyone to not have the impression that they are mere puppets? I’m afraid that there’s nothing on offer so far to me as an MP to be comforted that they are actually taking intellectually objective and rational decisions. I confess to have the perception that they are mere puppets. And let me hasten to add – precisely because everything is so personalised in this country – that this is not necessarily the fault of the Minister of Finance! The latter has legitimate concerns and objectives and he is accountable to the public to deliver on those concerns, but the members of the MPC are duty bound towards the country to weigh all considerations and act strictly objectively. As I say, I am not convinced that these people, no matter how intelligent they are, are taking decisions more for the long term interests of the country than to safeguard their CV-boosting nominations on the MPC. I’d like to be wrong on this, but as it stands this is the perception I personally have.

* Earlier the TINA bias brought to bear on other areas of economic activities and in the management of industrial relations signalled a departure from and indeed the gradual deconstruction of the erstwhile Labour Party socialistic policies. Would that suggest that New Labour is of the view that there is indeed no alternative to today’s dominant ideology -economic liberalism?

I think what we have to come to terms with is that we are today in a very different world than that when say, the Labour Party was created. True it is that we have to be always inspired by a progressive human agenda – in fact this is the overarching aim. Now how we reach there in a very different context is what we have to create as we go along in this constantly changing world. The Cold War is over, the Berlin Wall has been felled and we now live in a market economy. We would be fools if we continued to live in the past. But we have also seen the havoc that unbridled capitalism or economic liberalism can bring. So, we have to be alive to the fact that there are several flavours of economic liberalism and that we here in Mauritius have to create the kind of society and the kind of quality of life that we want for our citizens. For that, we have to liberate ourselves from dogmas and work with real parameters. This is why I am all for evidence-based policy making rather than strictly ideological-based policy making. That being said, I insist that the human progressive agenda has to be the overarching objective. We must never lose sight of that.

* If the Party would want young voters to support it in the years and decades ahead, the latter might turn round and say: ‘What’s in for me?’ What’s the answer to that legitimate question?

That’s an easy one! My first answer is what I actually ask our Young Labour members: “What was in it for those who followed Martin Luther King, Gandhi or Mandela?” Did the followers of King, Gandhi or Mandela think of anything else but the noble cause for which they were sticking their neck out? My second answer would be this: What’s in it for you is THE most satisfying of all possible rewards, which is unquantifiable in money terms: that of contributing to shape the destiny of your country and the tremendous honour and responsibility of supporting a political Party which, since 1936, has been at the forefront of, and pioneering all the noble battles and all the significant advancement of a progressive human agenda. THAT has no price and cannot ever, ever compare to any personal benefit for oneself. This is what should be in the minds of each and every member of the Labour Party as we wake up this Sunday to celebrate our 78th anniversary!


* Published in print edition on 21 February 2014

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