Interview: Nita Deerpalsing
“The Labour Party can proudly say that in Parliament, it is more or less representative of the Mauritian nation” * “Contrary to the intoxication campaign about how the Labour Party needed the MMM ‘pour faire l’unité nationale’, the election results factually demonstrate that it is the MMM which needs another party for ‘l’unité nationale’”
In the wake of the emergence of the concept of the nation state, “identities have become more… coloured”, resulting in “the politics of representation somewhat overtaking the politics of ideas in the political battlefield”. “Mauritius is no exception… Not surprisingly, the Labour Party has also been affected by this shift,” says Nita Deerpalsing in this week’s interview, adding that what is important is that the Labour Party rests upon solid foundations as far as the politics of ideas is concerned. She adds: “It is undeniable that it is the Labour Party which has been primarily responsible for pushing and entrenching through concrete policy actions, progressive politics in this country. What we now have to address is how the politics of ideas and the politics of representation (or identities) can converge to continue to uphold progressive politics in this country…”
Mauritius Times: Press reports quote you stating that the Labour Party can do without « other parties » insofar as the promotion of national unity is concerned. Your alliance partners may have a different view, but what is certain is that at least 43% of the voters thought otherwise. How do you react to that?
Nita Deerpalsing: I guess you’re referring to those press reports which are “sûr, fiable and précis”? They forgot to add one bit to that line: “Faire palab vine info, nou mem meilleur!”
Let me take you back to a few months ago, namely to 23 February this year – a date marking the anniversary of the Labour Party. The day started with a premature April Fool’s joke which spread like wildfire across the country. A radio station, “sûr, fiable and précis” as usual, went as far as “announcing” the composition of a fervently hoped for, imagined PTr-MMM Cabinet! Those were the days when the full-blown propaganda campaign was about “l’unité nationale”. That was the central rhetoric of the pundits praying for a PTr-MMM alliance. You couldn’t miss it. On their radio station, on each and every single of their different newspapers and other publications, the titles, the articles, the editorials, the opinion pages. Were they really intoxicated or were they pushing for the people to be intoxicated is anybody’s guess.
Anyway, on that day at the Labour Party headquarters, Dr Navin Ramgoolam gave an inspiring speech about the history of the Labour Party and its indelible contribution to progressive politics in this country. From universal suffrage, free transport for students to equal opportunities and so on. But what I retained from that speech was his reiterated wish that the Labour Party should be seen and known to be a truly national party.
Today, with the recent election results, I think we can be proud that the Labour Party has had 27 of its candidates elected from across the country and across the various components of our society. When you look objectively at the ratio of candidates to elected members, the success rate is rather satisfactory:
Now if you consider the fact that in a number of constituencies, the election of many non-Labour candidates rested predominantly on the rock solid strength of the Labour Party (Constituencies no. 12 and 18 being the most conspicuous ones), then I’d say that our success rate can reasonably be adjusted to over 80%. And that is something for which we, in the Labour Party, can be reasonably proud of. This is what I was talking about to my CLP members who were deeply unsatisfied about losing one of our Labour candidates in Number 18.
And as far as the politics of representation is concerned, the Labour Party can proudly say that in Parliament, it is more or less representative of the Mauritian nation. However, when you look at the MMM, its representativeness factor is strikingly and shockingly lopsided. Yet, in the very press reports to which you refer, please don’t expect to find a single word or a single sentence or even a whisper that the MMM is a communal or sectarian party… Compare that to the constant mission since Le Cernéen days, to ‘manufacture consent’ that the Labour Party is limited in its representativeness of the Mauritian nation. The facts today give a resounding lie to the pundits who’d be very comfortable in selling their vicious prejudice.
* Would that statement that the Labour Party can do without « other parties » mean that the presence of Rashid Beebeejaun and Xavier Duval on your electoral platform is not good enough — given that Cehl Meeah has made it in No 3 and Xavier Duval is not up to it to match up to Bérenger ?
What this means is that contrary to the intoxication campaign which had gone on for months on end about how the Labour Party needed the MMM “pour faire l’unité nationale”, the election results factually demonstrate that it is the MMM which needs another party for “l’unité nationale”. Significant nuance, don’t you think?
* I believe you have also stated that the perception which associates the Labour Party particularly with one community (namely the Hindu community) has to be done away with. How do you do that?
You know, over the last (say) hundred years, the face of politics across the globe has dramatically changed. Back then, it was the politics of ideas which was predominant in the sphere of politics, especially that of progressive politics. National and political identities centred mainly around class consciousness. Gradually, as the concept of the nation state emerged and evolved, identities became more… coloured. In a nutshell, this has led to the politics of representation somewhat overtaking the politics of ideas in the political battlefield.
The politics of identities (or representation) is particularly rife in post-Cold War Europe. Take a country like Belgium. Do you know that the politics of identities there has resulted in a number of political crises, shaking the government to the point of an impasse on the prime ministership? The undercurrents of tension between the Flemmish and the Belgian French-speaking mainstream is an unending source of political turmoil there.
This is the paradox of globalization. Everyone talks about globalised trade, globalised services, globalised financial systems and so on. Yet individuals’ identities have moved more in the other direction. That is, more towards a kind of group retrenchment than a cosmopolitan opening.
Mauritius is no exception. We have also experienced mutations in individual, group and national identities. And our political battlefield has also witnessed the shift from the politics of ideas to the politics of identities. Not surprisingly, the Labour Party has also been affected by this shift.
But what is important is that the Labour Party rests upon solid foundations as far as the politics of ideas is concerned. It is undeniable that it is the Labour Party which has been primarily responsible for pushing and entrenching through concrete policy actions, progressive politics in this country. What we now have to address is how the politics of ideas and the politics of representation (or identities) can converge to continue to uphold progressive politics in this country. So yes, in this context we do have to address perception as well as reality.
* Doesn’t it look like, after what we have witnessed during the recent electoral campaign, that the majority v/s minority divide is here to stay given it serves the interests of the political elites as well as those of « oppressed » minority groups in the first place as there is more to gain by maintaining a state of separateness than by joining with the mainstream?
What we learn from the shift in identities that I just mentioned – that is from globalised to group identities – is that we should look at the notions of identity as evolving entities amenable to change rather than static things embedded in an unchanging symbology. Contrary to popular opinion, national identities are mutable and events can impact and radically change national self-conceptions and identities. In general I’d say this is a good thing.
However, given what we have witnessed during the recent electoral campaign, we have to be very careful about the forceful manufacture of consent that has been pushed from certain quarters for specific communities to adopt a synthetic “oppressed” identity. This kind of imagined identities, if entrenched, can be extremely dangerous for each and everyone of us and for our society in the long run. Make no mistake. This is not a question of majority v/s minority. To start with, there’s no such thing as a real majority group in this country. All these shenanigans are more about a power game with specific communities being ruthlessly used as pawns.
We’re evidently not out of the woods as far as the intrinsic political battle of this country is concerned. The essence of this political battle is about the opening up of opportunities for everyone. When you are seen to be even a little bit serious about the democratisation of the economy, of course, as has been the case in the past, ultra-conservative quarters will time and again come up with a bogeyman. This takes different forms over time. In the time when the Labour Party was pushing for universal suffrage, it was “pa mette razoir dans la main zaco”. Today, it is about the bogeyman who will oppress, suffocate “minorities”. Therefore yes, in a power game to preserve economic supremacy, the bogeyman of “majority v/s minority” is a powerful psychological weapon.
* The case for the revision of the Best Loser system – or its elimination altogether from our electoral system – would not sound convincing to minority groups in those circumstances, would it?
In our manifest, we have proposed a profound review of our constitutional regime. I think this is very important in the context we have just discussed.
We must however keep in mind that we would be naïve to think that the politics of identities (or representation) will just go away with a simple constitutional change. I think that the kind of question we should ponder upon is, for example, if tomorrow we had a Parliament of 60 most competent Mauritian women of Chinese origin. Are we at a stage in our national consciousness, where 1.2 million citizens would just shrug it off as the result of meritocracy and mauricianisme? I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m just playing the devil’s advocate but what I know is that we do need to address the things that are grounded in reality. I fervently hope that the “Commission des Sages” entrusted with the review of our constitutional regime will also take these things in consideration.
* Would you say that the new « chantier » of social integration – across the board, we presume – would constitute a befitting answer to the majority v/s minority bogey and that Xavier Duval would rise to the challenge?
Before anything else, social integration is a moral obligation to those who have been less fortunate in life, regardless of their current “identity frame”. It is therefore our duty to support the work of this newly created ministry. And having seen what Xavier Duval is capable of when he focuses his effort on something, I have no doubt that significant inroads will be made over the next five years.
* Given that you have equated the Labour Party with national unity (and that it can do without « other parties » in this respect) after the general elections, would this suggest that coalition politics would have been a painful, but necessary, experience during the electoral campaign?
What was important for these elections was the continued push for progressive politics in this country. The opening up of opportunities to a greater number of people. The democratisation of the economy. Nation building where everyone knows and feels she or he has his space to blossom. In that sense, coalition politics for the general elections was not at all painful. All of us were in total sync on those important aspects.
* It’s going to be even more painful, now and thereafter, when the spoils of power, allocation of high office involving parastatal, ambassadorial posts, etc., are dealt with and positions have to be shared amongst coalition partners, isn’t it ? Doesn’t look like a bright prospect ?
As it is the case the world over, each new government ropes in people in whom there is complete trust to put in place the current government’s policy. There’s nothing new in this.
* How about the new government alliance’s shared vision? How confident are you that personal ambitions – and a Prime Minister in waiting – will not come in the way of cooperative action by all concerned parties?
Well actually, it seems that all the Prime Ministers in waiting – such as Dulloo, Luchmeenaraidoo, Jeeha and so on, are now out of play. There is only one Prime Minister and that is Dr Navin Ramgoolam. I don’t have an iota of doubt that the focus of this government will be on what our alliance pledged to the people. In fact, I daresay that the PM has an even freer hand today to pursue the democratisation of the economy.
* It looks like the Prime Minister would think that there is unfinished business to attend to at the Democratisation Commission, hence his decision to maintain you and Cader Sayed-Hossen there. Is that the case or is there some quota in the matter of appointments which could not be exceeded?
You will recall that in his speech on the budget in November 2009, the PM had forcefully stressed that he had unfinished business to attend to in the context of the democratisation of the economy. So yes, this is certainly the case. Specially concerning the IPPs and the setting up of the Cane Democratisation Fund amongst other things. There is still a lot of work to be done for the democratisation of the economy.
* Tell us about the unfinished business in terms of economic democratisation. We hear that you have set your sights on the tourism sector. There we go again: White-bashing ! would say Mr Bérenger…
If you were to follow the logic of the MMM, then Mandela, Luther King and Gandhi were white-bashers! Come on, as far as those gratuitous, vacuous and laden accusations are concerned, we’ve been there, done that. We totally intend to stay focused. Yes, there’s a lot to do in the tourism sector. We have a work session planned with the new minister to discuss a number of issues.
* How do you react to all that is being reported and commented upon regarding the « weak Euro » and its consequences on tourism, textile and the sugar sector?
There is the usual cry-wolf mentality of course. But to be fair, we need to take good stock of what is happening in the Euro zone. This is not just about a dampening of revenue in the short term. It’s also about the more long term economic ramifications in the countries of the Euro zone which in turn will affect us. However, all actions must be evidenced-based. We need to look at factual figures for all the sectors you mentioned. We must not forget that sugar does not contribute as much to the economy as it used to. The sector which may be in some difficulty in the immediate short term is textile. Is the rupee really overvalued with respect to the economic fundamentals? Or are we worried about one particular sector? And is it time for lame ducks in that sector to phase out so that we don’t go on ad-infinitum with the lobby to “adjust” the rupee? Adjusting the rupee outside of economic fundamentals just to prop up a sector inevitably has a negative impact on everyone in the country. This is why I’d be more for truly evidence-based policy actions and not hasty reactions based on perceptions that are willfully created by those in this country who have acquired significant expertise in the cry-wolf competency.