By Sada Reddi
Besides the people’s expectations for redress of any grievances regarding the elections, they also expect the opposition to voice and channel their grievances until their ultimate resolution. Failure to do so by both government and opposition will inevitably swell extra-parliamentary opposition
The appointment of the President and Vice-President has unsurprisingly attracted a number of both positive and negative comments in the print and also on social media for different reasons. What seems to have irked many people was that the whole exercise was shrouded in mystery. All the comments made by our fellow compatriots are the symptom of a deeper malaise which has gripped a large section of the population in the wake of the general elections, and that could wrongly be attributed only to concern amongst our fellow compatriots with the appointments.
A small incursion into history will inform us that, apart from the appointment of two Mauritians as Governor Generals, appointment to the office of the President and Vice-President has to date, notwithstanding the personal qualities of those appointed, been made on the basis of political, party, ethnic and even sub-ethnic criteria. It was mostly on the basis of friendship and past collaboration that Sir Abdool Raman Osman and Sir Dayendranath Burrenchobay were appointed by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR).
Sir Abdool Raman and SSR had been close friends since their student days. They travelled together in the same ship on their way to Britain for their higher studies, and their friendship endured despite their different careers. Sir Dayendranath was the first Mauritian Secretary to the cabinet and Head of the Civil Service and a close associate and adviser of Sir Seewoosagur. Since the appointment of Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo to succeed SSR as Governor General and later as President of the Republic, political, party and ethnic considerations have largely been the main criteria.
In a sense there is nothing new in the recent appointments except perhaps that ethnicity, sub-ethnicity and jati considerations have been consolidated. In an interview to Week-end, 1 December 2019, Barlen Vyapoory, the outgoing Vice-President and Acting President candidly asserted that he owed his appointment to the fact that he is a Tamil. He further explained that because only one Tamil had been elected in the 2014 general elections, Sir Anerood Jugnauth had felt the need to compensate the Tamil community by appointing him as Vice-President.
One can venture to add that the appointment was effected as an extension of the Best Loser System (BLS). Even though the BLS is decried in many quarters, it has a life of its own and will not disappear unless the system of government becomes truly representative of all our people. The present nominations therefore merely consolidate these appointments as part of the BLS.
We should not be surprised with this approach for this is an ancient legacy that the MSM has inherited from its ancient lineage. For those who are sceptical about these assertions, two examples will suffice. After the 1948 elections, Juggurnauth Bedaysee, a lawyer and relative of the Gungah family, who had contested the elections had been competing in the same vote bank against Sookdeo Bissoondoyal and proved a potential threat to the latter in future elections. In the 1959 election, Beedaysee was transferred to fight Ramgoolam and nearly defeated him had it not been for the timely intervention and mobilization of Mr Auleear of Triolet in the week preceding the election.
That was the first lesson that SSR learnt about jati in politics, a lesson which he never unlearnt thereafter. Similarly, another candidate Venkat Dharma Rajan who had only a Tamil surname was made to stand against the Labour candidate Vele Govinden in 1959. We also know how Harilal Vaghjee and Aunauth Beejadhur were defeated in the 1963 elections.
From a historical perspective, the recent appointments to the highest offices in the land are far from being an aberration. The focus on these appointments only reflects a general malaise in the country.
However much we may praise the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) for its past professionalism and integrity, one has to face the fact that the unreflective self-confidence of the ESC in conducting the last elections has been punctured. It is sad to say so given the fact that we have had municipal elections since 1850 and general elections since 1886. The continuing mobilization of different groups of citizens on the streets and on social media indicates their moral outrage. Pending the pronouncements of the law courts on the different electoral petitions, a climate of uncertainty will prevail. Until this is dispelled and we put the elections behind us, we may not have the social conditions conducive to tackling the numerous problems that confront us.
A policy of appeasement and the cancellation of some of our debts by foreign countries may give us some respite and may help to clear some of the clouds and damp the smouldering fire below the surface but that will not be enough. On the other hand, besides the people’s expectations for redress of any grievances regarding the elections, they also expect government to realize the economic and social objectives it has set itself to achieve. They equally expect the opposition to voice and channel their grievances until their ultimate resolution. Failure to do so by both government and opposition will inevitably swell extra-parliamentary opposition. For the moment, Government could only avoid economic slowdown by a runaway debt-fuelled consumer boom but that will only postpone economic troubles if the government fails to deliver.
On the other hand, as for a large section of the people, wallowing in feelings of impending doom will not help. Having a government you did not vote for is not the end of the world. Instead of curling up into a ball, buck up and fight for your rights as many are doing and strive hard for better days ahead.
* Published in print edition on 13 December 2019