Let’s keep what we know works


We should remember everyone who was part of the constitutional conference that produced our constitution as real heroes. The time may come when the Best Loser System may not be necessary. That day will be when parties are brave enough to disregard the composition of each electorate before nominating a candidate


I am neither a historian nor a political scientist but the view I present is based on decades-long reflection on how Mauritius came to be.

I was 16 years old in 1968, and I had the exhilarating experience of being in the grandstand at Champ de Mars and at the garden party at Pamplemousses Botanical Garden. The highlight of the evening was the speech by Cheddi Jagan, recounting his experience of being elected, then deposed, as Prime Minister of Guyana. For people of Indian origin, listening to that speech seemed like a fitting coda to a political turning point in the history of this country.


Young Cheddi Jagan along with first Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru when he visited India in 1953


Looking back, however, also brings its share of sorrows. My grandfather, Ramlochunsing Hazareesing, worked in and with the sugar estates. His attitude towards and his treatment by the white managers at the sugar estates were shaped in a period of history that does the white community no honour. The Indian community at the time was poor, yes, but the need to attain independence was not driven solely by economic injustice. The most important need was for respect. And the Indian community did not feel respected.

To be fair, there were two white communities: the older generation, the likes of Alfred North-Coombes, comes to mind; they expected respect but also reciprocated in their own way. And then, there was the new generation, fresh out of the confessional schools, who would ride roughshod over everyone, no matter their age.

I don’t believe the upper echelon of the sugar estates appreciated the damage done by the young upstarts with their behaviour towards people like my grandfather. Age plays a very important role in the value system of the Indian community, and daily violations of that simple code caused great dismay among this community.

I do not think it is unfair to say that the Parti Mauricien’s primary goal in opposing independence was to maintain the status quo. Unfortunately, this was a gamble which cost the country dearly. The exodus of bright and capable people, mostly belonging to what we call the General Population, resulted to a large extent from the fear, real and exaggerated, instilled by the Parti Mauricien that the General Population would be relegated to second-class citizenship in a country dominated by those of Indian origin.


“My grandfather, Ramlochunsing Hazareesing, worked in and with the sugar estates. His attitude towards and his treatment by the white managers at the sugar estates were shaped in a period of history that does the white community no honour. The Indian community at the time was poor, yes, but the need to attain independence was not driven solely by economic injustice. The most important need was for respect. And the Indian community did not feel respected…”


What I remember of those days is struggling in Mathematics during my first four years at Royal College. In three months, one Mr Bastide would set me on the right course that would lead me to a doctorate. And Mr Bastide set sail for Australia soon after. A teacher who had a seminal effect on my English was Mr Beaupre. He left as well. I am not saying these gentlemen left for racist reasons. They simply became part of a wave that left Mauritius so much poorer.

If the pre-independence Parti Mauricien was totally off course, let’s also remember that the post-independence PMSD brought much needed vitality to a political scene that was dominated by aging politicians whose main goal had been achieved. Its inclusion in the government team following independence and its outward looking economic vision helped steer the country to what it is today.


“What I remember of those days is struggling in Mathematics during my first four years at Royal College. In three months, one Mr Bastide would set me on the right course that would lead me to a doctorate. And Mr Bastide set sail for Australia soon after. A teacher who had a seminal effect on my English was Mr Beaupre. He left as well. I am not saying these gentlemen left for racist reasons. They simply became part of a wave that left Mauritius so much poorer…”


These reminiscences are not intended to raise the issue of racism in Mauritius. It is to point out that racial, religious, and communal animosities are often the result of particular historical contexts. We cannot go back and change the feelings of hurt and disrespect of the Indian community nor the fears of the General Population. What is important is that the younger generation that wants to do away with the Best Loser System and pretend that Mauritius is genuinely a unitary society realize that, lurking among communities, are feelings of marginalization, disrespect, and fear. Just because policies are racially blind does not mean that outcomes are so.

I regard the Best Loser System (BLS) as a genuine triumph of accommodation among the major segments of the population and as a way to show respect for each other. We should remember everyone who was part of the constitutional conference that produced our constitution as real heroes. The time may come when the BLS may not be necessary. That day will be when parties are brave enough to disregard the composition of each electorate before nominating a candidate. Until then, let’s keep what we know works.

 

* Published in print edition on 9 March 2018

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