Points to Ponder
MMM Politics & Ethnicity
A First Point: Politics as seen from a distance… I have been watching the day-to-day development of our local politics as polling day approaches. I have been struck by the wide gap that exists between what some people say and their actions. Let me quote a glaring example.
One political party, namely the MMM including particularly its leader Paul Bérenger, has been shouting from the housetops so to say that he is not indulging in communal manoeuvres at all and that he is against using communal stratagems in the forthcoming election. He has accused the Labour Party and its leader Navin Ramgoolam to be communally minded when fighting the election.
So far as I know, neither Navin Ramgoolam nor the Labour Party has considered that communalism is a factor that should be given any place in the party. The example often quoted is that all communities have been given due importance in the party and that everybody has had a fair share of whatever is available. I have said that in terms of jobs, everyone is entitled to apply for any job, provided the applicant meets the qualifications specified for the post; all must accept that the best qualified candidate eventually gets the job. Such is the situation when the Labour Party governs the country. But then the adversaries of the Labour Party are always lurking in some corner and making fanciful accusations of communalism.
However, such has never been the case, nor is it so now, that the best qualified candidates get the jobs in the private sector. They recruit first and foremost from the ranks of their own people, whatever that means; Hindus and Muslims are systematically discarded from the private sector, especially for the top jobs. If the private sector does not accept my contention, then let them accept that a Commission be set up the recruit employees of the private sector, based on merits, and let the Commission look after promotions as well. This will not be achieved for a long time, at least until government brings in legislation to that effect.
To get back to the point. There is an organization called the Fédération des créoles mauriciens (FCM), of which the head is a man called Jocelyn Grégoire. He is a Roman Catholic priest, fully engaged in ecclesiastical matters and he has the full backing of the Roman Catholic Church. And at the same time, he is a political leader of the Creole community, though he says that he has nothing to do with politics. He has always said that the Creoles do not get their share in I do not know what and he is prepared to fight for their rights. I am told that he spends about six months in Mauritius and a like period in the United States.
He has just come back to Mauritius from the United States, when he heard that the general election are going to be held some time next month. He has come here to defend the rights of the Creole community. He has always said that he is against an alliance between the Labour Party and the MSM. It seems that he prefers to see the Hindu community divided, maybe he is knowingly or unknowingly following the policy of divide and rule. As soon as he came here, he has held meetings of his organisation, obviously of the Creoles. I do not have to say anything in relation to whatever he is doing, he is a priest and he considers that he must tell his people what the situation is, according to him.
Where I do not agree with him is when he goes in the political field, doing politics in the guise of something else. If he wants to do politics, let him say so openly and frankly and let him choose his party or create a new party made up of only Creole elements. But he does not do so, because he knows that his movement is purely a sectarian and communal movement. He has an absolute right to organize such a movement, but according to me, such a movement should be restricted to the religious or cultural or social field.
However, he was contacted by Paul Bérenger himself, and I take it that they discussed politics and we must remember that the electoral campaign is now in full swing. And Jocelyn Grégoire says he told Paul Bérenger what must be in the political manifesto of that party. He did not say whether Paul Bérenger accepted his suggestion or not, nor what was his reaction. Jocelyn Grégoire was called by Paul Bérenger and he could not turn down the request, but also knowing the latter’s past and also his present commitment in favour of the Creole community, he had to meet Paul Bérenger.
And he did so after having criticized very harshly Xavier Duval, the leader of the PMSD, for having phoned him or for having sent him some phone messages or for not having done enough for the Creole community. Xavier Duval has been with Navin Ramgoolam for quite a long time, he has been a very good Minister and I know that he has done a lot for the Creole community in spite of what Jocelyn Grégoire thinks.
How is it possible for Paul Bérenger to have called Jocelyn Grégoire to meet him, when he knows that he heads a purely communal and sectarian movement, especially as he says that he is not communal minded at all? He talks one language but he acts differently. Who is in fact communal minded in politics when we come across such happenings?
Then Jocelyn Grégoire met Navin Ramgoolam and he said that he is not giving any directive as to for which party the Creoles should vote, but it must be remembered that he criticized the Labour Party and the MSM before meeting Paul Bérenger. And he has never criticized Paul Bérenger nor the MMM.
Jocelyn Grégoire has also said that he dreams of the day when he will see a Creole as the Prime Minister. This is a legitimate dream. But with which party will this dream be realized? This is a difficult question to answer, and we know that at present, most of the Creole electorate is with Paul Bérenger and the MMM. But look at the leadership of the MMM or the Alliance du Coeur as it is now called. You have Paul Bérenger, a Franco-Mauritian, you have Eric Guimbeau, another Franco-Mauritian and lastly there is Ashok Jugnauth a Hindu Indo-Mauritian. Where is the Creole leader in the Alliance de Coeur? Is this the manner to treat the Creole community? Again I am saying that Paul Bérenger takes the Creoles for granted, as if they will vote for him whatever people will say, as if they are his dépôt fixe, if you understand what I mean.
And we are also aware that Paul Bérenger and the MMM are out to reconquer Constituency no. 3, after having lost it at the last general election and at the last municipal election. They are doing their best, but their best is simply not good enough. When the Muslim community looks for the leadership of the community in the party, they see Reza Uteem only. He has been presented as the étoile montante of the Muslim community in the MMM. He will be made a senior minister in an eventual MMM government. Where are the leaders of the Muslim community in the MMM? Or maybe Paul Bérenger considers himself to be the leader of the Muslim community in addition to being the leader of the Creoles. If Paul Bérenger is the effective leader of these two communities, then I am sorry for the communities themselves. Is it not possible for the Creoles and the Muslims to have someone of their own to represent them, at least at the level of the party? The way that the MMM is going is not the way to win an election.
As a contrast, take the case of the Alliance de l’Avenir. You have Navin Ramgoolam as the leader of the Alliance and as the candidate for the post of Prime Minister. Then you have Rashid Beebeejaun who is there to reassure the Muslim community that their interests are well taken care of. Then you have Xavier Duval, who with his background, is at the moment the best person to speak in the name of the Creoles. And then you have Pravind Jugnauth, a Hindu. Let me ask Jocelyn Grégoire what is wrong with the Labour Party and the MSM joining in an alliance? Has he been influenced by the British policy of divide and rule? Which minority community does not find its place in the Alliance de l’Avenir? In which alliance are the minorities better treated? In the Alliance de l’Avenir or in the Alliance du Coeur? Let him think well and he will have the answer.
I can say so much for the moment: the MMM is Paul Bérenger and Paul Bérenger is the MMM. The day Paul Bérenger decides to give up politics, that will be the last of the MMM. And time will bear witness to this. The reason is simple. If a Creole were to take over the leadership of the MMM, all the others of the other communities will desert the party. So also if a Muslim or a Hindu were to take over, all others would simply give up their affiliation. They accept Paul Bérenger as the leader of the MMM because he is different from all the followers of the party.
On a different level, I would advise the MMM to look at what its members are doing, then consider carefully how deeply they are involved in communal policies before they accuse others falsely of doing what they are themselves practising. I have understood the message sent by Jocelyn Grégoire by his behaviour, there is no doubt on this. If it is the wish of the majority of the Creole community to remain isolated, and that even after the election, as I can see from the way some of the leaders of that community are acting, then I cannot say anything. The choice is theirs, we are in a free country where the vote is secret and sacred, and everybody has the right to vote for the party he prefers. But then any government is free to choose its policies and how and where those policies should be implemented.
After having been against the introduction of a second Chamber, in the form of a Senate, in our political system, Paul Bérenger himself now proposes the creation of such a system. I am sure that he must have in mind the persons who have not been chosen as candidates for the forthcoming election. Anyway, he has now accepted our idea that a Senate is a must in our system.
I remember having written on this point several times in the past ten or more years. In my conception, a majority of the senators should be appointed be the Prime Minister, then a lessor number by the leader of the opposition, depending on the strength of that party and finally, a fixed number to be appointed by the President of the Republic, who will appoint independent senators who will not be party members.
The Prime Minister may be given the power to recommend the appointment of three or four ministers from the Senate and this system will give the Prime Minister a wider field from which to choose his Cabinet.
If we are having a Senate, there will not be any need to have the pernicious system of proportional representation in our electoral process. I do not think that the Labour Party or the Alliance de l’Avenir will have any objection as this formed part of the manifesto of the Labour Party in the past. I am sure there will be consensus at least on this matter of a Senate in Mauritius.
Women in politics
A Second Point: Now I see that the small parties have started showing some interest in the general election. The party of Raj Dayal has gone into alliance with the party of Sylvio Michel and another party. There are some experienced politicians in this alliance and this alliance has said that it will field 60 candidates. So much the better for us.
Then there is the party of my friend Ramsewok who has joined in a coalition with another party and this coalition says that it will fight in six constituencies.
We also have the association of the two parties of Jack Bizlall and Ashok Subron. This association, which belongs to the extreme left on the political spectrum, has advised its candidates not to mention the community they belong to and they want to do away with all reference to communities in the Constitution.
There are several other parties that are looking for candidates and they have even advertised in the papers. I hope that they are getting more candidates than they need for the forthcoming election. Besides, we’ll have several individual politicians who will stand as independent candidates. There are 65 parties that have been registered for this election, and with the independent candidates, we shall have a long list to choose our representatives from.
However, I feel sad that the party Lalit has decided not to field candidates in this election. This is unfortunate because I consider that it has its place in our democratic set-up. Lalit is one of our small political parties that give some intellectual satisfaction to those interested with real long time politics of a different kind. I may not agree with the policies advocated by Lalit, but I sincerely consider that it should have taken part in the electoral process. It still is not too late. It has to make known to the electorate what it thinks of the economic crisis that has affected all the countries in the world. And on so many issues. Ram Seegobin cannot let us down at this stage of our political development.
Lastly, we come to Women in Politics (WIP). If I am not mistaken, we had one group of women who had come together and formed a political party to contest the last general election. Most, if not all, of their candidates had lost their deposits. This just goes to show how popular they proved with the electorate. Our womenfolk have had five years to organize or re-organize their party but surprisingly, they have chosen not to contest the election this time.
For the forthcoming election, the WIP has decided to lobby with the intention of influencing our main political parties to have at least one woman candidate in each constituency — the only qualification required is that the candidate should be a woman. Even though there will be more qualified men candidates, they want their women candidates and I take it they will be satisfied.
It looks like the political parties are not obeying the instructions of the women. What a pity! In the circumstances, the Women in Politics should form their own political party made up exclusively of women, then the men will lose every election. What do they say?