Points to Ponder
Can a past President get involved in politics?
A First Point: The MMM organized its annual dinner party late last month. Amongst those who attended this celebration were Jean Claude de l’Estrac and, surprisingly, Cassam Uteem. Questions were raised about the attendance of these two gentlemen, especially about their reported intention to stand as candidates of the MMM at the forthcoming general elections. These two persons were at one time members of the front bench of the MMM, considered to be among the top leaders of the party and they used to contribute in a significant measure to the success of the party. Then, for one reason or another, they found themselves out of the party.
Are they still interested to be MMM candidates in the forthcoming general election? Jean Claude de l’Estrac candidly said that fifteen years ago he had pronounced that he would never be a candidate in any election and he still maintains the same view. We understand that he has been constant and still remains so, a person whose word can be relied upon. Before joining politics after quitting it as well, his beloved profession has always been journalism, either from near or from far. And he has had full satisfaction in his chosen career.
Cassam Uteem was made the President of the Republic by Paul Bérenger and the MMM generally. His son has been given a special place in the party and I am told that he will be a candidate for the forthcoming general election in constituency no. 2. And now there is the likelihood that Cassam Uteem will be a candidate as well, from what I understand to the answer he gave to a question. If he is given a ticket and his health permitting, he said that he would be a candidate of the MMM.
This answer of Cassam Uteem raises two very interesting points. The first concerns the future political career of his son. Would both father and son be given tickets, one in constituency no. 3 and the other in no. 2? If this is the policy of the MMM, we cannot dispute it, but I would find it surprising that the father and the son would be candidates in neighbouring constituencies.
If it turns out that both father and son cannot be given tickets but only one of them can be accommodated, would that be? Obviously not the son but rather the father. And here I will be more surprised because I have rarely come across a father ousting his son, one who is about to launch himself in what he thinks would be a successful political career. Fathers normally get out of the way of their sons if it is thought that the fathers act as a hindrance, but in our case I do not know.
The second point is interesting and important for more than one reason. Cassam Uteem was the President of the Republic and as such, he was, or rather had to, remain above politics, especially party politics. Before becoming the President of the Republic, he was fully involved in day to day politics, and after his tenure as the President, he is again getting involved in party politics. The question that arises here is whether he was really independent of the MMM during his tenure as President of the Republic? He has to convince the people of Mauritius that he was in fact so. However, his present stand as far as politics is concerned will not make things easy for him as far as the convincing part is concerned. Granted that there is nothing in our Constitution to the effect that a past President cannot get involved in politics once he becomes a private citizen, but is it not morally reprehensible for such a person, who has been well paid to serve the country as a whole, all the people whatever their political affiliation, to start getting involved in party politics?
When we talk of having been well paid as President, I know that the benefits are very meagre compared to what certain persons in the private sector draw but that is another matter. However, we must understand that a past President of the Republic gets a pension that is equal to his pay packet whilst serving as the President. Besides, he gets Police Officers to keep watch over his place of residence, cars and personal guards and maybe other facilities. If such a person does not get involved in day to day politics, he is free to enjoy his pension and other perks, but is it possible for such a person to enjoy the pension, etc., of a President and get involved in day to day partisan politics? In my opinion, this cannot be.
People must understand the political system in which we are living and why the office of President was created when the former colonies of Great Britain became independent. In the Westminster system, what is the role of the President? What are the limits that he should not cross? These matters should be studied by people interested in the constitutional development of a country. The President must be conscious of the fact that his government governs the country and his opposition is ever ready to form the next government. He must lean neither on the side of the government nor on the side of the opposition. And this should apply to past Presidents as well. Otherwise, all the perks and other facilities should be given up. This makes sense, does it not?
Political alliances and national unity
A Second Point: Politics still. It is very well to talk about all political parties having a national agenda in the sense that every party must treat all communities in the same manner. However, everybody knows that the Labour Party draws its strength from the Hindu community and the Muslim community generally. The Sino-Mauritian community, we can say, is divided half and half. The MMM draws its strength from essentially the General Population.
Second tier parties are in a similar situation. The MSM get its strength from the Hindu community whereas the new PMSD (made up of the ex-PMSD and the ex-PMXD) has as its main supporters members of the General Population. Of course there are members of all the four communities in every single political party, however big or small.
It is not easy to do politics in Mauritius. The government is expected to work for those very people who do everything to bring down that very government, and if the government would not give them the satisfaction that they think they deserve, the opposition press and radios tear the government apart. What about those who have always supported the Labour Party and the Alliance Sociale? We shall see after the election. I feel like saying that those who support the Alliance Sociale should have the support of their party and those who support the MMM will have the support of their party. It looks fair and reasonable, but unfortunately, this is not what the political system in which we operate would accept. It simply does not tolerate such a policy.
There is another matter that calls for the attention of all of us. Many people are talking of an alliance between the Alliance Sociale and the MSM. It is well known that these two parties get their support from the Hindu community in their majority. The Hindus want to see a political unity in the community, but those who are against such unity are dead against such an alliance. Some people are openly saying that such an alliance will amount to pitching the Hindu community against most of the others. I say that all communities should work together, so that there will be no division between one community and another. Can those people understand that a majority is a majority and a minority is a minority, but everybody must be together for the good of the country? The Hindus, the Muslims, the Sino-Mauritians and members of the General Population must all work together, in unity for the good of the country and of the people.
There is a third matter that requires our attention before I end on this point. Since we have known the MMM, both its leader and others in the party have been waxing eloquent to the effect that the MMM is stronger than ever, that it is the strongest party, that that it will swallow all the parties against it. The leader of the MMM and his assistants are very quiet on this score, as if the MMM does not exist.
This gives us food for thought. What is happening to the MMM? Where are Rajesh Bhagwan, Ajay Gunesh, Madun Dulloo, Pradeep Jeeha, and others of the shouting brigade of the party? Are we to understand that these people have conceded defeat even before the election date has been fixed? It augurs no good for the MMM. Let them shout as they used to do, we are used to by now.
The demise of culture
A Third Point: What do the specialists in the subject mean by the term culture? Culture has been defined as the way of life of a society — “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. This is a definition given by Edward Tylor in ‘Primitive Culture’ in 1891.
In Mauritius, we have what can be called as hybrid cultures which have emerged from a combination of practices and styles from numerous ethnic sources.
We must also know what the official policy is about promoting the different cultures that exist and have existed in Mauritius. What do the different ministries think of our cultures, what measures they have so far taken to preserve them and propagate them? What resources they have put, and by resources we mean financial, human and other facilities, for their development? Would a Member of Parliament put a question to the Minister concerned about these matters? We hope the Minister will come with a full and detailed answer. It must be made clear that we are not talking about religion as such, we are confining ourselves to cultures as such.
In relation the Hindu culture, how do the authorities and the Ministers view the cultural effects of the media? “A semiotic analysis reveals how specific ideological messages are encoded in media texts, i.e TV programmes, films, books, newspapers, billboards etc.” This seems to fit the Hindu culture as seen by the authorities. Think over what is being done by the newspapers, the TV and radio programmes, the films and you will see that the authorities are not concerned by this culture that goes back in history some ten thousand years or more.
How much time, prime time at that, is devoted to the culture of the Hindus on each of the channels on our local television? How much money is spent on these programmes, I am sure that not even a quarter of the budget of the MBC is spent on this, when we know that the Hindus make up about 51% of the population. Would the persons responsible dare to give an answer after having studied carefully the laws on the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation? They would not dare.
What about the various Ministers concerned? I am saying ministers on purpose because several ministries spend the money allocated to them either be Parliament or collected by the parastatal bodies, for cultural purposes. We would like to know how and where and how much money has been spent for each cultural group? It must be borne in mind that the majority of the people are not of French or English or Creole culture. If the government or the authorities want to spend a reasonable amount of money on each of those cultures, nobody can bear any grudge, but they must be careful in what they do.
The way things are being done shows clearly that the Hindus are not getting a fair share or treatment. If such treatment continues, it will be no surprise that in the near future, Hindu culture would be dead and cremated, and that also for good. It will then be a sad day. But I do feel that Hindu society as such would not tolerate this nonsense for long. What do the Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation, the Hindu Maha Sabha and the Arya Sabha and the other socio-cultural organisations feel? They must voice their feelings openly, without fear. Maybe they can set up a joint committee for this matter.