Points to Ponder
How will the Labour Party accommodate the MMM/MSM?
A First Point: This is very surprising indeed that those parties in the opposition are so keen to work with the Labour Party, especially the MMM which has, on several occasions, declared itself to be a real adversary, I was about to say the inveterate enemy of the Labour Party.
But now, at long last, the Labour Party is considered by both the MMM and the MSM to be an honourable party and that it is doing a good job. Otherwise, none of the parties in the opposition would have indirectly sang the praises of that party. So much the better for the party itself, for the leaders and for the supporters.
I have never come across a political situation, whether in Mauritius or elsewhere, where all the other parties are running behind one party, expecting to join in with that one party in an alliance in order to fight the next election. This is what is happening to the Labour Party right now. Be it the MMM or the MSM, both are keen to forge an alliance with it.
Now I can understand the reason why the leaders of the MMM have not been over-criticizing the leader of the Labour Party or even if they have tried to criticize the government, they have done it for the sake of the gallery or they have targeted certain ministers. And the MMM criticizes those in the Labour Party with whom it does not want to be seen in an eventual alliance with the Labour Party. So this appears to be the political agenda of the MMM for the moment. However, we must be careful not to draw any definite inferences or conclusions at the moment.
However, there is one major problem that either the MMM or the MSM will have to face, or eventually both of them perhaps. The Labour Party is already in an alliance with the PMSD, Les Verts Fraternels and Anil Baichoo’s MSD. This alliance goes by the name of Alliance Sociale. As matters stand, the Alliance Sociale can accommodate the MSM of Pravind Jugnauth, not the MMM. In order to accommodate the MMM, the Labour Party will have do away with the PMSD and with quite a few of its present ministers and backbenchers. The Labour Party cannot be in alliance with both the MMM and the MSM. The one that will not be accommodated in the alliance will for sure lose the forthcoming general election. Which party will be in that situation? It is difficult to say at the moment.
If there will be an alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM, would the MMM insist that the Union Nationale be part of the alliance? What about Madun Dulloo? Would he still be a candidate for the MMM? What about the 40 odd candidates who have already been chosen to be on the MMM list of candidates? Would their designation still hold good?
And if there is going to be an alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM, would Paul Bérenger be prepared to be the next President of the Republic on the term of office of Sir Aneerood Jugnauth being over? These are very serious matters that need to be discussed seriously.
New avenues on the political front are opening up and these avenues have got to be explored. The really independent papers should try to analyse the situation as it evolves. When I say “independent”, I really mean independent. I do not mean those papers or those journalists that call themselves independent. They are anything but independent. Let others judge them, you cannot judge yourself. Everybody agrees on this.
There can very well be a situation where neither the MMM nor the MSM will fit in the scheme of things of the Alliance Sociale, for different reasons. Nobody should ask for more than he deserves. Otherwise there will then be a three-cornered fight, but the really independent observers say that the Alliance Sociale will still be the winner. Would the MMM and the MSM join in a new political alliance? Nothing is impossible in politics, so people say.
Language and Culture
A Second Point: Who has decreed it? I mean who has decreed that Creole is our mother tongue? Was it decided by the government? By this government or the previous one or by the opposition parties of whatever sensibility? I know what our official language is, at least for the procedure involving legislature and the procedure in the National Assembly. This is what the Constitution says:
“49 Official Language
The official language of the Assembly shall be English but any member may address the Chair in French.”
It does not mention Bhojpuri nor Creole. Neither Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi nor Mandarin.
The question now is whether we have a mother tongue or whether we have several mother tongues. It depends on the definition that is given to the term “mother tongue”. Quite a number of Mauritians, especially those who prefer the Creole culture would prefer the Creole language to be their mother tongue. I will talk about myself. Creole is not my mother tongue, my mother tongue is Bhojpuri and I am perfectly at ease with it.
It is well known that language is the medium for the transmission of culture and in the Mauritian context, culture has a special meaning. My Bhojpuri culture is ideally transmitted through my mother tongue, just as the Creole culture is transmitted by the Creole language. I fully agree that Creole is the mother tongue of the Creoles in our country.
No culture is superior or inferior to any other, but I have noticed that the Hindus have taken in to the Creole culture whereas those who say that Creole culture is theirs, have never been interested to find out about Bhojpuri culture nor have they made any effort to learn the Bhojpuri language. Why is it so? Does somebody, especially from the sociological point of view, tell us something about this curious aspect of the behaviour of the Creoles and others?
Why is Bhojpuri and other Indian languages looked down upon by those who prefer a Euro-Creole culture? Do they think that they will debase themselves if they were to learn and practise the Bhojpuri language and culture? Remember that Bhojpuri is taught at the postgraduate level in some of the universities in India. And there are more than 80 million persons who speak the language in India.
Those who are promoting the Creole language should understand that over 70% of the population of Mauritius was at one time conversant with the Bhojpuri language. I am formally asking the Minister of Education why he is giving such an exaggerated importance to the Creole language and at the same time sidelining the Bhojpuri language? And I will ask the government and the socio-cultural organisations what is their role in our society? Are they not called upon to see to it that all languages get an equal treatment in our multi-cultural and multi-lingual society?
I am not against the Creole language, I can speak it very well thank you very much. I know the Creole culture, I do appreciate the Creole songs, especially those old time songs of Serge Lebrasse and of a few others, but this does not mean that I will give up what I consider mine. And if we were to carry the argument a bit further, I will ask the Minister responsible for Arts and Culture to inform us who has decreed that the sega is the national dance of Mauritius? I fully agree that the sega is the national dance of the Creole community and they must be proud of this fact just as I am proud of my culture.
Last week Mgr Maurice Piat met the Minister of Education and in the course of the meeting, he made some very interesting points. He said: “… afin de respecter le droit de l’enfant de pouvoir étudier sa langue et sa culture.” And Vasant Bunwaree said: “Il n’y pas de culture sans la langue.” I fully agree with both gentlemen.
What the leader of the Roman Catholics as well as what the Minister of Education have said should be implemented after proper studies have been made. There should be no discrimination. Nobody is begging for any favour, but everybody is asking for what is what is considered to be a right, as someone said.
However, concerning languages, I have some doubt about the proper definition of the word “language”. Should it be recognized as such by the intellectual class in a society, should it have a grammar of its own, should it have a literature of its own, a vocabulary of its own that has been well settled or is it simply a sort of adjunct to a main language? How many original Creole words are to be found in our Creole language, how many French words, either in the original or modified version, form part of the Creole vocabulary? I do know that there are certain languages that are used by only a couple of hundred persons, but those languages are known not to depend on any other language.
Pidgin English, which is derived directly from English and French Creole derived from French are not considered as proper languages by certain people in the intellectual class in some advanced countries. Each country practising these languages use a vocabulary and a form generally restricted to the respective countries.
I am all for the Creole language being given its due importance, provided Bhojpuri too is given the importance that is its just due. I do not think that anybody will disagree with this suggestion.
By the way, is Bhojpuri culture given the importance that it deserves in our country? How much money is spent on this culture as compared to the sums that are spent on the various other cultures? Maybe the Minister responsible for Arts and Culture can enlighten us.
What about the MBC? Is it doing enough for the Bhojpuri culture? Definitely not, but we shall come on this matter later on.
President of the Republic: Preserve the dignity of the Office
A Third Point: I find it surprising that in a country that has reached a high level of political development and known for its intelligence, so much heat has been generated following a declaration by an ex-President of the country.
The ex-President in question is Cassam Uteem and he said that if his health permits and if his services were needed, he would join politics anew and fight for a seat in the National Assembly. It is understood that he will be in the MMM, the main political party in the opposition. It is well known that Cassam Uteem was one of the leaders of the MMM until he was chosen to be the President of the Republic. After his term of office was over, Cassam Uteem the ex-President has again joined the MMM, his former party for a long time. And he has said that if certain conditions are satisfied, he would be prepared to fight the forthcoming general election as a candidate of the MMM. Clearly, he is doing politics and he has the intention of getting involved more deeply with the politics of the MMM.
If Cassam Uteem is a politician and acting as such, it is normal for politicians of other parties to criticize him and criticize him with full force and vigour. A politician can never be protected against criticism from his political adversaries, especially if he does enjoy all the privileges of his past functions as President of the Republic.
Two points should be raised here. What is the status of a President of the Republic and the status of an ex-President? For the President, it is clearly spelt out in the Constitution — in Chapters IV Ss 28 to 30B. By the way, these sections make the provisions for the Vice-President as well.
Unfortunately, nothing has been said about ex-Presidents. But according to me, the reason as well as the reasoning is simple. You cannot expect a past Head of State to get involved in politics especially party politics. Toute proportion gardée, you cannot imagine the British sovereign to be a member of the Conservative Party or of the Labour Party and fight an election under the banner of either of these parties. It would simply be unthinkable. Nobody would expect such conduct from their Head of State in the Westminster system of governance. Besides, the British sovereign calls the government “my government”, and that’s that. This is the reasoning that should be followed: the British Sovereign, the Governor General and the President of the Republic share certain elements of behaviour. Try to understand.
The second matter is more subtle. I am sure that by now Mauritians have understood how and why the office of the President has been created and what are the traditions that the President should follow. In all countries that that follow the Westminster system and that have declared themselves republics, ex-Presidents never get involved in politics or party politics. It is a different matter concerning those former British colonies that have moved to a presidential type of governance, like Guyana. Over there, the President of the country is an eminently political figure; he holds and exercises full political and executive powers. He is mandated by the people for that very purpose. In our system, the President does not have nor hold any political or executive power except what the Constitution allows him, and that can be summed up as next to nothing. But he is the Head of State, and the Commander-in-chief of the Republic of Mauritius. He has no political power, he has no executive power, he is there more for decorum purposes than for anything else.
The President is not mandated by the people and he has to do the bidding of the government and especially of the Prime Minister, except in the cases where the Constitution says that the President acts in his own deliberate judgment. He signs all the bills passed by Parliament and if he does not agree with any such bill, he can send it back to Parliament for a second consideration. If Parliament returns the bill as it is, the President has no choice but to give his assent. If the President refuses to give his assent, he knows that he has but one course open to him, and that is to resign.
In certain cases, especially concerning certain appointments and nominations, the Constitution says that the President should act in his own deliberate judgment. And these cases can be considered as the real power of the President.
So in our system of governance, it is unwise, to say the least, to compare a President to a Prime Minister. A Prime is fully committed politically and the people give him the mandate to govern the country together with the party to which he belongs or with the coalition of parties of which he is the head. He can give up politics at any moment and he can join in again at any moment. There is absolutely nothing to prevent him from doing so.
In my opinion, a person who has been a President of the Republic once, cannot do politics again, as Cassam Uteem seems to want to do. For me, it’s not a question of money; it’s a question of preserving the dignity of the Office. We must not forget, whatever we say, that the post of President is the topmost post in the country. It depends on those who have held, are holding or will hold the post whether they will preserve the dignity of the office. My request is that nobody in Mauritius should, for any reason whatsoever, downgrade or bring into contempt or ridicule or opprobrium the dignified post of the President of the Republic of Mauritius.
Political developments in Trinidad and Tobago
A Fourth Point: I have said it in the past that generally, the Indian population of Trinadad and Tobago support the United National Congress (UNC) so far headed by Basdeo Panday whereas the Afro-Trinidadians in their majority support the People’s National Movement (PNM), the party headed by the Prime Minister Patrick Manning.
On Sunday last, there was the internal election in the UNC to choose the leader of the party, the president and other members of the executive committee. There were three candidates for the post of leader of the party. There was Basdeo Panday himself, the incumbent leader of the party, and by the way, he is the founder of the party. Then there was Ramesh L. Maharaj, a senior member who had at one time deserted the party when it was in government and this had brought about the downfall of the government then. Ramesh Maharaj was after sometime accepted back within the ranks of the UNC. And the third candidate for the leadership was Kamla Persad-Bissessar, a senior member of the party.
And the person who has been chosen as the new leader of the party is Kamla Persad-Bissessar. It is being said that she is the only leader of the UNC who can lead the party to win the next general election and form the government.
It is the very first time that a woman leader has been chosen to lead a major political party in that country and it looks like the people in the UNC are very happy with the choice. And now Kamla Persad-Bissessar has to bring together all the disparate elements of the party together and prepare for the next election.
There is another party that has a majority of Indo-Trinidadians among its followers, the COP, but the leadership of this party was not on good terms with the outgoing leadership of the UNC. The UNC party is led by Winston Dookeran who, it happens, is on very good terms with Kamla Persad-Bissessar. The Indo-Trinidadians are expecting that there will be a coalition of the two parties for the election and then they will find it easier to face the People’s National Movement.
The pattern of politics, the manner of doing politics and the different political parties in Trinidad and Tobago bear some definite resemblance to our set-up. That is the reason for which it is so interesting to follow what is happening over there.