Mauritian Heritage of An Inclusive And Free Society

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

It is a tradition to pay homage to Indian ancestry which started with the introduction of first Tamilian slaves and, later on, the arrival of indentured labourers from mainly the north eastern coast of India in the mid-19th century, most of whom chose to return to India after the expiry of their contract. Different ethnic groups of Biharis, Tamilians, Telugus and Marathis constituted the core of Indian workers, and different faiths shared a common Indian background. The social structure of the caste system which allowed brahmins to ensure the transmission of spiritual and religious legacy helped to maintain a sense of continuity by ensuring that there be no disruption which might have caused a loss of culture and assimilation of foreign influences – as witnessed in islands where no thought was given to include religious representatives in the migration of Indian labourers.

The commemoration of key events in the life of communities is considered as important to keep a link with past and shared history, understand their political, economic and social development over the centuries, and help to give meaning to their place in society both locally and with their relationship with India as well as in the diaspora at the international level. A sense of belonging, a sense of one’s community history encompassing language, customs, lifestyle and way of thinking is helpful also in times of crisis, social disruptions and upheavals which threaten peace in multi-ethnic societies. The memory of history and awareness of origins contributes to building strong roots and keeping a degree of sanity in society when things seem to fall apart and other components of society are caught in a whirlwind of insanity. Above all, the link with Indian heritage makes even more sense simply because it is an old civilization built on the philosophy of Hinduism, Sanatana Dharma, and is a key contribution to the spiritual and cultural treasures of humanity.

As usual, the commemoration and presence of an Indian government’s representative gives rise to resentful, sarcastic and negative comments on social networks and freely published in the press, and smacks of a continuing anti-Hindu and anti-India prejudice. Any group who tends to disown the common Indian background and relate to other places for historical reasons should feel free to commemorate or not their shifting identity in their own way. A saner option is to come in the open rather than fuming and raging behind the scenes and hiding behind pseudonyms.

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The Spirit of Democracy

The philosophy which shapes their mental landscape has enabled Hindus to build an inclusive and free society in India and subsequently, in Mauritius. The spirit of democracy and freedom has been kept alive over decades due to the predominating presence of Hindus though they are not the only supporters of modern institutions.

Just as India has been the only democratic country among Asian nations for decades, compared to other islands with similar history and ethnic components, Mauritius stands out as a unique example of dynamic, progressive and inclusive society which has geared its efforts towards the betterment of one and all by first introducing free education to uplift the masses. Post-colonial Madagascar slipped into dictatorship. Seychelles fomented a coup d’état hardly six months after Independence in 1976.

In the West Indies, Jamaica and Barbados adopted an autocratic regime; the Duvalier tonton Macoute brutal style sank Haiti into poverty and chaos. Trinidad achieved a fair balance between political representation and economic power between its Creole and Indian origin populations. Further away in the Pacific, Fiji refuses land ownership to people of Indian origin just as Madagascar denies citizenship to them, and Malaysia deprives people of Chinese origin land ownership; anti-Chinese riots in 1965 led to the creation of Singapore.

The city-state has made full use of an advantageous geographical location to build a solid regional port hub right from the start and, above all, benefited from the remarkable leadership of a forward-looking, dynamic and bright politician that Mr Lee Kwan Yew was and has bequeathed to the island. In a dynastic style, his son is presently keeping up with his father’s style; there is no western-style democracy and the regime remains authoritarian, something which makes it somehow a suffocating place. It is a fascinating island, though.

French colonies failed to stand on their own feet and ended up as French departments, a status which has entailed a high degree of dependence on France to solve issues and a mendicant mindset in the populations. In Réunion, where the Vergès family has dominated the Communist Party for more than half a century, its leader started his career by shooting down his opponent, a white Creole from the plantocracy class. The party itself gave up its communist ideology. Other places which some sections of Mauritian society might identify with are stuck in dictatorial and military-religious fascist leadership.

Notwithstanding the imperfections, shortcomings and flaws in the running of the country over decades, there has been overall stability, progress and peace in Mauritius – a situation which politicians from all the main political parties have contributed to. It is also a reason why the electorate at large feels closely linked to traditional parties. It’s also due to the fact that these parties have delivered the goods to make Mauritius what it is today despite global economic recessions and subsequent turmoil, and the maintenance of the spirit of democracy and of a free society.

Symbols are important. There has been a tacit understanding despite circumstances that in the post-colonial society, there should be a balance of power with economic power being left largely in the hands of the Franco-Mauritian community, and political leadership going to the majority community. That’s because Indian philosophy and culture which they are natural heirs to creates a tolerant, inclusive and free society which pays due attention to the cultural and religious sensibilities of other components of the larger Mauritian community – which is not necessarily the case where Indian origin people are in minority.

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2019 Elections

Over the years a sense of belonging to the island has gained ground among all groups and a Mauritian identity has been consolidated. A vision of a progressive country which benefits all in terms of employment in new sectors and better living conditions is shared by all citizens. Mixed marriages have led to more conviviality and shared culture. At the economic level, the development of the sugar and energy sectors, and the manufacturing industry call for more attention. The tourism and hotel sectors need a boost and should not benefit only a handful of capitalists but a wider number of people.

The advantages that favour the present MSM-led government in the upcoming elections are the socialist measures to improve living conditions, minimum wages, housing development, widening the range of opportunities in different sectors, alleviating financial burdens for some categories, the modernization of public transport with more projects ahead, construction of sports facilities and so on. Despite everything, the no-nonsense stance of SAJ in the running of the country’s affairs permeates the party and is still valued by the public. The ML of Collendavelloo is seen as an efficient and dynamic ally, which is reinforced by the presence of militant activists in the past weeks. The age factor also plays in favour of the current Prime Minister. Apparently, what matters to the public is the two-year term of prime ministership which has been marked by commitment to hard work and progress, and concerted efforts to crack down on drug traffic. What has marred the beginnings of the 2014 mandate is not directly pinned on his back.

This column has amply dwelt on ‘apparent rivalry’, interchangeable alliances and past wrongdoings which the four main parties have been directly or indirectly involved in. The slogan of ‘Pour un Vrai Changement’ (For a real change) displayed by the MMM is a slap in the face. What change is the party advocating for? First, fomenting a coup d’état in the early years of its existence; then, it swerved from the ideology which marked its difference. It has continued with the Vergès-style of lifelong party leadership as lider maximo obliging party members to kow-tow to his wishes. 2003-2005 prime-ministership marked by the privatization of Mauritius Telecom by Orange to please the lobby of the French embassy, a totally unnecessary operation while MT was doing well. Orange siphoned off the profits to create branches in Africa. Today Orange offers free home line calls in France, the Dom-Tom with the EU and a few other countries, including free calls to mobile phones. Subscribers pay only for internet connection. There is no such thing in Mauritius.

Integrated Resort Scheme took off immediately with conversion of sugar industry lands into luxury villas for foreigners. A policy which sent land prices soaring for the average citizens. Is the vrai changement the perpetuation of dynastic ownership of the party with sister-in-law, daughter and son-in-law in constituencies where they are not likely to bite the dust contrary to other candidates? Supposedly representing the younger generation, the daughter displayed a most despicable behaviour in a verbal attack on the private life of a female opponent in MP party during the by-election at Quatre Bornes. Comments at the lowest level, au ras des paquerettes. Better not mention the intellectual level of the whole lot.

Scientific Communalism in the showcase of a coalition of ethnic minorities in the forefront? Mauritian politics and the public are, by now, well aware of the havoc that ethnic-based appointment can cause at the highest level of representation. Characters of dubious integrity peddling undesirable ideology with banned outfits abroad use their position generously hoisted by politicians to invite shady foreign figures and promote dangerous and questionable ideologies. No one should be fooled by the intention to appoint such people to represent the country.

There is no meritocracy in such appointment contrary to what can be seen in Singapore.

Over here, just any rascals are ok as long as it satisfies an irrelevant ethnic-based policy of appointment. The present government has pushed forward a series of undeserving mediocrities to the front bench of the Executive just for the sake of pleasing some groups.

There is a lot of hard work that is awaiting the next government. Nominations at all levels should be courageously made on the basis of competence, worth and merit so as to serve public interest efficiently in all domains. Whatever be the outcome and an umpteenth alliance of the same with same, sectarian agenda should not be given an official platform to propagate. The democratic spirit, an inclusive outlook and a commitment to development and progress should prevail. Hopefully, the public will entrust the responsibility and duty to deliver in the right hands.

* Published in print edition on 31 October 2019

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