Lobbyists of All Hues – The Big and The Small Fries

By Nita Chicooree

How do we define the role of what is commonly referred to as ‘socio-cultural organizations’ in the press? Some of them bear names which refer to specific ethnic, language groups and castes while others explicitly point to diverse religious associations. Some religious groups do not separate culture from religion while others do.

Historically, religion was closely linked to politics. The power of the Church reigning hand in hand with the sugar industry oligarchy and colonial authorities needs no elaboration. In those days, ethnicity and religion played a key role in the recruitment of civil servants prior to the existence of the Public Service Commission. In course of time, other ethnic groups formed religious associations and joined in the movement of political emancipation in the name of their groups.

However, we are no longer living in the 1950s. The country has gone a long way in its political, social and economic development. Yet, what has not changed is that a handful of people has made the most of wildcat capitalism and is enjoying the biggest share of the cake. These people do not need their official religious body to speak in their name and defend their interests. They wield more power than politics and religion combined. Others who have jumped on the bandwagon of unbridled capitalism, including foreigners, do not need religious or cultural associations as intermediaries. The government ensures that their interests are maintained.

Generally, it is much more difficult to confront the powerful. This is what the mainstream media does not do. Nor does it display high professionalism in dismantling the political-corporate nexus which has been blowing hot and cold for decades. Generally, it is much easier to attack weaker people. So, what is more visible in the media are the other groups with weaker economic power but who are constantly shown to be hobnobbing with politicians. How economic ultra-liberalism and crony capitalism concentrate power and wealth within a small circle of economic dynasties, grab opportunities for their own small groups, and halt the economic progress of other people, surreptitiously check their ambition and economic expansion and steal the dreams of their countrymen is not revealed to the public.

Now, there is the question of what is coined as ‘socio-cultural’ and religious associations which receive State subsidies and thus, quite logically, establish links with politicians. Officially, they are expected to promote and work for the benefit of their members. Generally, they are perceived as overstepping the boundary of their roles and using political connections to influence nominations in ministries, key governmental posts and parastatal bodies, not to mention the allegation of furthering their own family and personal advancement. To what extent the political class relies on them for vote banks is an open question.

Opinion polls across the country will certainly reveal whether civil society deems it right or not that State subsidies should be handed out to cultural and religious organizations. Or whether funds should be collected from members. In the same vein and spirit of public participation, public funds granted in the form of stimulus packages to big companies should be a topic of discussion. How renovation in the hotel industry drains state financial participation, how the industry expands abroad, the question of low salaries for the common people and deepening huge disparities in income an ultra-liberal economic policy engenders should also be raised. Income inequality is the basis of much frustration.

The whole issue is: avoid being selective in the witch hunt.

A significant turning point should take place in the relations between religious associations and politicians. MPs, ministers, the PM and the President should not be invited to preside and speak at religious functions. They should just keep away. It is not their job as representatives of the people to discourse on religion. More than often, it all boils down to both parties — the organizers and the politicians — using religion to further their own agenda.

Do the representatives of cultural associations really want to promote culture? Well, there is a lot to do in the field of drama, art, classical and modern music and songs in different languages. A whole generation’s culture is limited to a few sega songs, bland songs from Hindi films and random western singers. A high number of young people have never seen a play in a theatre nor have they been to a painting exhibition, let alone having the opportunity to be creative and play musical instruments.

How come there is such a lack of creativity in oriental culture – sculpture, music, literature, songs and dances? Never heard of a local composer of Hindi songs. We should take a close look at the various cultural influences that are likely to find a positive response in Mauritian society, which can enhance knowledge and refinement and see whether we are taking advantage of all the opportunities.

The ills besetting society today should draw the attention of all those who claim State subsidies in the name of their flocks. Crime, domestic violence, drug traffic, alcohol-related violence and road accidents, family break-ups, unruly and riotous behaviour are some of the issues that they could help to tackle.

The Catholic Church plans to give support to youngsters, families and women to fight against drug addiction; it will also sensitize them against abortion and promote a healthy lifestyle. What do Hindu and Muslim organizations plan to do for the benefit of their members? What percentage of Hindus understand prayers, the meaning of rites, Sanskrit, the content of sacred scriptures and so on? Religion should also uplift people towards higher ideals. How many people do receive proper guidance and counselling?

The point is that if all the leagues, cultural associations and temple federations have a genuine concern for their members, their energy would be better channeled to find ways to promote culture and religious values. It would keep them busy all year round. So they should keep away from meddling in nominations in the government and parastatal bodies or dragging ministers into religious matters. There will be a healthier atmosphere if the right persons do the right jobs in the right places.

Lastly, as mentioned earlier, ‘socio-cultural’ associations jockeying for influence is just part of the issue of concentration of economic power, influence and wealth in the hands of a few people who have hijacked politics and the media.

* Published in print edition on 29 June 2012

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