“Pravind Jugnauth does not feel threatened despite the mismanagement and scandals…

Would you be if your main adversary has been considerably weakened?”

Interview: Chetan Ramchurn

* ‘There is still a lot to be done for the opposition to vanquish the government’

* RCC Controversy: ‘I fail to see how pettiness and hate would help mend this issue’

Chetan Ramchurn has been a regular guest in this paper as he shares his views on topical questions without a proverbial “langue de bois” and with a broad outlook on current political matters. Here he provides his insight on questions relating to the Opposition, on some of the difficulties of a united front, on some of the departures from the Labour party and on the leadership issues. He is also queried on the shocking revelations around the Franklin affair and the PM’s allusion to mafia infiltration of certain institutions.

Mauritius Times: As a former Royal College Curepipe student, what is your take on the reaction of a handful of Catholic priests and other social activists to the admittedly hurtful modified version of an old sega song?

Chetan Ramchurn: I have seen few and far inspired interventions on either side of the issue. That the lyrics have hurt one or several communities is obvious and the excuses extended to anyone aggrieved by them is a step in the right direction.

I fear that many weighing in on this issue have forgotten that they used to be young too while others in their morbid schemes are surfing on this matter to garner some visibility or to reinforce their authority. I have seen oxymoronic claims of forgiveness being professed with harsher actions demanded against the students. Mistakes are made, even more so when we are young, and we learn from them. Errare humanum est.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” — Matthew 6:9–15

Instead of dismissing the students that participated in this ill-advised rendition as unsalvageable beings, would this conundrum not better be resolved by engaging in a healthy dialogue instead of spiteful monologues as many seem to be intent on doing? Would those calling for strict/er sanctions not be better guided to request to address the student cohort and present a message of respect and love?

As Pythagoras says, “Educate the children and it won’t be necessary to punish the men.” I fail to see how pettiness and hate would help mend this issue. I fail to see how generalising and extending this rejection to RCC alumni solves anything.

We went through the 1999 riots when I was in high school. I remember how the relationship between friends changed, becoming strained overnight… and how we came together despite sharing differing views. We did not agree on everything, but we understood and respected each other. Unity is strength.

* But the RCC students should have known better, coming from one of the island’s best secondary school and one would expect that they would have been imbued with the universal values which should govern our multiracial society, but that does not seem to be the case since neither schools nor civil society of religious bodies do not cater to that need…

We have erred and making amends for this incident now rests upon us.

Many often fail to see the forest for the trees. On social media, the alumni of the RCC belonging to different communities have heralded the institution as a melting pot of origins and beliefs; a place where the idea of unity in diversity truly lives and thrives. It is unfortunate that an august establishment is being judged solely on the lyrics of one song vociferated in zealous spirit without any intention to harm.

As is though, this song cannot continue to exist in the repertoire of RCC hymns. Unlike some alumni calling for the return to songs of yesterdays, I believe that this generation can come up with a chant that is rebellious and does not hurt the sensibilities of any ethnic community. Being young is being raucous against those who wield power: politicians, oligarchs, foreign powers and the many, many stooges of politicians. Elders should guide them but not seek at formatting them. The absence of direction and role models have impacted and will impact the youth.

Politicians have cunningly divided us for their electoral gains… but this has long existed. One alarming feature besides the obsequiousness of swathes of our population is that self-professed guardians of public weal and leaders that emerge from the civil society are now more concerned about nurturing a following, read getting ‘Likes’ on Facebook, than preaching the right thing.

I have seen many, including some on the left, adopting regressive stances that have further polarised this already blown out of proportion subject. They are a sorry sight. The absence of role models further heightens the importance of parents in ensuring that young people have a moral compass to guide their wards.

* Politics and politicians have more or less kept a safe distance from this matter, but does it seem to you however that there is an undercurrent of communal discontent, even tensions enduring in our society?

It seems to be the coward’s way out. Politicians are perennially in a wait-and-see mode, preying upon an opportunity to use any hot potato to their advantage. Our nation needs stronger leaders that would ensure that matters would not reach such extremes.

This is what happens when politicians stoke communal tensions for electoral gains and polarise every single issue either directly or through their stooges. Has this quasi-deification of mere mortals (‘enn tigit pli tipti ki bondie’ precedently, and ‘Enn Premier minis ki fin entame mem chemin que Dieu Ram’ in more recent times) not harmed us enough?

Everything becomes a battle around ethnic considerations. Add to that the growing role of foreign powers in domestic affairs and you have a cauldron of communal tensions that every once in a while, boils over.

* On the other hand, there’s the Independence celebration, or rather the non-celebration. We are not aware whether it’s politically motivated or not, or it’s really due to the absence of popular interest in the matter, but the celebration of this year has been rather tepid. Why is that so?

Their radar must have got this one wrong as well. Have you seen the number of Mauritian flags on display? And I am not only talking about social media. In Quatre Bornes where I live, the Ruz-Ble-Zon-Ver was ubiquitous. Clearly, there is great interest in celebrating our country’s independence anniversary. Whether the government of the day decides not to have large scale celebrations for same or not, the people will do it at their level.

Maybe, those in office have little regard for the anniversary since it will necessitate references to SSR and the Labour Party. In their feeble minds, celebrating independence would amount to celebrating their political adversaries and that simply does not align with their tribal leanings and pettiness.

What I resent is the absence of activities by the Ministry of Arts and Culture around this landmark event. The only one linked to the 55th anniversary was the world’s largest human image of the waving national flag in January 2023. And that event besides not giving due credence to Anjalay Coopen was mired in controversy.

I have been reading about maroon slaves and would recommend anyone with interest in our country’s history to do so. The first freedom fighters were verily the likes of Bellaca, Tatamaka and Diamamouve. Charles Grant in ‘The History of Mauritius’ or the ‘Isle de France-Letters from Mauritius’ in the 18th century writes on the punishment meted out to them:

“We consider them as obnoxious animals and hunt them down in the same manner…We have here a species of hunting which, as we are on the subject, I shall not omit to mention: It is cruel kind in appearance, but absolutely necessary in point of policy. It consists in pursuing the Maroon Negroes, or deserters, in the woods and the mountains, where they are treated as wild beasts; they are shot whenever an opportunity offers…”

These heroes were courageous enough to fight against their oppressors and deserve their place in our country’s lore.

* The Prime Minister has a lot on his plate; he is busy occupying all fronts these days, going as far as giving weather updates, commenting on revelations and criticisms by his adversaries at length and denouncing the infiltration of the mafia in our institutions, etc. What is your take on same?

It is farcical how the premier is only now realising that our institutions have been terribly decimated. That is of course not what he is hinting at since the hollowing out of government bodies has gone full throttle since 2014.

Many within the governing alliance’s ranks simply cannot accept that the DPP can be independent and will not bend to their whims. This must not sit well with them. But for the neutral observer, it is a joy to watch.

* The PM was talking about the alleged mafia infiltration in our institutions in the context of the Bruneau Laurette bail application, but there’s also the Franklin case and the daily revelations on the wealth he has amassed over the years – without, it would seem, alerting the attention of the concerned authorities. What does this reveal about our institutions, their independence and the role of the political establishment in this connection?

The authorities have known about Jean Hubert Célérine for years now. How could they not? An arrest warrant had been issued against him since the 13th of June 2019. The 2021 judgment further confirms this: « Une commission rogatoire internationale a été délivrée aux autorités mauriciennes aux fins notamment de procéder à l’interpellation de Jean Hubert Célérine et Jérémy Decidé. Mais en dépit de l’engagement des autorités policières, aucune suite n’a été donnée par les autorités requises ».

That no action was taken against him for almost 4 years does raise questions. At no moment, did they believe that a look at his business dealings and the wealth he had amassed would be judicious.

The matter is sub judice, but it seems clear that he was mostly unperturbed in his march towards greater power and wealth. More revelations are to come but citizens might be unable to grasp the full breadth of influence that has allowed Franklin’s tentacles to spread in a countless directions.

* Besides the hearing of Suren Dayal’s appeal against the Supreme Court judgement (in the matter of his electoral petition) by the Privy Council on 10 July 2023, there are signs that the Prime Minister may go for early elections this year – free pre-primary education as from Jan 2024, budget consultations ahead of schedule, distribution of fishing permits, etc. Viewed objectively, would you say the political conditions are conducive and in the interest of the MSM-led alliance for the holding of early elections?

A hit-and-run manoeuvre à la MSM is not off the cards. Still, I feel that Pravind Jugnauth does not feel threatened despite the mismanagement, glaring incompetence and scandals. Would you be if your main adversary has been considerably weakened? Moreover, it does not take the most astute of analysts to know that a united opposition does not necessarily mean a stronger opposition in rural constituencies.

There is still a lot to be done for the opposition to vanquish what is possibly the worst government since independence. There are fragments of a new Mauritius that have been disseminated by the opposition. These, I feel, are paltry measures. A movement around the opposition would only come to fruition when they embark on crusade against corruption led by immaculate leaders. They have to decide whether their present leaders can incarnate this unblemished avatar.

The opposition’s attempts to respond to the MSM’s freebies with freebies will simply not work. They have to go back to the drawing board and work on a better strategy.

* The leaders of the Labour Party, MMM and PMSD were seen together on 12 March at Caudan Waterfront for a flag-raising ceremony. They now appear confident to be seen together in public and they will again be seen celebrating Labour Day together on 1 May. Do you think the “partisans” of Ramgoolam and Berenger will go along and give their full support to an eventual alliance between their two parties?

They are on the “On” mode at the moment. But as previous events have taught us, switching to the “Off” mode could happen within hours if a better suitor comes along. The natural ally of the MMM is the MSM. They share the same stance on the economy; the historic bourgeoisie dictates how things should be run and the state acts as a welcoming doormat.

Truth be told, the opposition parties seem to have run out of options and have joined forces since as the winning formula goes, 40%+40%= 80% (as envisaged in 2014). It now seems closer to 25%+15%=40% of votes. Unable to grow organically because their only strategy consisted in waiting for people get disgusted with the MSM, they now join whatever is left of their forces.

The opposition parties have stopped thinking altogether. They need new minds to join their ranks. The MSM merely presented new faces and was able to pull off a win in 2019. I have often quoted Tancredi’s line in Visconti’s ‘Le Guépard’, “Il faut que tout change pour que rien ne change…” — that is, “For things to remain the same, everything must change.” If a cosmetic change in 2019 can deliver a 37.68% majority, imagine the seismic shift new intelligence would bring to these sclerosed factions.

* It would seem the days of “dissidence” within the MMM are over with all the “contestataires” having left the party. On the other hand, there is growing pressure within the LP for Navin Ramgoolam to review his leadership style and electoral strategy. Some have gone to the extent of challenging his leadership of the party. What’s your reaction to what is happening inside that party?

To be honest, I do not know how the Mauritius Labour party precisely works. Their new politburo was supposedly engineered to achieve the perfect alchemy of youth and experience. Well, the new figures are not heard enough and those who have managed to get some coverage have not voiced out as yet a new vision for Mauritius or have proved to be disastrous orators.

Ramgoolam has highlighted the importance of replacing the old guard with new blood, and this might have ruffled some feathers. That Ramgoolam does not consider himself as forming part of the old guard could also explain the malaise within the MLP’s ranks with many of the opinion that he is the party’s greatest weakness. May I quote Clemenceau on this one: « Les cimetières sont pleins de gens irremplaçables, qui ont tous été remplacés. »

In the last six months, the MLP has lost former MPs; some swayed by Pravind’s charisma undoubtedly, others seemingly frustrated by the strategy laid out by the party’s leader. This is unlikely to stop with several party figures abruptly refusing to be mere echoes and now vocal about the workings of the party.

From what I have witnessed, people often start fighting against a system only when it no longer serves them. I would hope that this epiphany does not result in them joining the MSM.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 March 2023

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