In our daily lives, we hear a lot of words that may sound or are indeed offensive in nature but often they are said in good-humoured banter and more often we may choose to ignore them or respond in kind. In cases where a person intentionally uses abusive or offensive words in order to humiliate a person or provoke him, he may fall foul of the law and, if there is a complaint, could be prosecuted for committing an offence under the criminal law in force in the country. For their part, politicians are known to be sensitive to public opinion, but they are usually reluctant to take action against offenders, who might have ‘insulted’ them verbally or in print, due either to social media blowback and further ridicule or to unintended political consequences such action could produce. Senior politicians in particular would have developed a sufficiently thick skin to handle the inevitable barbs of a free press and also of their constituents, and they would usually take in their stride such ‘insults’ like ‘gopia’, ‘sinois nef’, etc., for instance, which in any case are regularly traded in our own National Assembly and MPs reprimanded by the Speaker when he is not busy looking the other way.
The earlier police arrests of some 30 protesters at Bambous-Virieux, provisionally charged for ‘Obstructing Public Road’, who have had to put up with water shortage for at least two months without any convenient, even temporary, resolution of their hardship in view, was a very poor public response to genuine grievances and miseries. It could soon prove counter-productive,alienating further sections of the population confronted with their own problems during the rainy season. The incidents at Chemin Grenier and lately at Plaine Magnien Village Council involving Ministers and councillors and local citizens, in both cases for reason of continuing floodings in these areas during heavy downpours, smack of a growing susceptibility in government quarters to demonstrations and protests by affected citizens calling for redress of their real grievances.
This week’s arrest of a social worker, who would have allegedly ‘insulted’ the Mayor of Vacoas-Phoenix through the popular term ‘gopia’(dunce, idiot) at a live Radio One programme, where the PPS of Manhattan fame was also present, is further illustration, if needed, of such inopportune susceptibilities. On Sunday, a small group of youngsters holdingbanners peacefully that politicians should avoid socio-religious functions at Camp Diable, were again booked and charged. It may be useful to point out here that popular resentment had meantime shot through the roof with what has been termed the “Dubayjalsa” event where the MOF and the PM authorised some thirteen Ministers and their plane-loads of accompanying civil servants and advisors in tow, to jet allegedly first-class with per diems to the Dubai Expo, without any convincing explanations or costs of their escapades from a stretched public purse even when queried in the National Assembly. Such blithe obliviousness to the plight of ordinary Mauritians could only alienate the population.
On the other hand, the subsequent police arrests, provisional charges and overnight jail slapped on some protesters, probably on instructions from higher quarters, speak of a dangerous susceptibility to any kind of opposition and protests to government actions, inactions or failures. It is dangerous because it smacks of a tendency to resort to repressive tactics to quell any form of opposition. Whether this hides a growing anxiety within government spheres of an impending economic crisis and consequent adverse social consequences is not known. But in all likelihood the National Security Services would know the feeling in all streets and bazaars, in struggling small shops and would hear thedaily complaints of the elderly struggling with prices in supermarkets or private pharmacies, which had lately the cheek, if not audacity, to propose an “advisory fee” to consumers. In any case, the proclamation of the President of the Republic, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, to extend for a second consecutive year the life of Municipal and Village Councils for reasons of Covid-19 epidemic and quarantine does not sound convincing.
All around the world, video clips have shown political leaders being heckled and taunted at public gatherings without police forces or secret services jumping at the throats of such compatriots and hardly ever any prosecution for democratic expressions, even when fuelled by some anger or resentment at those in higher spheres. In an island besieged by weekly acts of theft, larceny, violence, drug abuse, pilferage of planters produce, not to mention a gloomy economic horizon with soaring public debts and repeated allegations of fraud if not corruption, one would have thought the higher echelons of the Police Force might have more pressing matters to attend to.
As for the government, it shouldbe attending to those more pressing issues in light of the economic storm the world and this country is going into, as highlighted by independent economists in the columns of this paper and elsewhere than have protesters with genuine grievances arrested on what appears to be flimsy charges. Even if repressive tactics like arrests, detentions and prosecutions help governments, especially autocratic ones, survive in power, at times they may prove to be political missteps that may trigger deeper and wider public discontent and reactions. We have known two historical instances where the discontent had taken such massive proportions that the ruling party or alliance was wiped out by a clean sheet 60-0.
Circumstances may no longer be the same and certainly the ruling dispensation still has time to course-correct, but this needs a major shake-up in its current governing philosophy.
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