R.Ratnam

Elections 2010: The Ethnic Factor

 

The 2010 general elections resulted in a resounding victory for the alliance led by the leader of the Labour Party, Dr Navin Ramgoolam. Many saw in the alliance contracted with the MSM a factor for an ethnic divide in the country. Let us not mince words and make bold to state bluntly it was the view of many that the alliance was an alliance of the Hindus against the other components of the population. The results have not borne that out though the rural areas have voted massively for the candidates of the Labour-MSM-PMSD alliance.

Many saw in that alliance a remake of the 1967 elections for independence but those who held that belief totally overlooked the presence of the PMSD in that alliance. Many also underestimated the shrewdness of Navin Ramgoolam in forging an alliance that represented a cross section of all the components of the population.

 

 

The so-called great pundits of national unity, many of them having been catapulted by a certain press in that role, accused Navin Ramgoolam of having created an ethnic divide in the population by his alliance. Cassam Uteem, a former President of the Republic, accused Dr Ramgoolam of having split the population instead of unifying it at the 1st May rally of the MMM. This is what he said:

« Le Premier ministre avait le choix d’être un rassembleur ou un diviseur,  il a choisi d’être un diviseur. S’il avait choisi le rôle de rassembleur, je n’aurais pas ressenti la nécessité d’être là aujourd’hui (l’express, 2 May 2010).

Le Mauricien of 3rd May reported the intervention of Cassam Uteem as follows: « Cassam Uteem s’est ensuite élevé contre le Premier ministre qui, dit-il, se présente comme un rassembleur mais est en fait un diviseur. »

That was a most unjustified attack and an ill advised piece of oratory by a man who as a former President should have been above party politics. The man just indulged in demagoguery for electoral purposes without giving any evidence or proof of the grave accusation against Navin Ramgoolam, the person who gave him a second term as President to the detriment of Sir Satcam Boolell in 1997. Then of course Dr Navin Ramgoolam was not motivated by any ethnic bias!

On another front, the alliance led by Navin Ramgoolam had to contend with the rantings of Père Grégoire. The priest, turned a half baked politician since some months back, put himself forward as the saviour of the Creoles. By this we should not understand the whole General Population who, for the purposes of the census, comprise those of white descent and a mixed population. Père Grégoire was targeting a specific group of Creoles and has been brainwashing them into believing that they have been the downtrodden for a long time and they have the right to claim their share in the country.

That appeal to ethnic feelings for political gains could not be clearer. At a rally held on 2nd May, Père Grégoire is reported to have said: “Rant dan ou leker, ekout ou leker e pran decision avek ou leker, ou pou resi. On hearing these words la salle explose.” (Le Mauricien, 3 May 2010).

Grégoire too saw in the Labour-PMSD-MSM alliance an ethnic divide of the population and forcefully stated that the seat of Prime Minister is not reserved for one ethnicity only. Commenting on this intervention, Nillen Kattany wrote in l’express, dated 3rd May, “Il n’y a pas eu de mot d’ordre. Mais difficile de ne pas comprendre le message du père Jocelyn Grégoire lors de son congrés, hier, à Réduit.

By telling people to vote with their hearts the message was clear. The symbol of the MMM is the heart after all! Now that the results are out the FCM is rejecting all  accusations portées à l’encontre de Jocelyn Grégoire d’avoir fait campagne pour l’Alliance du Coeur” (l’express, 10 May 2010). What a farce!

Two leaders were leading their respective alliances in the elections, Dr Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Bérenger. The former is a Hindu and the latter belongs to the General Population. Whenever Navin Ramgoolam was stating that the choice was between him and Paul Bérenger, many opponents of Labour and some sections of the press were putting an ethnic coloration on that statement. They were interpreting this to mean that the choice was between a Hindu and a member of the General Population. That was just irrational. Many Hindus were standing under the banner of the MMM and many members of the General Population stood under the banner of the Labour alliance. Why was the debate reduced to Hindus and General Population, a debate made worse by the ranting of Père Grégoire?

Paul Bérenger was also accusing the Labour alliance of using ethnic factors and was repeating ad nauseam that he is not to blame if he were born white. That campaign misfired because the people had to choose between two men and two programmes. By resorting to people like Cassam Uteem, by proposing Mr Santokhee as a vice president, by whipping up the Sithanen episode as having hurt the Tamils, by the speech of Jayen Cuttaree at the celebration of the Tamil new year, the MMM put a wholesale ethnic coloration on the campaign and made sure that the majority of the population would not vote for it. It is useless now for the MMM to find scapegoats in accusations of ethnicity being used systematically by others. The MMM will have to use other methods than the Cassam Uteem, Harish Boodhoo… surprises to appear as a credible party. 

What has changed in the 2010 election results as compared to what obtained in 1983 and  1987 when the MMM lost against a coalition of Labour-MSM-PMSD? In 1983 Paul Bérenger led his party in the August elections and held himself out as Prime Minister to be. He lost. In 1987 he presented Prem Nababsing as the prime minister to be. The MMM again lost. When the majority of the electors chose Sir Anerood Jugnauth again in 1987 and voted against Prem Nababsing, there were two Hindus contending for the seat of prime minister. There was no ethnic accusation then.

In 2000 the population voted for Paul Bérenger to be prime minister after Sir Anerood Jugnauth and this materialised in 2003. Where was the ethnic motive when the population chose Paul Berenger as a potential prime minister against Navin Ramgoolam in 2000? It is a pity and totally irrational to explain the 2010 results on the basis of ethnicity. It is equally regrettable that a candidate elected in Stanley-RoseHill, Ms Lysie Ribot treated the electorate as conservative because they did not vote for somebody belonging to a minority section of the population as prime minister. The MMM has an arduous task of convincing the population that it is free from any ethnicity genes. So far it has failed. A lot of introspection is awaiting that party as far as ethnicity is concerned.

At the end of the day the lessons that we should learn from the last elections are that elections are not won on ethnic considerations; elections are more likely to be lost on such considerations as they may instill fear in other components of the population. There is no point in accusing socio-cultural organisations as  Ajay Gunness did after the results or in stating that the screening of films like Lagan or Pandey were determinant factors in the defeat of the MMM. This is really taking the voters who chose the Labour alliance for fools.

 

R. Ratnam

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