Interview: Dharam Gokhool
… in the process, it is the country that will pay the heaviest price”
* ‘The Opposition forces cannot take the risk of having to deal with an India bashing campaign, which could stoke communal sentiments’
* ‘Will Labour come forward with a transformational agenda that will define the contours of a modern political organisation? This is the real challenge for the Labour leadership’
Former Labour Minister Dharam Gokhool makes a perceptive analysis of the possible implications and ramifications of the allegations of the ex-CEO of MT Sherry Singh that are currently rocking the country, and that have pitched him headlong into open confrontation with the Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth. Things are likely to become even more bitter and the government will have a hard uphill task to defend itself and protect the country’s interest.
Mauritius Times: The suspense around the Sherry Singh v Pravind Jugnauth has not ended and it’s likely we’ll get to see more twists and turns in the days ahead. Do you feel however that the main protagonists have already stepped on the eggs and that it might get nasty and embarrassing?
Dharam Gokhool: We are witnessing the unravelling of what appears to be a murky and sinister political serial, with shocking and disturbing revelations, presumably of alleged spying against the interests of the Republic of Mauritius, and with the avowed blessings of the head of government himself.
We are at the very first phase. Political observers, analysts, media pundits as well as the common citizens are trying to figure out the precise nature, the full-scale implications of these terrible revelations, and connect the dots. Is this a stand-alone event or is it the tip of a huge iceberg that will trigger a political tsunami?
With the second radio interview of Sherry Singh and the laborious and often seemingly controversial statements of the Prime Minister, the doors of further twists and turns are wide open. More on the side of the corridors of power than Sherry Singh who has so far been more coherent in his pronouncements.
Unless a miracle happens (it is often said that in politics everything is possible), the two protagonists are now already on the battlefield and the fight will take place. It’s not eggs they have stepped on: they are now on a live minefield and every move from either side has the potential of destruction. In the process, it is the country that will pay the heaviest price.
* There might be scores of reasons that militate in favour of the ouster of the present government, but the impact of the allegation picked up by Sherry Singh can be potentially embarrassing on the diplomatic and geopolitical fronts. What’s your assessment of its spillover impacts?
Indeed. With a string of scandals like the Covid-19 related corruptions cases, the high-profile cases of the unresolved alleged murder of Kistnen and the Angus Road saga, together with the inclusion of Mauritius in the Black list (European Union) and Grey list (FATF), the rather muddled Mauritian diplomacy being followed by the present government, our historical and traditional allies and partners must be wondering about the real agenda of this government.
The oblique reference made by Sherry Singh in his first radio interview to a foreign country being involved in the alleged “sniffing” project, was unfortunately followed up by some prime ministerial explicit and inept public statements that inadvertently dragged one of our privileged traditional partners into our local political controversy. A serious and damaging diplomatic impair and a glaring example of lack of diplomatic finesse. There is lot of speculation about the alleged “sniffing” project. Where did the initiative come from?
The vibrant Indian media will certainly seek their government’s version and many questions will be raised or are already being raised behind closed doors in diplomatic circles. Are the long-term strategic interests of Mauritius driving our diplomatic agenda or is the present government undermining our time-tested equidistant diplomacy? The alleged “sniffing” project does a lot of harm to our diplomatic reputation and credentials.
* We are clearly in a case where there are no real precedents, no other PM having faced such accusations. We are also navigating in troubled waters with the potential for serious geopolitical implications… As such, what do you think should be the course of action for the Prime minister and the government, especially as regards our international partners?
Unfortunately, we do not have a full-fledged, full-time Minister of Foreign Affairs with time-tested diplomatic skills to navigate the present storm. The Prime Minister is in the eye of the storm. He is caught in a web of controversies and his credibility has suffered a serious blow. No other Senior Minister is forthcoming to help the country in these difficult times. The damage has been done and, as I see it, damage control initiatives cannot come from this government. Has our Head of State abdicated his role and responsibility as the guardian of our Constitution at this crucial juncture? His silence is eloquent and incomprehensible. It begs the question as to whether he is conscious of his constitutional powers and responsibilities as Head of State.
In the Opposition ranks we have people who have been at the head of governments. We also have former Heads of State and some seasoned politicians. They must take the relay and open channels of communication with the diplomatic community with the message that every storm has a silver lining. They must reassure the international community of the impressive post-independence track record of Mauritius in the international arena and its adherence to the rule of law.
Serving politicians in government’s ranks could also be called upon to show restraint and act responsibly in the superior interests of the country. NGOs and civil society must avoid any slipping into any form of disturbance and violence that can tarnish our image.
These are challenging times for our country and all patriots should unite to save the country and its reputation.
* The allegation relating to the alleged sniffing of the internet networks will remain a mere empty noise unless backed eventually by solid evidence. How do you see things evolving in the days ahead? Do you see the main protagonist willing and capable to go the whole hog?
So far Sherry Singh has come up with circumstantial evidence. These can help to draw inferences but not prove what he is claiming. For that, he has to put before the population concrete and solid evidence which he has repeatedly stated he has in his custody.
His task has been rendered quite easy by the incomplete, uncoordinated and contradictory statements by the Prime Minister in and out of the National Assembly.
The Prime Minister is running out of time, (unless he has a move up his sleeve to check-mate Sherry Singh). The mood of the people is changing and the younger generation – the digital natives – sees in the “alleged sniffing” attempt a frontal attack on their liberty, their way of life and “their technology”. They have a symbiotic relationship with the internet and abhor any intrusion or “sniffing” which they interpret as an invasion of their privacy. Even in their family milieu, they are extremely protective of their data.
Many have not yet forgotten the aborted attempt to control internet traffic through the ICTA consultation paper.
The ex-CEO of Mauritius Telecom is a digital denizen and he can read the psychology of the internet users. The Prime Minister in on slippery grounds compared to Sherry Singh and public perception and opinion is adding wind to the latter’s sail.
* Sherry Singh said during the course of his latest interview that his focus will be on the alleged sniffing instructions received from the PM, and he is not going to tell us anything about the “merry-making” that had apparently been taking place at the level of the inner circles of power – the so-called ‘La Cuisine’, as it is famously known – and to which he is said to have been associated for many years. Isn’t that odd?
This is the world of politics and we have seen enough of every colour and shade. Politicians are neither outright saints nor satans; they are all humans with their strengths and weaknesses. But integrity in the political arena has become a rare commodity. The erosion of values, to which politicians have been among the main contributors, is dramatic, so much so that many people have come to reconcile with the idea that evil has become the new good. And therefore, we need to choose between the lesser of two evils. I am sorry to see the glass as half full. But this is what comes back to me in my interactions with a wide spectrum of people.
But it’s also true that circumstances can awaken in people their nobler instincts and they can try to rise up to certain situations, otherwise humanity would be doomed. Sherry Singh claims he is in that metamorphosis state of mind, wants to act as a patriot and prevent harm being done to our society. He has also confessed having been associated with ‘lakuizine’ at some time but took his distance from ‘lakuizine 2.0′. He has also gone to the extent of saying that the MSM’s victory of 2019 to which he contributed was a big mistake. Has he unburdened himself enough or not enough? Time will tell.
But Sherry Singh seems to be clear in his strategy. His target is the forest – the bigger picture, the MSM government which he considers has betrayed the nation; not the trees, the details, his past association with ‘lakuizine’.
Definitely there is a method in his political moves.
* We have trouble believing that the PM and the government will remain on the defensive. An open war between the PM and Sherry Singh could potentially open other very sensitive files, like the Safe City contract for example. Hasn’t a sort of Pandora’s box been opened with grave consequences for our security and our economy?
The government will not take Sherry Singh’s attacks lying down.The whole government machinery will be activated. Already, the CCID is interrogating Sherry Singh. There are other institutions that will join in to hound him. This has been the case with others who took their distance from the government. The latest is Rudy Veeramundar, the ex-Director of GIS; ICAC, MRA, IRSA, FIU could join in to harass Sherry Singh.
Sensitive files could be thrown to the public. It is going to be tough and rough for Sherry Singh. But at this moment, he has an edge over the Prime Minister in public opinion. On the other hand, the government seems to be going through a very bad phase with the economic crisis hurting the people real hard. If the Opposition joins together to support Sherry Singh, the ground reality may shift against the government.
* The Opposition seems to have to have seen in the Sherry Singh v Pravind Jugnauth spat a golden opportunity to go for the kill – everything else attempted to rock the MSM’s boat earlier having failed. Do you also see in that spat the ultimate weapon to finish off the current government?
If Sherry Singh succeeds in proving his allegations, the government will be cornered. The Prime Minister will be held responsible for tampering with the security of the state and public pressure will call for the resignation of his government. Sherry Singh’s initiative to take on the Prime Minister head-on, single-handed, and his assertion that he is imbued with a sense of mission and patriotism has the resonance of a bold act, at a time when the country is at a cross-roads.
After having tried unsuccessfully to unseat the government in the past, the Opposition seems to have found in Sherry Singh a catalytic element to unite their forces against the Prime Minister and his government. Singh’s move could be the spark that the Opposition forces need to recalibrate their electoral strategy and raise their chances of winning the next general elections.
* With Bruno Laurette on one side of Sherry Singh and Shakeel Mohamed on the other and railing against the presence of Indian nationals at the level of the Security Division of the PMO and at the head of the National Coast Guard, ‘c’est bien parti’, as the French would say, for the Opposition’s forthcoming electoral campaign, in particular for the Labour Party’s in the constituencies where it matters. What do you think?
Short-term expediencies should not jeopardise our long-term interests, through inadvertent criticisms.
The Opposition forces cannot take the risk of having to deal with an India bashing campaign, which could be an unnecessary distraction, and stoke communal sentiments. Both in the short- and long-terms, this will be counterproductive and runs the risks of straining our special ties with India and hurting our long-term strategic interests. It may also impact on our social fabric.
Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister had this to say about essence of diplomatic relations: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
If there are issues that need to be dealt with, the diplomatic channels should be resorted to instead of public platforms.
* Speaking of the Labour Party, there is again talk of the proposed rejuvenation of the party cadres in the months ahead. In other words, the old boys should make way for the young lads – possibly for new kinds of leadership and political action. What do you think of that?
Sometime back you asked me about Labour Party’s way forward, and I said Labour has a strong, capable and ethnically diverse and geographically representative Parliamentary Group which can be leveraged to give Labour a competitive edge over other political forces.
Rejuvenation of the Labour Party cannot be limited to a few new faces. Along with a quantitative change, it also needs a qualitative change, people with new thinking, new ideas who are in tune with the changing aspirations of our people, in a global context. Internal party processes must be democratised to avoid concentration of power in the hands of a few. People want to have a say. Mechanisms should be put in place for the party to set up a functional Secretariat to keep in touch with the people. These are a few ideas to define the new architecture of the Labour party.
In the days to come, will it be business as usual with some cosmetic changes for Labour or will Labour come forward with a transformational agenda that will define the contours of a modern political organisation? This is the real challenge for the Labour leadership.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 15 July 2022
65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.
With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.
The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.