S.Modeliar

Cheap, Ethnic and Caste Games
The progress of this country is not the doing of a handful of ethnic or caste organisations only. This is what we have to bear in mind
 

 

S. MODELIAR

The statement made by Minister Choonee on the status of the Vaishs and the position of the Prime Minister towards the Vaishs has attracted numerous comments in the press. Many criticisms have been levelled at the Minister. As was to be expected the Hindu House and the Voice of Hindu rallied in support of the Minister.

During the election campaign two associations expressed the view that not enough had been done for some particular castes. What that means is not yet clear. When the late Premchand Dabee, the founder of the All Hindu Congress expressed the view in the mid sixties that 52% of all posts in the civil service should go to the Hindus irrespective of caste, critics hit back to say that this should include 52% of Hindus in the jails too.

 

 

Father Jocelyn Grégoire was ferociously campaigning for the rights of Creoles during the pre-election period. On one occasion he said: « D’abord, je ne sais pas si on peut dire qu’il y a un parti créole. Ensuite, s’il y a une logique dans le dernier sondage de Sofres, le parti créole qu’on a vraiment, c’est le MMM. Pour moi, le plus important, c’est qu’il y a des domaines où les politiciens créoles, de quelque bord qu’ils soient, puissent travailler ensemble. » The message was that Creoles should identify themselves with the MMM. There was no reaction from Paul Bérenger to that statement.

Jocelyn Grégoire also stated: « Au niveau de la Fédération des Créoles Mauriciens, notre objectif c’est le réveil de la conscience créole pour une meilleure prise en charge de soi. Il s’agit aussi de voir comment on peut challenge le système. A ce chapitre, je n’ai jamais caché que nous devons être en dialogue avec les politiques de tous les bords. J’ai aussi dit que, pour les prochaines élections, les partis doivent présenter des candidats qui représentent les minorités et, a fortiori, les créoles. » There was hardly any violent criticism against him except for Gilbert Ahnee who wrote in l’express on 5 May 10: « Jocelyn Grégoire est un garçon dangereux. Parce que sa démagogie ethno-crypto-évangélique lui a valu une certaine audience, parce que ses rallyes frappez-des-mains Jésus-vous-aime l’ont un peu mis en lumiére, il s’est fantasmé comme berger, si ce n’est sauveur d’une communauté, à laquelle il croit être en mesure de dicter son comportement électoral. »

It has become very fashionable for some people to use ethnicity and caste during an electoral campaign. This is done to strengthen the bargaining power of the associations to which the crusaders belong, the aim being to reap some benefits not so much for the ethnicity or caste but personal ones. As reported in l’express, 28 April 10, Ajit Gopal, the president of Kranti, a socio-cultural group stated, « Il est triste de constater que le problème de castes refait surface à quelques jours des élections générales, donnant ainsi l’occasion à certains d’exploiter la situation pour faire du chantage — ‘Li tris me monn remarke ki a sak fwa ki ena eleksyon sa zafer jat / pat (NdlR : gran nasyon / ti nasyon) la lev la tet e ena ler la rod fer santaz’, a-t-il déploré. Et de souligner dans la foulée l’enjeu des législatives du 5 mai : ‘Se lavenir le pei, la kominote ek generation ki pe vini.’ À l’instar du Père Grégoire qui, selon lui, est en train de promouvoir les intérêts de la communauté kreol, il est du devoir de la communauté majoritaire de réfléchir sur l’importance de la joute électorale du 5 mai 2010. »

In addition to the Creoles through Jocelyn Grégoire, the Rajputs also made their position clear during the electoral campaign: « Soulignons que les dirigeants et porte-parole suivants étaient présents : Vijay Bhantoo du Gahlot Rajput Maha Sabha ; Raj Gunnessee de la Gahlot Rajput Foundation ; Kaviraj Boyraj de la Northern Gahlot Rajput Federation ; Sunil Bholah du Global Action Charitable Trust ; Balmick Mohun et Kaviraj Sahadew de la Moka/Flacq Gahlot Rajput Federation ; Vivekanand Bhoyroo du Suryavanshi Gahlot Rajput Sabha, et Ajay Issory de la Plaines-Wilhems Gahlot Rajput Federation. Certains des intervenants ont précisé que quelques jours avant les élections du 5 mai ‘nou bizin kone dan ki direksyon nou fami bizin pran pou nou donn enn signal for’. Ils ont toutefois exprimé leur déception que souvent certains parmi ceux de la famille Rajput qui sont élus oublient aussitôt leur origine une fois assis sur leur fauteuil ministériel. » (Le Mauricien, 24 April 10).

The electoral history of Mauritius reveals clearly that since independence those who have occupied the post of Prime Minister have come from the Vaish group. The only exception was the accession of Paul Bérenger to the post of prime Minister as a result of a deal between the MMM and the MSM on the eve of the 2000 elections. This deal enabled the MSM, which was in the wilderness, to come back to power. Paul Bérenger has failed twice to be elected prime Minister – in 1983 and and again in 2005. Was he a victim of caste or ethnicity? The easy answer would be to say ethnicity – as many have said. Only a scientific study can establish that fact.

According to a section of the media, Minister Choonee allegedly stated that the Vaishs elect the Prime Minister and that the Prime Minister is first and foremost the Prime Minister of the Vaishs. Prime Minister Ramgoolam has rejected that view. The social fabric of Mauritius is such that no ethnicity and no caste among the Hindus have reached that stage where they will not harbour suspicion and at times outright opposition against the appointment of another ethnicity or caste to a position. When the fight for independence started most of the Hindus rallied behind the Independence Party irrespective of caste. That is understandable in view of the ruthless campaign being waged against the so-called post-Independence hegemony Hindu that never materialized.

What did materialize however the balkanization of the Hindus. That was started by some Hindu politicians for their own benefit. Malen Ooodiah summed the situation in an interview in Le Mauricien at the beginning of this year: « À Maurice, les associations religieuses — toutes religions confondues — prennent des positions politiques et s’invitent au débat. Là n’est pas le problème. Ce qui pose problème, c’est quand sous le couvert de la religion leurs dirigeants avancent des agendas sectaires allant dans le sens de la division et de la méfiance, contraires aux valeurs prônées par les religions dont elles se réclament. Mais ce qui est encore plus problématique, c’est l’importance que leur accordent les partis politiques au point qu’on a souvent l’impression que les partis politiques en sont devenus les ôtages. Ce poids est non seulement insupportable mais dangereux. The criticisms, the blackmail, the subtle ethnic and caste campaign that characterize our electoral system secretly permeate our everyday life, and this leads one to wonder whether the veneer of unity that is talked about is but artificial and ephemeral.

We may ask in a pedantic manner whether, when a Vaish or a Rajput or a Creole is dangerously ill or needs a good teacher for his kids, he will ever think in terms of caste or ethnicity when he makes his choice of doctor or teacher. He will choose the best. Isn’t this ironical? As Satish Boolell pointed out in l’express a few weeks ago, do these socio-cultural associations realize how many marriages are celebrated irrespective of caste? Love and attraction know no caste barrier. Or should the socio-cultural associations be given the power either by a weird religious interpretation or law to oppose their veto to an intercaste marriage? All Hindus go through the same rites when they marry or when they die. So do the other ethnic groups, each according their respective beliefs and traditions. When death comes the Creator does not make any affirmative discrimination in respect of a caste or ethnicity.

This country has produced eminent men and women across the ethnic and caste spectrum who have made everlasting contribution to the progress and well-being of this country. The progress of this country is not the doing of a handful of ethnic or caste organisations only. This is what we have to bear in mind before pandering to cheap, ethnic and caste games.

S. MODELIAR

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