“The winds of change will blow stronger in the days and weeks to come”

Interview: Dharam Gokhool, former LP Minister & Political

* ‘Navin Ramgoolam can only have one agenda: put Labour back in power and graduate from being a politician to becoming a statesman’

* ‘Varma and Faugoo are not of the calibre to create a political thunderstorm or tsunami’

There is a noticeable pick-up of tempo in the political arena. On the one hand, recent high-profile events have placed government on the backfoot on the plank of fighting drug warlords and the scourge of trafficking. Meantime, the reunion of the three main political parties in a common front, is expected to generate some frustration from the LP’s push for rejuvenation, while sirens are out to lure out a few. In this interview, Dharam Gokhool, experienced political hand and former LP Minister, shares his views on the challenges ahead for the country, its economy, our youth and the political cauldron that is simmering.

Mauritius Times: What’s your take on the current political situation prevailing in Mauritius?

Dharam Gokhool: These are worrying times for the country and the people. A lot of frustration and anxiety in the population. People are terribly worried about their future, the future of their children and family; they are equally worried about the future of the country.

Many heads of families, who are professionals, who are in their 40s and 50s, are emigrating for the sake of their children’s future. Unfortunately, many of those leaving are our best brains and are not coming back. There is an acute brain drain. The feel-good factor that the Prime Minister evoked during his New Year address is a cruel joke on the population. A PM in a denial mode, cut off from the ground realities.

On the political front, I find a government that is on the defensive. The economy is struggling. Most of the macroeconomic indicators are in the red. Massive, unsustainable public debts, balance of trade deficits, rising inflation, decreasing purchasing power, widening gap between the rich and the poor, increase in household indebtedness and the quasi-disappearance of the middle class…

The recent water scarcity and floods are clear signs that the government’s priority is elsewhere rather than the welfare of the people. The mantra is Metro, Metro and Metro! Cases of massive wastage of public funds, corruption and the paralysis of so many institutions through nepotism, favouritism and political interference are clear signs that government’s popularity is under strain. Since the 2019 general elections, the PM is on a permanent electoral campaign, with an abusive subservience of the national TV as a prop.

The opposition should have capitalised on the prevailing situation and cornered the government. It is not making even a dent as yet in the government defences. By default, the government may take advantage of this situation and create the false impression of being in a strong position.

However, the situation may become clearer once the Labour-MMM-PMSD alliance is forged as this development could act as a trigger for a decisive political and psychological swing in favour of the Opposition. The coming weeks will be crucial for the Opposition and its credentials to represent a viable alternative to the present government.

* As regards the Opposition, in particular the Labour Party, Yatin Varma fired the first shot some weeks back, and this has been followed up early this week by Satish Faugoo, who came out publicly against the “dysfunctions” that will lead, according to him, the party to its perdition. Navin Ramgoolam’s leadership has also been severely criticised by both men. Do you suspect that there is something serious happening within the party and that there may be more to come?

Our mainstream political parties are very traditional in the way they function. Even their leadership style is often out of sync with the greater demand for the democratisation in the social, economic and political spheres. There is a vigorous on-going public debate nationally and internationally on the matter. And I think the leaders of political parties are conscious of these developments and they will have to work out some acceptable adjustments.

But it is no secret for anybody that the Labour Party (LP) is currently engaged in very delicate negotiations with its partners to forge an alliance. And if an alliance is forged, there will obviously be limited political space for aspiring as well as past candidates. Also, the Leader of the LP has made his intentions known about fielding a good number of new faces. In which case, old apparatchiks will have to give way. Both Varma and Faugoo have been Ministers and most probably they must have evaluated their chances of being candidates as being very slim. Hence their tantrums.

Besides their timing, Varma’s and Faugoo’s outbursts against the so-called “dysfunctions “of the party and the leadership appear to me to be mere window dressings and a calculated move to distance themselves from the LP; they may be on the look-out for greener pastures elsewhere. My information is that they are in touch with a notorious emissary of the MSM. The so-called Judas-in-Chief!

Most probably there will be a few others who will follow Varma and Faugoo. But history has shown that such dissidence dies a natural death and life moves on. These departures should be taken as an opportunity for the LP to pursue the initiative it took at its Annual Congress last year to induct new blood in the central working committees of the party with a view to putting the party on a reform trajectory.

* Others have said the same things rather politely, but the recent harsh grumblings are being voiced out publicly in what could be an election year. Selling the electorate on the idea that a credible alternative is available may not sound convincing in these circumstances. What do you think?

Varma and Faugoo are not of the calibre to create a political thunderstorm or tsunami. Since politics is also about the art of the possible, it will be difficult (and of course, not impossible) for the duo, who were insulting and ripping each other apart in Constituency No 7 during the 2019 general elections, to join forces. This episode will soon be lost in the maze of events unfurling on the political scene and die down. Already, they are being ridiculed on social media and if they go out to face the public, things can get worse and turn out to be rather unpleasant for them.

Every crisis, every hurdle is a challenge, and there’s always a silver lining. If this year could be an election year, then this is yet another opportunity for the party to rethink its strategy and recalibrate its electoral manifesto. This will put some additional winds in the sails of the LP.

* As regards Navin Ramgoolam’s leadership style, he may have his own reasons for the way he leads the party, but would you say, for having known him for many years, that his personal agenda and that of the party coincide?

Navin Ramgoolam has had a rich political career, as Leader of the Labour Party, as both Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, with its associated ups and downs. He is also among the better-known Mauritian politicians on the international front.

He has been through hell after the 2014 general elections and someone else in his place would have thrown in the towel and left the ring. He may not be the perfect leader, but he has demonstrated the resilience that people in leadership positions should have. Besides, his charisma and his communication skills add to his leadership credentials.

In the words of Oscar Wilde, every sinner has a past but every saint has a future. Navin Ramgoolam is now in the twilight zone of his political career and, for me, he can only have one agenda – a clear political agenda: to put Labour back in power and graduate from being a politician to becoming a statesman.

I am quoting James Freeman Clarke who has stated: “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.”

Probably this will be Ramgoolam’s last general elections. It will be for him to decide his priorities which correspond to the aspirations of the Mauritian population and chart a new destiny for the nation. This is an opportunity that does not come in the way of politicians every day. Will he choose the trodden path or will he blaze a new trail? Time will tell.

* If we go by recent press reports and the statements of Navin Ramgoolam, it would seem that the LP has come round to accepting the idea that the only way of ousting the current government and getting back to power is through an enlarged alliance with the MMM and the PMSD. This would suggest that the LP on its own will not be able to make it next time round. Do you think that could indeed be the case?

Duval, Berenger and Ramgoolam should know and I presume they know the mechanics and the arithmetics of our electoral system based on the principle of First Past the Post. They must have drawn their lessons from the 2019 general elections and the risks of scattered votes.

They must also know the risks posed by money politics, institutional perversion, repression, the manipulation of the MBC-TV, amongst others, as well as the geo-political factor. Can they afford to take the risks of a divided Opposition?

Who is presented as the prime ministerial candidate plays a determining role in our general elections. This is an established political Mauritian reality. In the current political configuration, is there a politician with a national presence who can be a credible and winnable challenger to the present Prime Minister?

We are in a democracy. If people think they are satisfied with the track record of the present government, then they can go for continuity. But if they want a change, then they will have to satisfy two conditions. First, support an alliance of political forces and, second, vote for a leader who has experience and enough step back to take the full measure of the challenges ahead. Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 10 February 2023

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