Illness and Politics

By TP Saran

The announcement by Mr Paul Raymond Berenger of his illness, a cancer of the tonsil, has been hailed as an act of courage and frankness. It no doubt is, and we must thank Mr Berenger for doing so, given the position he holds.

Everybody knows that cancer is a serious, and often deadly disease. Even if a given cancer is curable, the path of treatment towards eventual cure – if at all – is long, painful and difficult, not to mention costly. The surge of across-the-board national sympathy that he has received is understandable as he has been in public life for over 40 years. We too wish him ‘bon courage’, which both he and his family will need abundantly to face the hard days and weeks ahead. We pray too that he will make as prompt a recovery as possible, and return in due course to take up his responsibilities in the National Assembly afresh.

However, Berenger is not an ordinary person. He is the founder-leader of the MMM, and substantive Leader of the Opposition, who parries shots with the Prime Minister of the country frontally in the National Assembly. Whatever they do or do not do, their behaviours and statements are inevitably compared and contrasted, and this exercise for obvious reasons sometimes spills over into their personal lives, to the extent that the latter may have a bearing on the affairs of the country. It is no surprise therefore that many weekend editorials by the loyalists of Berenger resorted to such comparisons, in the light of recent events related to the Prime Minister, and extended this exercise even to Alan Ganoo who was considered by them to be simply substituting for his leader during the next three months, but was not really capable of actually replacing him in his role as Leader of the Opposition (LOP).

In other words, because of Berenger’s position, his disciples soon left the matter of his illness to start exploring the issue of ‘who next?’ at the MMM. At this point, therefore, we too have to leave Berenger the man and share some views on what has been written on the politics of the situation, and take a look forward.

The first point is that every move either of the PM or LOP is based on a political calculation, to create maximum impact. No one can fault the LOP for doing that, and the fact that the PM preferred to remain vague and almost secretive about his own illness was therefore matter for ample and cynical comment, which was under the circumstances inevitable, and some would think perhaps justifiable.

The second point is the tone and contents of some of these editorials, which in their zeal to draw comparisons on every front, engaged in eulogies of the LOP that sounded more like, sorry to say, advance obituaries. It is in the same vein that the downgrading of the personality of Alan Ganoo was subtly carried out. To carry adulation to this extent is puerile; emotions more than coloured what was meant to pass as objective analysis, and the bias was unmistakable. What would happen tomorrow if by a twist of fate or fortune Paul Berenger and Navin Ramgoolam were to form a coalition, despite the former’s assertion that he will be back to continue with the ‘remake’? After all, isn’t politics the art of the possible for Mauritian politicians?

Let us not over-dramatise the political situation: while it is true that when a leader departs for any reason, he leaves a gap that is felt most strongly by those he was closest to, they are the very ones who will soon enough vie among themselves to fill the gap. So it is not as if a leader is irreplaceable in history, and whoever comes after does according to his ability, style and agenda to which his followers, the polity and the country get used after a while.

Let us reiterate that we wish Berenger well. He will surely be back when the time comes and take his legitimate place anew. Meanwhile, the seasoned Alan Ganoo will surely hold the fort honourably.

* Published in print edition on 31 January 2013

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