Minister Choonee’s speech: a balloon adroitly deflated 

By TP Saran

Trust Navin Ramgoolam to do it. No histrionics, no high-sounding, puffed up drivel of the type that was concocted and thrust at the population with hysterical not to say maniacal fervour. As the Prime Minister hinted, coolly and in measured language so as not to add fuel to the virtual fire, the agenda of a section of the media was clear: to stoke the communal heat, and create divisions amongst the people. Especially the Hindus. To show that they were divided. But also to make money through increased sales of the respective newspapers because of the screeching headlines with their strong gossipy tones.

But those whose balloons have been pricked had better shed their illusions and face a core reality that surpasses their reading of the situation, not to speak of their understanding (because they refuse to do so): Hindus will not be divided. Let them make no mistake about that, this is the absolute grassroots fact they have to reckon with. So if they have calculations that seem to point otherwise, they should revisit their copy.

The reason is simple. Hindu society, like all societies, has multiple and different layers. Where others have used class as the basis of social stratification, Hindus have used caste for the purpose. Down the millennia, this has had both advantages and disadvantages, and like class elsewhere has been exploited by various groups, mostly by politicians, for personal gains. It may be possible that it is going through a phase in which the disadvantages are outweighing the advantages, but the system has weathered the storms of no one knows exactly how many thousands of years – and survived. It is not likely to crumble, or to destroy society, soon. It is also true that the caste system has been more rigid in the sense of restricting social mobility, but go see My Fair Lady to understand that such mobility does not mean total acceptance, and less even identification.

For those pyromaniacs who have been playing peeping Toms and looking with binoculars into their neighbour’s house, we would strongly recommend that they first scrutinize their own front yards and backyards. They will find what they already know but prefer to be hush-hush about (in contrast to the rather loud-mouthed Hindus), namely that in the same manner that the Ti Creole or Creole Gros Feuille and the Creole Clair and Milate coexist with each other; as do the Calcutteea Muslims with their surtee or Ahmadi co-religionists; as do the Hakka speaking with the non-Hakka speaking Chinese, and their various clans although many of them may be from the same region in China originally; and as do the Blancs Faucon with the Blancs Dodo – and this classification is not exhaustive – so do the Hindus belonging to different castes coexist with each other, accepting, as their non-Hindu compatriots do, their internal commonalities and social contradictions. But conscious, all the time, that there is something stronger that underlies the latter, and that however much someone who does not understand that fabric tries to undermine it, he can only go so far.

Of course, there will be some weak-minded Hindus who will be exploited and pounced upon for the sake of proving a point here and a point there, but such individuals exist in all other communities and societies too. Indeed, amongst Hindus who spoke out and were quoted, some tilted in favour of, some against Choonee. If anything, this shows that Hindus are open-minded, but it is also a fact that some people seek cheap publicity, and it is not beyond some Hindus – and some non-Hindus too – to try and get some mileage out of a situation that seems to lend itself to cheap and free publicity.

On the other hand, we know don’t we, as le people admirable, that we must take whatever politicians say with a large spoon of salt? We are smart enough to know that they are first and foremost after consolidating their vote banks, and will miss no opportunity to do so especially when they are in what they consider to be their special constituency. So why raise a hullabaloo about it – unless one has an agenda to make a mountain out of a molehill, as in the present case? Social terrorism was here clearly the desired end of this vilifying campaign, directed simultaneously at three targets: the minister in question, the government of the day (as usual, when it is led by other than Paul Bérenger or if he is not part of the coalition forming it), and the Hindu community.

But this apparently unstoppable movement was deftly and suddenly stopped in its track by an astute Prime Minister, who clearly has good political memory and access to more information than any one of us can possibly have. Hence the reference to Lesjongard and Jeeha, and the fact that the MMM has never come to terms with its defeat at the last general elections. And no one will be fooled about which section of the media supports the MMM leader, and that Hindu-bashing is almost a national sport in this country.

Hindus have intimate knowledge and conviction that in the end Truth will triumph: Satyameva Jayate. Navin Ramgoolam did not even have to go as far as the Truth: just a reminder of a few simple truths was enough to turn upside down the arguments of the caste experts who had sprung overnight. Like Jocelyn Grégoire who thought that others were too naïve to see through his slogan ‘vote with your heart,’ some people thought that the situation could provide grist to their extrapolating mills. They tried to pass their prejudices for enlightened readings into human rights issues. But their intentions were only too clear as they tried to overstretch their intellects. If only they had remembered that, according to their leader maximo, the intellect is endowed with the capacity to be limité, they would perhaps have avoided being sent back to where they belong, the stink of the gutter press.

Some day perhaps, most of the people of Mauritius will mature and develop the faculty that lies beyond mere intellect. We have yet, alas, a long way to go – and with no guarantee that this will necessarily happen.

* Published in print edition on 9 September 2010

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