By TP Saran
In last week’s edition of this paper, interviewee Mrs Nandini Dewnarain-Bhautoo was asked:
Irrespective of the BLS, do you think that those who call themselves minorities have been left behind altogether in different sectors, for example education and business? And she began her answer with the following observation: ‘Definitely not! Although there are regular attempts at gaining political capital as well as garnering media interest on the part of some individuals who play on the idea of disempowerment for instance of Creoles, the truth of the matter is that a strong Creole middle class exists in this country. One only has to look at the private sector employees and their lifestyles, educational and business prospects to realize this.’
Pretty much the same could be said of other ‘minorities’. In all of these communities, there is more than just a strong middle-class: there are also many rich and newly-rich families some of which can claim to belong to the very upper crust of Mauritian society on the basis of their wealth.
In an interview he gave to a newspaper, ex-minister Joseph Tsang Man Kin pointed out that at one time there was not a single Chinese in the National Assembly. On the other hand, in an interview in this paper, Jean-Claude de l’Estrac – also an ex-minister – posed the rhetorical question of whether any member of the NA who had come in as Best Loser had defended only his community. He gave the answer himself – no, he said, all Best Loser nominees had acted on behalf of the country, adding that this was to their credit.
From what precedes, it is clear that whether or not a ‘minority’ community was represented or not by a Best Loser, this has not adversely affected the fate of the community. Without going into details, it is a demonstrably visible that the so-called ‘minorities’ have in fact not only made much material progress, but in many instances have in fact been at the forefront if not actual pioneers of progress, both for their respective communities and for the country.
The Franco-Mauritians had a comparative historical advantage and initial wealth in the form of land; the Chinese were hard-workers with a pronounced business sense; the Muslims’ advancement was spearheaded by the trader class from Gujarat and a sense of solidarity which is now transnational; the Creoles found support in the mainly Catholic large private sector and the Church.
So truly speaking these communities may be structural ‘minorities’ but they are in fact functional majorities in terms of their development and economic power which is going on increasing. The Hindus, putatively the ‘majority’, are in fact the ones whose economic progress collectively has been on a downward slope. In fact, proportionately speaking, it probably fares worse as far as economic power is concerned, because there are definitely fewer large Hindu businesses.
If a proper survey and analysis were made of all communities in Mauritius, and the data disaggregated and standardized to compare rates and trends scientifically, it would not come as a surprise if the Hindu community were to be found at the bottom of the pile. The hangers-on that hobnob with prominent Hindu politicians during festive occasions give a false image of the Hindu community: both they and the politicians who encourage such sycophancy do more harm than good to the community. But of course these categories are so selfish and self-centered, and also so naïve, that they cannot see beyond the tips of their noses.
Given the above facts, it seems obvious that being a ‘minority’ in Mauritius does not necessarily mean that one or one’s community is at a disadvantage: quite the opposite may be true. Therefore all the hype about the Best Loser System, which has been catapulted to occupy frontline news, is that much hot air. In this day and age, when one should be moving towards more objective representations, it is to be wondered if there is any sense in wasting so much of energy on changing the system – any system can be tweaked and manipulated to serve the designs of the most powerful, as we are witnessing. In the final analysis it all boils down to the individuals and what goes on in his Machiavellian minds.
Is all the noise about the BLS for the benefit of the individual citizen? No – it is all about who will be in power, who will get into the NA, and how many more members will join in to share the spoils, get lifelong pensions and other perks. That is what all the chatter is about, and one must not be fooled by all the high-sounding sermons and the theoretical academic discourses.
The symbolic Best Losers, present or not present in the NA, have sprung out of communities that have been and continue to be the major winners, present in all fields of business, professional and entrepreneurial activity. The political leaders belonging to the ‘majority’ community should strongly urge the members of the latter to start being winners too by learning from their so-called ‘minority’ compatriots the art of leveraging comparative advantages in business and other fields. That would be definitely better than making inappropriate speeches and quoting left, right and centre.
* Published in print edition on 9 March 2012