Resistans ek Alternativ have to be given due credit for their long legal battle to end the socio-religious classification in four communities as a necessary prerequisite to exercise their democratic rights in today’s Republic.
Times have changed and we have all moved on from those years when the fears of an all-powerful sugar oligarchy exploited and thrived on social and communal divisions to constantly thwart democratic forces and progress. The battle lines were indeed primitive and have left scars in many domains, including the imposed excision of Chagos islands and our inherited Constitution.
Many of our youngsters do not know the stories, hardships and economic difficulties of those trying pre-independence times. Only a few books describe ordinary daily life then and no website is dedicated to those fading souvenirs. Seasonal work in cane fields, civil service, self-employed artisans or shopkeeping were the mainstays of survival.
Large extended families in limited spaces were the norm; they provided much-needed hands, inter-generational richness and possible support for elderly days. Raising them just meant sacrifices endured by one generation to provide shelter, food, clothing and something of an education to the next. The more industrious raised a few cows, ran ox-carts or saved cent after cent to purchase a plot of rocky, scraggly land to grow cane or veggies to survive or better their conditions.
Fishing villages regrouped those who wanted none of the land-based sufferings of their elders and held to a cherished independent lifestyle. While the morning milkman rode his modified bike, the ubiquitous village “Chinese shops” ran groceries, supplies and a rudimentary credit system for all. Cyclones came and went leaving communities or village streets strengthened by natural solidarity and shared shelters or basic food.
Perhaps, with today’s web and internet-savvy youth, the Ministry of Arts & Culture or one of our Universities could take the lead to commission or foster the development of a participative site where authors, historians, sociologists or simple citizens could, in a dispassionate spirit, contribute books, images, writings, interviews, songs, music and documents to make different aspects of our heritage alive and accessible to all, including visitors and tourists.
Not just a “devoir de mémoire” or a digitalised museum. Not just “national identity” either. “Rassembler ce qui est épars” perhaps. We have the talents, do we have the requisite distanciation to make a non-superficial, non-confrontational collective domain spanning in breadth and depth our diverse threads and experiences?
I am not sure Resistans ek Alternativ were fully aware that their legal and constitutional battle held political upheavals in store. It seems that their very specific challenge could have been addressed by a legislative amendment to the Representation of People Act, requiring only a simple majority of votes. But this was only an unsatisfactory fall-back position should political considerations and discussions between parties fail to secure a qualified three-quarter majority in the House for a wider review of our Constitutional framework. The recourse is still there.
Once the PM had published the White Paper, inspired by Dr Sithanen’s contributions, and included its own suggestions for the way forward, my layman guess was that history was in the offing. Not just for party leaders feeling the weight and pressures of office and time. Not just for the future of their respective parties, sympathisers and well-wishers in the community. Not just for power-sharing or mundane politicking. Not just for obviating the risks of future imbalanced Parliaments. Electoral and constitutional reform, properly configured, with necessary compromises, will not herald or usher the end of communal identities, but it still holds promises of greater nationhood and would be a formidable legacy to future generations, whose responsibility would be to move the goal-posts further as new conditions emerge in future years.
There will be notable unsatisfactory aspects in any reform, but, on balance, “achievable change” is at hand for this generation of the body politic and society. I suppose it could not leave insensitive the Leader of the Opposition, who undoubtedly has the dimensions and perspective to view the opportunity in a far broader context than his adversaries credit him with.
What weight will MMM dissenter Ivan Collendavelloo, however formidable his legal standing and open sympathy for SAJ, carry with that party’s faithful today? In 2000, he was the MMM signatory of the MedPoint deal with SAJ, and after victory, his public resentment against Berenger for not being appointed Minister or Attorney-General in the SAJ Cabinet lasted a couple of months. Will it be another short-lived outburst or is it indicative of deeper undercurrents and forces?
Be that as it may, whatever the issue of electoral and political discussions, many of the country’s problems are in growing need of attention from a strong stable government. The tertiary education hub is bristling with unhealthy issues. Financial scams are more frequent. While major infrastructure are being completed, the economy is under-performing. The energy conundrum has to be addressed. Pension reforms have been called for. One could list other areas.
Hundreds of views concerning the White Paper have been received by the PM’s Office and probably needed careful weighing. The announced setting up of a select joint panel of political and legal advisors, under the Attorney-General’s office, to guide State Law Office into the drafting of legislative and constitutional changes is a welcome development. Whether resumption of Parliament is postponed for a couple of weeks so all minds can concentrate on the essentials, does not signal a sinister death of democracy.
Many in the country hope that the drafting process and associated political consensus, however complex, do lead to an early resolution so parliamentary proceedings can resume at the earliest with a fresh mandate and a historic Reform Bill on the table. All political parties and MPs will have to shoulder their share of responsibility.
* Published in print edition on 16 May 2014