India-Mauritius: A critical juncture?

Mr Modi will probably have some forbearance with us as he graces the commemoration of our national sovereignty, despite his no doubt massively pressing engagements on all fronts. Close bilateral ties, historical, religious, business, trade and cultural aside, we are confident that the astute and competent High Commission has provided him with full briefings on our context, political and societal. We are an island state of quite modest size and population, somewhat equivalent to Chandigarh or Jodhpur, although, from the fuss we raise on the local scene, he might be forgiven to wonder if we host a colony of particularly aggressive Australian miners!

Having spent a few years down under, I know these eucalyptus-loving guys (birds actually) are a notoriously aggressive and noisy bunch. They associate in tree-flocks of several hundreds, called colonies, and exhibit a large range of songs, alarms, scoldings, calls and semi-continuous vocalisations that can drive you hopping mad but helpless at such intense social intercourse! More amusingly, within the colony, groups associate with similar brethren, on what basis nobody quite knows, to form relatively stable “coteries”. These coteries sometimes constitute temporary larger alliances of expediency called “coalitions” for the purpose of noisily mobbing a predator or shooing off another coterie onto less desirable branches without dismembering the colony. Any resemblance with our local political scene is of course purely coincidental!

Bear with us, dear PM Modi, as collectively, we, as a nation, are still reeling under the shocking revelations of the past few weeks and are still struggling to gather our wits to determine some ranking order of priority in the cascade of burning questions that come to numbed minds since our general elections. Against the proclaimed mathematical certainties and risky shores of a two-leader (or two-party, much the same thing alas!) coalition, the population has unambiguously preferred the promised virtues of a three-party one with a single leader, SAJ, whose past track record for no-nonsense politics and prompt decision-making earned him the affectionate Rambo title in the eighties.

The elected Lepep alliance, lost no time grabbing the full levers of power, and since then, the bulging coffers and suitcases of Navin Ramgoolam and the web of incestuous relations between the former PM and the Soornack-Gooljaury tandem have hogged the limelight. Whether part of the Rs 220 million found in the former PM’s residence was actually the result of electoral campaign donations and financing of political parties remains to be seen as the police enquiry and judicial process unfold. No party leader has had to answer the tough questions facing the former PM.

While it does raise the necessity of cleaning up our act with regards to political financing, the question is being drowned by revelations of a more harrowing nature. Particularly galling have been the revelations regarding the airport nexus in the generation of easy wealth and the dereliction of governance, if debts of that inner circle tandem were left appallingly to rise while profits and commissions on Dufry sales or management contracts were being siphoned off.

Even the most loyal of Labour Party activist will agree that, presumptions of innocence aside, these guys have a lot to answer for. To the enquiring police, to the magistrates, to the Labour Party and, more importantly, to the population, which can be forgiven to be in a rather sanguine mood, holding no sympathy for the singular dysfunctioning and reckless lifestyle that progressively hijacked the 2005 government and left it in limbo by 2010, and into murkier waters since then.

In that context, there seemed no obvious necessity nor urgency to wrap up the DPP’s Office under the heels of a political appointee, the Attorney-General, a move that could only generate suspicion of political interference in high-profile judiciary matters. Still less for a nightly meeting between senior Cabinet ministers (including the Attorney General), a chief suspect turned VVIP and two foreign nationals threatened with arrest on departure: at best it was intempestive overzeal, at worst extremely disturbing.

The Labour Party has hard lessons to draw, for it cannot condone either the insalubrious excesses of the past few years or the immense consequential damages to the Party’s image, values and history. It has done so through its President on the airwaves but no harm would be done by restating the obvious. It has to press on with reorganisation and cannot afford internal bickerings.

It has, to most observers, a natural red-dyed successor, Dr Arvind Boolell, around whom a team of elders, elected MPs and new blood could help the Party reconnect with the population and its shaken electorate. But we cannot ignore the real risks posed by centrifugal forces that could leave it marginalised for eons.

On its side, the MMM has for mystifying reasons, messed up its internal restructuring and its leadership issues, losing valuable MPs in the process and ending up on the back foot at a critical juncture, should municipal elections be around the corner.

* * *

Mr Modi will have far more important things on his mind and rightly so. He has gracefully accepted to share his charismatic world leader’s views at the National Assembly. We all sense it could be as fittingly stirring and memorable a discourse as any of those he has pronounced in India and elsewhere. We guess some able Indian and international journalists and media will cover the trip to this destination. It could not come at a more appropriate juncture in the history of our two countries whose shores are bathed by a common ocean and whose ties reach deep in history and emotions. Several factors seem to indicate the time has come for a renewed strategic partnership based on level-headed assessment of our mutual interests and traditional ties.

Economic, investment, trade and financial cooperation particularly in the offshore sector, are likely to figure high on the agenda and so would technical cooperation in a variety of domains of growing importance: national and international security on the high seas and in the Indian Ocean is probably one of them. The timely berthing of the MS Barracuda, India’s first naval surveillance frigate for export, illustrates the theme. Cooperation over the assessment and exploitation of our maritime economic zone holds promise for greater joint collaboration from public and private sectors of both countries. Educational and cultural ties in the Internet age can shape up towards new horizons.

However, I will comment briefly on one axis that could deserve joint attention of authorities. As a founding member of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), under the UN aegis, Mauritius remains very much concerned by sustainable development, fossil energy limits, climate change, global warming and sea-rise effects. The room for cooperation on all these fronts is immense. After the Barbados Action Program, the Mauritius Strategy and the Samoa Pathway adopted late last year, we have intimate interest in the post-2015 development agenda that would replace the Millennium Development goals whose impact turned out to be very fragmented. As summed up in the Heads of States and Governments Samoa Pathway document:

“We recognize that the ability of the small island developing States to sustain high levels of economic growth and job creation has been affected by the ongoing adverse impacts of the global economic crisis, declining foreign direct investment, trade imbalances, increased indebtedness, the lack of adequate transportation, energy and information and communications technology infrastructure networks, limited human and institutional capacity and the inability to integrate effectively into the global economy. The growth prospects of the small island developing States have also been hindered by other factors, including climate change, the impact of natural disasters, the high cost of imported energy and the degradation of coastal and marine ecosystems and sea-level rise.”

PM Modi has already made his mark on the Indian and world scene, impressing every audience with mastery of subtly complex geopolitical issues, including those of sovereignty and security in extremely troubled and violent times. Both countries stand to benefit by taking our strong traditional partnership to another level. We wish the Indian PM an enjoyable stay and a fruitful set of meetings at highest levels and look forward to his delivery at the National assembly and at other State functions.


* Published in print edition on 13 March  2015

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