Although we are over three years away from another general election, which party wins depends on the overarching, perennial question: who leads the party?
Broadly, all leaders and parties subscribe to the same economic ideology of a mixed socialist-capitalist-liberal (with doses of ultra-liberal) model – the market economy with social welfare safety nets thrown in. But always, the elites and collateral interests must be preserved and served.
Of course, there must be a vision, a projet de société, a manifesto, some programmes announced in the run-up, but all these are secondary to the main concern: leadership. And the central issue about it is: WHO?
All the main parties on the political landscape have been grappling with this question, which is more acute, though, as far as the Labour Party is concerned.
The matter is exacerbated by the definitive announcement by Paul Berenger, in the presence of Xavier Duval, that they are not prepared to have an alliance led by Navin Ramgoolam. It would seem they are apprehensive about the latter’s continuing leadership of the Labour Party and its potential to foil the alliance’s electoral prospects at the polls.
But still it seems that a caution hindoue is required, and although Nando Bodha has declared that he is not going to join any party, one week is a long time in politics, and we have to wait and see. On the other hand, Bodha is an experienced player and that has to be reckoned with.
To appreciate better what is at stake we have to step back a few years.
In 2016, Navin Ramgoolam, as leader of the Labour Party, took advantage of the celebration of the party’s 80th anniversary at the Octave Wiéhé auditorium to try and revamp the party’s public standing, seriously bruised since the December 2014 elections and the series of police arrests he had personally been subjected to since then. He was the sole speaker on the occasion.
He spoke about rejuvenating the party. The idea of setting up a think tank was evoked. He vowed that it was the MSM which was in direct opposition to Labour. He ended up stating that Labour was going to introduce a ‘radical programme’, though this was not spelt out in detail. In the course of a meeting of partisans in the same context in Constituency No 3 a couple of days later, he reiterated to those present that Labour members should not fight each other. Instead, the direct adversary – enemy, to use his word — was, according to him, the MSM. This meant that, just like the MSM leader Pravind Jugnauth entertained grave suspicions about Navin Ramgoolam’s motives towards him, Navin Ramgoolam had singled out Pravind Jugnauth as his principal target to finish off.
Since the two of them draw from a common pool of voters, this means that regardless of the interests and concerns of those voters, the two men could literally engage in a fight to the end, hoping to get the upper hand over each other. It is the apparently irreconcilable stand taken by the one against the other that is likely to drive down to a lower level a national debate about appropriate projects and policies for general advancement of the superior interests of the country, a level where the protagonists would be intent to go towards mutual annihilation. And where the higher national interest would be secondary.
There have been bitter personal oppositions among political leaders in the past. But when it came to fighting for a higher cause, they joined hands to promote national advancement. Personal antagonisms gave way to superior pursuits as being the essence of the political quest. The mutual attacks the MSM and Labour have been making against each other have been undermining the nation’s larger interest. Their failure to deliver has led to a loss of confidence in their sincerity to support the cause of their voters and the public. As they have rambled from one unimportant issue to another in their quest for and grip on power, this loss of confidence has got accentuated over the years.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Bérenger and Duval, despite the poor performance of their parties in the last election, are gradually gaining confidence that they now can go to the next polls in a three-cornered fight. This feeling is likely enhanced by the state of disarray of the MSM (in light of the various ‘affairs’ that have been erupting) and of Labour in the fierce private opposition of their leaders against each other.
One must not forget that Paul Bérenger is an astute politician, extremely well-versed in the art of dealing with ethnic realities by proposing properly profiled candidates for election in each constituency according to its ethnic profile. He masters skilfully the susceptibilities to which particular voters are prone. With Duval by his side, he may therefore be emboldened to take a calculated risk, leaving it to the leaders of the MSM and Labour to tear each other apart in their puerile quest for both power and personal vendetta against each other.
As the fight unfolds, the greatest losers will be the people. They will find themselves in their majority without the solid moorings that have held them together against past calamities. Their pursuits, like those of the country, will be relegated to after the elections have been fought. As they like to say over here, voters have a field day solely on the day they cast their votes for the elections. After this, they have to patiently put up with the consolidation of the emerging new power structure and whatever it actually stands for over the ensuing five years at least.
Never had political immaturity touched such a low level. We can only hope that the country will rise from the useless conflict into which it has been getting mired for some years now, going deeper down each time.
* Published in print edition on 2 March 2021