Flag-raising at the Chagos

What next for Mauritian diplomacy as we move forward?

By Jan Arden

Nobody can doubt the mediatic impact of the emotionally charged moment, carried by all leading networks around the world, when a Chagossian delegation accompanying the Mauritian expedition ferried by the “Bleu de Nimes” yacht set foot on their ancestral lands, the singing of the national anthem and the moment our Permanent Representative at the UN, raised our own quadricolour flag on the outer islands of the Chagos Archipelago.

Chagos Islands: Mauritian flag raised on British-controlled islands. Pic – BBC

The Bleinheim Reef seems to have been cleverly chosen as the initial landing point, the UK itself seeming to have never included it explicitly as part of the BIOT, while Mauritius plans to use the Reef as part of its assertions of an extended exclusive economic zone in its maritime boundary with Maldives, now at International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). It was undoubtedly a significant and astutely planned move stage-managed by the PM, Pravind Jugnauth and his team of international advisers and lawyers, adding another push in the prolonged struggle over decades and several different political dispensations, to complete our decolonization process and regaining effective Mauritian sovereignty over those islands.

There were fortunately no triumphalist tones in high-level Mauritian communiques to mark the event, but sober reminders that we are within our sovereign rights, stoutly opposed by a former colonial master and we trust such a perspective on a major national issue is not distracted or spoilt by local partisan henchmen jumping ill-advisedly into the fray. Likewise, we cannot sympathise with Paul Berenger’s unwise rhetoric and demands about making public our plans, tactics, strategies as they affect our international positions either over Chagos or even Agalega.

This move has successfully cornered the UK government and its Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCO), left flat-footed and somewhat peeved, unable to either prevent the officially justifiable scientific trip to the Chagos, or concoct any storyline that holds water other than its continued dismal claim that has been repeatedly dismissed in all international fora: notably, a stern advisory rebuke at the International Court of Justice in 2019, a non-binding but overwhelming vote at the UN General Assembly in 2019 and, in 2021, the biting criticism of the UK for not abiding by that UN resolution and the confirmation of Mauritian sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Our countrymen, irrespective of creed or political affiliation, would have read with some pride and satisfaction, the images and storylines condemning Britain’s continued deceit and steadfast refusal of a “rules-based international order” while claiming the same elsewhere, that were flashing across the AP, the Guardian, French news outlets, the BBC, African news networks, WION and other Indian outlets, Australia, and the Middle East. Clearly Mauritius has the law on its side as the influential Aussie-based Lowy Institute, engine of the Australia’s foreign policy and national security debates, recognised, and the remarkably deft planning and execution of the trip has brought home the point with unexpected vigour.

At a time when both Australia and the Biden-Harris administration, in their separate recent National Security Policy documents claim to push, through reliable similar-minded allies and partners, a secure and reliable “international rules-based order” on the high seas with particular reference to the Indo-Pacific, the demonstrated estrangement of the FCO/UK from repeated international censure and such proclaimed ideals will be hard to ignore even in the USA. Prolonged UK/FCO obstinacy would clearly open the door to Russian and Chinese counter-narratives that international laws, regulations or condemnations can be regally ignored by the Western democracies when not convenient to them, weakening their moral stance in diverse hot spots such as Ukraine or the South China Seas disputes.

Mauritius has at several times recognised the necessity of the US naval and military presence in Diego Garcia as an essential adjunct for stability and security on Indian Ocean Sea lanes and geopolitics. It has at least twice before and, we believe, continues to offer that such an imperative could be better secured by a direct 90- or 99-year iron-clad lease, finalized directly between sovereign Mauritius and the USA. Is it not in the latter’s considered national security interests to kiss goodbye to the illegality of the so-called British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and prolong the Diego base legally with Mauritius and the undoubted concurrence of its Quad partners and even France, on surer and steadier footings spanning the longer and broader perspective? For how long will the FCO continue to obstruct the UK’s international obligations and further embarrass that country’s international standing?

We trust the same team of knowledgeable international advisers, having steered the PMO on the moral high grounds of international law, justice, equity and human rights, would have chartered out, in utmost confidence obviously, answers to the question: What next for Mauritian diplomacy as we move forward?

As we commend the PM and his international team for walking tall on these vital issues, the PMO may also figure out whether we are or should be equally adept at walking the talk on the domestic front, notably on the functionings of a democratic state with credible institutions and processes. As for the state of the economy or public debts, the Mauritius Investment Corporation Ltd (MIC) handouts to big corporations, the joblessness, the tracas of lower- and middle- classes with devaluation-led inflation, the excessive taxation levels in rising fuel prices or our development policies in agriculture, tourism, or services sectors, the Chagos narrative may not change matters much…

* * *

India’s state elections 2022

The Electoral Commission of India and the exemplarity of Indian elections and processes have lessons for many established Western abodes and obviously for us

India State Elections 2022: Psychologically and politically decisive, with a potential impact running onto the 2024 elections. Pic – NUS Institute of South Asian Studies

State elections in India’s federal structure do not necessarily reflect national issues that play out in Lok Sabha general elections, but for several reasons, those underway in five states have been pitched as psychologically and politically decisive, with a potential impact running onto the 2024 elections where a third term would be at stake for the expected BJP-led NDA dispensation under PM Modi’s widely assumed continued stewardship. Of the five states of diverse numerical weight and current political overlordship, Punjab stands out as the single one under prolonged INC (Congress) rule and the four others (Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa) are ruled by BJP and its allies.

While Indian and overseas press titles have presented these as a determinant test for PM Modi’s BJP regime, it seems that the real test is for the Gandhi-led INC, whose joint Rahul & Priyanka Gandhi duet have been driving the political push for retaining political strength and resilience, when anti-incumbency and some issues, notably the economy, farmer protests, joblessness, covid’s handling by the BJP in the four relevant states, could legitimately have come under some scrutiny and given the INC some desperately needed comfort.

Latest polls from Punjab indicate that the surprise Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of Arvind Kejriwal may edge the INC out of the first spot both in popularity and seats, after a series of laughable agitations of nominees of the Gandhi duet. Failure to hold on to that Indian breadbasket state with border national security issues and an inability to dent the BJP elsewhere may spell considerable snafus in the leadership squabbles affecting the venerable INC party and more high-profile exits of staunch former cadres.

It won’t have escaped notice that from the moment of Assembly dissolution, the Electoral Commission of India takes charge of the overall election process, including fixing dates, ensuring voter registration, ensuring meticulous professional conduct of voting and counting, making public binding codes of conduct for candidates/parties/alliances and establishing a fast track procedure for handling and resolving complaints from any one party or candidate, be it from the Opposition or the ruling BJP, within days and not weeks.

Neither can we overlook the simple facts that elections are even being held under pandemic conditions in hundreds of villages and towns, or the extremely high turnouts (65 to 70% or more) in most areas. India Inc obviously considers the voting exercise, even at state levels and even more at national level, as a fundamental tenet of trust in the democratic fabric that gives meaning, substance and trust to all constituents in the most diversified and largest democracy in the world.

Walking tall with such a robust, dignified stance in the face of numerous daunting challenges, the Electoral Commission of India and the exemplarity of Indian elections and processes have lessons for many established Western abodes and obviously for us.

* Published in print edition on 18 February 2022

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