“The mainstream parties seem to be stuck in the past. Both in methods and leadership

Interview: Nita Deerpalsing

But that would not have been a problem if there was at least the renewal of IDEAS”

* ‘Power for the sake of power takes a completely different meaning
when you have such an utterly vulnerable population to play with’

* ‘I do not like the word ‘dinosaur’ nor the word ‘chatwa’ for that matter. This is all just useless noise. Where are the IDEAS for a better Mauritius?’

In this week’s interview, Nita Deerpalsing emphasizes the vulnerability of a large segment of the population, making them susceptible to exploitation by those seeking power. She criticizes the lack of visionary leadership and innovative ideas within mainstream political parties, calling for a fundamental overhaul of the socio-economic model rather than just a change in personnel.

She also expresses skepticism towards traditional notions of political renewal, stressing the need for genuine innovation and policy reform. She urges a shift towards a more inclusive and sustainable development agenda, emphasizing the importance of decolonizing the mindset and embracing Mauritius’ cultural diversity.

Mauritius Times: How do you assess the current socio-economic and political situation in Mauritius in the lead-up to the upcoming general elections?

Nita Deerpalsing: This is a huge question! And it would take till the cows come home to do justice to a deep probe into our very dire situation.

Regardless of general elections or not, any non-fanatically partisan person, any neutral person, anyone without an obligation to defend one T-shirt colour over the other, will agree that our country is at a dangerous crossroads.

On the one hand we have this fact which I take from a recent Hansard record: more than 90 percent of our population earns less than Rs 36,000 rupees a month. Do note that we are talking about rupees which are constantly being depreciated so even if you hold Rs 100 in our hands today, next week, next month or sometime in the not-too-distant future, you will actually not be holding Rs 100 but in reality, a lesser amount.

Now let us come back to this figure of 90% earning less than Rs 36,000 a month. This average actually hides a much darker picture because the graph is very skewed towards the less than Rs 15,000 a month.

Just on that figure, it tells you that the large majority of the population is living very precariously. Let me hasten to add that this did not happen yesterday or over the last 5 years. It means successive governments have failed to address this core systemic flaw in the system.

What does this mean today? That *most* people are in a such a zone of vulnerability that if you just promise a few thousands of rupees here and there, the vast majority, being utterly vulnerable, can become willing takers. This vast pool of people living on precarious means, then become an ‘appetizing’ prey for those who have no compulsions about what the country will be tomorrow. It seems that some people without an iota of état d’ȃme have understood this well and will not hesitate to use the population’s vulnerability ruthlessly.

Power for the sake of power takes a completely different meaning when you have such a ‘prime tool’ i. e. an utterly vulnerable population to play with. Pardon the sarcasm, it is only to highlight the situation.

* Fine. However, we may engage in intellectual discussions regarding the governance of the country and its future, but ultimately, it is the electorate who wield the decisive power during elections to shape the leadership, policies, and direction of the nation, don’t they?

Well, as I was just saying, it depends which electorate you are talking about? The 10% – 25% at the upper echelons of the ladder?

An electorate normally wields power at the time of the vote yes. But what if over the last 30 years or more, nothing has been done to uplift those at the bottom? What if those at the bottom of the ladder can only wait for elections as a means to ‘bargain’ for a little iota of temporary advancement in their own individual predicaments?

Typically, the electorate wields power at the moment of the vote, yes. However, what if, over the past 30 years or more, little has been accomplished to uplift those at the bottom? What if those situated at the bottom of the ladder can only anticipate elections as an opportunity to ‘bargain’ for a little iota of temporary advancement in their individual predicaments?

Does this tell you that anyone has governed with a grand vision for the past few decades? Or have everyone just looked at grabbing power for the spoils of power?Would you agree that we have failed lamentably in building a sustainable future for everyone in this country? And by sustainable I certainly do not mean green washing on ecological issues.

* What you’re suggesting is that it ultimately comes down to the absence of leadership. But how can this occur when the political parties themselves are locked up, much like many of our institutions, thus perpetuating the same political culture and leadership style? How do you propose tackling this problem of entrenched leadership and promoting genuine political rejuvenation?

The problem lies squarely on the shoulders on the absence of enlightened leadership in most sectors and not only on the political scene.

Sadly, today there is no such thing as a compelling vision for the future. The mainstream parties seem to be stuck in the past. Both in methods and leadership. But that would not have been a problem if there was at least the renewal of IDEAS.

I have no problem with people’s age, and I do not like the word ‘dinosaur’ nor the word ‘chatwa’ for that matter. This is all just useless noise. Where are the IDEAS for a better Mauritius? Goodies, promises, ‘mesures’, ‘manifest’ — all that is just to tick the boxes. I do not see up till now anyone with a compelling vision for the future. And to change the dire vulnerability index of the majority of the population.

We do not need political renewal of personnel as much as we need innovative ideas for an upheaval of the current socio-economic model. Renewing personnel is just fake without renewal of ideas.

* More specifically, how would these ideas manifest in practical actions and policies?

For example, the issue of land ownership and therefore land use, is now becoming ever so critical.

Because it affects access to housing for the vast majority (and I am not talking of the few thousands of social housings here and there that come out of the ground coincidentally at times aligned with electoral calendars).

Remember I just mentioned that the vast majority of the electorate has interiorized that it is at or around electoral times that they can aspire to a little bit of even illusionary advancement. To those who are trigger happy to point the finger to the electorate and to lament that “dimun inn sanze”, it would be good to return the question “well what exactly was done to pull them out of the vulnerability index with which they have been stuck for the last 30+ years”?

Now we will hear laments about ‘money politics’…How about laments about a true ‘réformeagraire’?Any takers for that one?

Anybody lamenting about using our land for not-so-smart cities, for ‘betonazpartou’, for villas selling for more than Rs 600 million a piece?Do you know what this means for the average Mauritian?Let us take an average monthly salary of Rs 15,000. That is on what *most* Mauritians live, not counting loans, cost of medication for an increasingly unhealthy population. That’s Rs 180,000 a year. Assume no depreciation.

You can do the maths as to the equivalent number of years the Rs 600m villa represents to the average Mauritian with say Rs 180,000 of savings every year?It would take that average Mauritian more than 3,000 years to buy that villa assuming no inflation, no depreciation, etc. More than 30 reincarnations if s/he is lucky. Ok, I grant you; it’s somewhat of a silly exercise. But I am driving a point here.

Have you heard anyone in the mainstream political parties even make mention of the surreal situation of our scarce land being used to sell “béton” worth Rs 600 m?Does anyone need a fully printed manifest to even whisper about this phenomenon of quick, unsustainable one-time FDI?

Maybe they should seriously consider aligning as candidates some of the enabler-sellers of the so-called ‘smart cities’?

* Ok, let’s talk about these mainstream parties. Do you think the removal of the current MSM-led government shouldbe seen as a necessary step towards the advancement of Mauritius, with thealliance of the Labour Party, MMM, and PMSD presenting a potential solutionto this challenge?

Forgive my exasperation. I do not think anything about the removal of X and replacing it by Y if we are NOT going to talk about land use, food security, access to housing, abuse of charges by banks and private clinics, the anti-nation building that private primary schooling represents, etc.,etc. They are all interrelated.

Besides, are you not shocked when any politician utters the word ‘sacrifice’?That they have supposedly made in the past or that they are currently making?I mean, what is one to think of anyone who talks about leaving a ministerial seat, a parliamentary seat, an ambassador’s post as a humongous ‘sacrifice’?Does that not reveal an inherent mentality of establishment entitlement?

Top of Form

I would much rather hear talk shows about a coherent, integrated plan which shows how the wellbeing of the average Mauritian is linked to policy making being truly independent. Policy making is not for sale to the highest bidder, be it a drug baron, a land baron or a political baron. A program aimed at preventing policy capture would be an excellent starting point.

For example, I am more interested in knowing if anyone has a plan for the population to have access to decent, healthy food.

In a recent edition, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) released an extremely important longitudinal study which should have given pause to anyone working on national policy with far reaching consequences.

So, the study demonstrates that heavy consumption or dependency on UPF (Ultra Processed Food) not only gives rise to diabetes, obesity and hypertension (which we knew already). Now the BMJ says that the study demonstrates that UPFs gives rise to cognitive problems, behavioural problems, pschye-related issues and mental health issues.

Now let us peep into the dining rooms of most people in Mauritius. We no longer have fresh cow milk; most people drink powdered milk or UHT i.e. brick milk which are packed with chemicals. This is UPF (ultra processed food) en force. What about cheese?We all eat only processed cheese!What do average or poor kids take to school for lunch?Burgers, fries, etc. More Ultra Processed food. And the list goes on.

Access to fresh (not processed food) is practically disappearing in Mauritius. Definitely for those at the lower end of the ladder. But even for the middle class. Thanks to utter lack of vision, regime after regime for decades on end. The only one who had avant-garde vision regarding access to food, food sovereignty, innovation in agriculture, was Kishore Deerpalsing, and I say this unabashedly even if he was my relative.

* We cannot however detach ourselves from the political landscape if we desire change. Take, for example, the Opposition alliance, which has recently faced hurdles due to particular concerns raised by the PMSD. Tensions have reportedly subsided. What are yourthoughts on the impact of these differences on the alliance’s viabilitymoving forward?

 Again, please forgive me for being uninterested in the destiny of a handful of individuals. Or the viability of X, Y or Z. I am interested in the viability of my country. I would really like to see some groundbreaking ideas.

Let me come back to food security. We see signs of a world getting mired in different wars. A day may come when ships will not be able to come to Mauritius. What will we eat then?Béton?Of what value will be the FDI of that villa sold at Rs 600 millionthen?

On other media platforms, I have made this proposition. Let us have a Marshall Plan for food security.The authorities can create a multitude of cooperatives with both the 22,000 arpents of small planters abandoned land PLUS an equivalent number of arpents from large landowners to be dedicated to massive milk production. So that at least our kids, our youths can grow up on fresh milk and not UPF milk. It also means meaningful productive work for thousands of women and youths. Many will point to difficulties relating to workforce and feed, etc. But today with mechanization, with Artificial Intelligence being used in mechanized Agri processes, solutions can and should be found.

Have you heard teachers say that classrooms are more and more out of control?Some are blaming parents; some are blaming drugs in the school population. It’s probably a mixed bag. But with the BMJ study, I am wondering just how much of the behavioural problems we are witnessing is also due to the extreme *dependency* on nothing but ultra processed food?

So there, I have articulated one of the few major policy initiatives I have worked out with a little group of like-minded individuals.And I have no problem if any of the political parties wants to copy and paste. Even if they need to slightly alter so that it looks like it comes from them. En passant, this so-called argument that you cannot present your program because others will copy, is puerile to say the least.

*The 2014 debacle remains vivid in the memories of the electorate,especially among the party sympathizers of the Labour Party and the MMM, whorecall the reasons and factors contributing to that setback. Whatreassurances can the leadership of both parties provide to the electoratethat things will be different, and that their alliance is indeed a viableand sustainable one?

As I was just saying, the viability of any political party has to be tied to the viability of the country. The viability of the future for the many, not the few. And even the few have no viable future if they are to live in a country of a widening gap in Gini coefficient. One day or the other, the few will pay the price for the ever-widening gap. This is inevitable. Unless there is some kind of enlightened leadership at all levels.

Unfortunately, there is no glimpse of enlightened leadership to be found.

* The Opposition’s adversary is suspected to command vast resources and networks;it has also demonstrated that it can be ruthless and uncompromising in thepursuit of its objectives. Though the challenge is immense, failure isnot an option for the Opposition, nor for the leadership of theparties within their alliance, isn’t it?

Ok, let us agree that things can be slightly less distasteful if we take even only one thing.

What has been on show every Tuesday should be seen as totally unacceptable to anyone having even one iota of understanding of how a Westminsterparliamentary democratic model should function. Let me correct the word unacceptable. Downright reprehensible would be more fitting.

Anyone, absolutely anyone, any citizen with a modicum of understanding of the rules of democracy, regardless of what colourT-shirt they wear on election day, should rally in denouncing and stopping the circus that destroys our democracy every single Tuesday, week in, week out.

* I’ll come back to my previous question, but phrased differently: should circumstances take a turn for the worse, do you think the Opposition parties will manage to survive?

What is extremely painful and sad is to see the demise of ideas in historical political parties which have hitherto been at the heart of Rights-based struggles.

We are all physically here for a short visit to this planet. One day will inevitably come when we will have to leave. We will all be dusty and totally forgettable one day or the other. Except if we have left some worthy sustainable ideas and actions behind. Sometimes I wonder how many of those on the political scene do realize every day when they wake up that we are all temporary beings with a fixed unrenewable life span.

*What do you believe are the most pressing issues or priorities thatthose leaders you had in mind just now, but have chosen not to name, should focus on addressing in their electoralcampaign?

I think it is very good that groups like Resistans ek Alternativand Lalit and other citizens-led groups like Jack Bizlall’s, etc. are feeding public debate with propositions of constitutional reforms. Once again, it shows there is no renewal of ideas within the mainstream political groups.

The Constitutional reforms are needed and interesting, but I would say that Constitutional Reform cannot be a single focus agenda of change. It is necessary but not sufficient. I come back to access to housing, access to fresh food, anti-policy capture,etc.

* What are the key development challenges Mauritius faces, particularly in sectors requiring investment for sustainable growth, and how should the upcoming government tackle inequalities and enhance governance?

Of all things, we need to create the environment for the wellbeing of each and every citizen. That spans on all the issues I mentioned earlier. From fresh food to housing to land use to policy capture. Reduce segregation on the basis of class so that we can have real nation building.

On this issue of nation building, let me express my discomfort with those who keep harping on ‘Morisyanism’ as a slogan. What exactly does that mean?Who will decide who is considered to be a ‘vremorisyen’ and who is not?I wake up every morning, I do my puja and I wear a tikka every day. Would that bar me from being considered ennvremorisyen?

In France, some are claiming that if you wear a hijab you are not truly French. Is that the kind of single straight jacket we want for “Morisyanism”?We have to be careful of taking a page of fascist narrative from Hitler’s book. I would say we have as many versions of “Morisyanism” as there are of Mauritian citizens and that is actually to be nurtured and celebrated.

One of the aspects that I would like to see in the “Morisien” of the future is a total decolonization of the mind. Specifically, from the tendency to think that everything that comes from the Occident is the ‘norm’, the ‘Truth’, the benchmark of what humanity should be about.

In any case, I hope people have noticed that the West is losing its hegemony, and the world is shifting East. Do you know, for example, that learning Sanskrit is hugely more cognitively beneficial than learning French?

At a colloque at the College de France a couple of years ago, Gerard Huet, a linguist and mathematician gave a talk on the structure of Sanskrit grammar as crafted by Sage Panini. And no, Panini was not Italian!He was one of the foremost Rishis, intellectual, linguist who devised the scientifically based 4000 complex rules of Sanskrit grammar. And Gerard Huet hadthis to say in histalk: “une fois qu’on regarde ça [la complexité de la grammaire de Panini], et on reconsidère l’alphabet français, on se dit qu’est ce que c’est que cette cochonnerie, ça n’a aucun sens!”.

I say this because it pains me to see the utter awe that some families, particularly of Indian ancestry, have for the French language. Out of sheer ignorance for the sophistication and brilliance of Sanskrit and other Eastern languages. They have this awe also because of the epistemicide that accompanied colonization.

It is perhaps high time to shed the awe for all kinds of ‘cochonnerie’ and for example learn Sanskrit, Mandarin, Urdu, Farsi in our schools. Not to mention the one unifying language that binds us all, that is Morisyen.

Speaking of our schools, shouldn’t swimming and gardening be mandatory activities, at least at the primary level?Is it normal that most kids living on an island do not know how to swim properly?

There is a vastechantier ahead of us. And our country has enormous potential. I have no doubt about this. But we are also in a dangerous spot with regard to the future.

At the base, if we are able to build an environment where people are mentally decolonized, decomplexé par rapport àl’Occident,and enjoy the dividends of a society where the reward system is not broken (who you know is a determinant of where you end up on the ladder), rule of law prevails (not who you know or who hates you), this is an environment which can only breed positive spillovers.

* Looking forward, what vision do you believe the Opposition alliance should embrace for Mauritius’s future, and what concrete steps do you think are essential to realize this vision?

Let me end by paraphrasing Gramsci: we can have the pessimism of the ‘constat’, but we must have the optimism ‘de la volonté’.

At the moment, everything is dysfunctional because the reward system is broken, and there is no integrity, no real sense of purpose to be seen, sensed or heard from the top. The fish rots from its head. Always. And I am not referring only to the political scene. We also see how some pyromanes do not hesitate to push people to a repliidentitairein the absence of well functional, just, rights-based socio-economic democracy.

But if we truly have the volonté to have a society where lazistis (Justice in all of its forms, social economic, constitutional, etc.,) is a built-in feature, then in this society, there is bound to have lakorité (this is a hard to translate kreol word – it kind of means sticking together, it’s about togetherness). That is, everyone’s wellbeing.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 12 April 2024

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