The complex multidimensional nature of elections is very hard to capture and put into words. More so in a country which boasts itself of a so called pluralism, where the glue of democracy is more of a slime shielding disunion and hatred underneath. The growing discontent surrounding the polls of 7th November, does raise pertinent issues. However, this would be also the opportunity to depart from the usual sport of navel-gazing and focus on fundamentals.
Let us first & foremost respect the right of those seeking to clarify the wide gamut of dark spots emerging throughout the build up and delivery of the polls. For the past 3 years the government has been relentlessly campaigning for its re-election with a clear polarisation on the incumbent Prime Minister. Since 2015, the use, misuse and abuse of the public institutions has been taken to abyssal depths. The Jugnauth led government has stretched the boundaries of manipulation to an unimaginable extent. For over 4 years, its propaganda machinery has been funded exclusively through public funds, topped with controversial issue of radio licenses as to avail timely support. Recruitment within the public sector and parastatal bodies have been carried out in such a manner to increase the political mileage of the ruling party. If ‘Electoral Rigging’ is to be defined as tampering with the process of democracy by influencing votes, then it would be factually correct to state that the polls were rigged long before the of 7th of November 2019.
The outcome of the polls can be explained through many theories and facts. Be it the disproportionate resources the incumbent government enjoyed, the amateurism of opposing main stream parties, the multiple strategies succeeding in fragmenting the ethnic minorities or cheap tactics deployed, the discussion can be last forever. Nonetheless there are sufficient symptoms unseen to the naked eye which should draw our concern.
The false flag
While most political analysts and pundits forecasted a close call with possibilities of hung parliament, the ballot boxes proved them all wrong. The clear lead over rivals and absence of anti-incumbency factor despite the numerous scams unfolded over the last 5 years is even more astonishing. The common man would only observe the fierce battle of digital strategies and ignore the harvesting of demographic and psychographic data. Many tactics were developed and corrective measures taken using granular data, which is of utmost importance while embarking on a segmentation strategy. From the crowd, only a few would understand the relevance of granular data while targeting niche voters in swing constituencies. Informed & passionate observers will certainly notice shades of 1983 & 1987 looming over the polls of 7th November 2019. Just as in the Bollywood remakes, the casting has changed, but the same old script is enough to ensure a box office hit.
In 1983, fearing a coup by the MMM which would have seemingly resulted in Hindu community fleeing the country , India activated preparatory works for a full fledged military intervention on Mauritian soil. Upon the advice of the founder of Research & Analysis (RAW), R.N Rao, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dispatched Chief Nowsher F. Suntook, to carry out a political operation to ascertain the victory of the newly created MSM headed by SAJ. Along with then Indian High Commissioner Prem Singh, he embarked on mustering the Hindu community to support SAJ using the fear factor. In the aftermath of the 1983 elections, Prem Singh constituted an exclusive political think tank comprising of Dan Callikan, Peter Craig, Harish Boodhoo and Dev Virasawmy . Indian officer Major General J.N Tamini was assigned as security adviser to the office of the Prime Minister. A tradition which over time has become an acquired right. What has to be retained from the story is the false flag surrounding the threats to the Hindu community. Fake news and propaganda predates the invention of social media They have been the favoured means to justify the most irrational actions taken by man against man.
The spectre of anti-Hindu threats was set loose again, stirring commotion, awakening irrationality and making most of the shortness of the campaign. In the darkness of the corridors agents of the saffron alliance were busy piling up, on what Sigmund Freud tagged as the “ narcissism of minor differences”. The senseless statement by Navin Ramgoolam at Plaine Verte became the catalyst for a well-planned hysteria. Let’s think about it. During the 2005 polls, at the same venue, addressing almost the same audience, Navin Ramgoolam made the identical statement. Yet, the man leading today’s lynch mob, Somduth Dulthamun was a staunch admirer of Navin Ramgoolam, trotting island wide to campaign for the labour party. What made the tide turn?
The truth remains, neither in 1983 nor in 2019, has there been any threat to the Hindu community nor to any other community for that matter. The paranoia had a purpose and served the same old interest. With remote right wing activist wanting to emulate the far right Hindu nationalism flying high in New Delhi, our reading has to be even more cautious. Hinduism has withstood the test of time and its greatness shall remain eternally unchallenged. As in the case of Islam or Christianity, the only possible threat is from within, through its malign distortion. We are a sovereign country with a distinct identity. Taking the allures of the 30th state of India will only stir the discontent further. Foreign nations, like the US have gone to the extent of describing our relations with India as a “willing subordination”. Obviously we can’t blame any foreign nation for ensuring their interest nor deprive them of their right to adhere to expansionist ideologies. The only honest resolution would be to clean up of own homemade mess.
The right to vote is the most enshrined right in any democracy. Still we as a young nation need to understand the type of democracy we have been nurturing for over half a century. In their minds , most of our fellow citizens would describe the Republic of Mauritius with features nearing a liberal democracy. However, in a liberal democracy, we would avail an ethnic-neutral state, where the fundamental functions are the forging of a homogeneous nation, through a common identity and national institutions for the benefit of all citizens regardless of their religious beliefs and caste.
A careful study of the management of affairs of the country since 1967, shaping of the State , constitutions of various governments over the last 50 years, and the conduct of elections, do give us a lead on what type of democracy we are living in. Pierre L. van den Berghe, professor emeritus of sociology and anthropology at the University of Washington is recognised through his works as a mantle of authority on race and relations. In his political order coined as Herrenvolk democracy, he describes the relations between ethnic groups and acceptance of dominance by the majority. In his earlier works ( Race & Racism 1969), he explains how, social classes are grouped according to common material interests while ethnic groups are organized by real or punitive common descent. Most important of all , Prof Pierre L. van den Berghe underlines that ethnic nepotism is, at its very foundation, biological. With probing facts witnessed during the build up leading to the results of the polls of 7th November, it is hard to counter those who argue, Mauritius is gliding dangerously towards an Ethnic democracy.
Every single government since independence had the opportunity to improve our democracy by for example, introducing a Fixed-term parliament Act or reforming the electoral system. The existence of discretionary powers deciding the fixture of the polls is in itself unfair as it provides an overriding advantage to an incumbent prime minister. Compelling citizens to disclose their ethnicity is in no way a democratic principle. Things have remained unchanged because, despite the pompous talks every main stream party has found a cozy corner in the current system. While in opposition they have flashes of wisdom, but when in power they turn blind, deaf and dumb.
The way forward is to go back
In theory, Mauritius gained the status of republic on 12th March 1992 . However despite the millions poured into nurturing the republican symbolism, the management of the state and the mind-set has remained unchanged. In a proper republic, justice remains the fundamental human virtue which bonds the society. In a republic there is no room for hereditary powers, inequality, nor subjugation of communities. As a matter of fact, in a proper Republic per se, there can be no such thing as majority nor minority.
During his visit Pope Francis did rightly hammer on the need to fight inequality and establish “social justice”. A term coined by another Jesuit priest of the 18th century – Luigi Taparelli, who believed Social Justice is an obligation of the authorities who have to ensure socio-economic equity and human dignity. Interestingly, the solution to this issue might come from the brother of Luigi Taparelli, the Marquis of Azeglio, Massimo Taparelli, Italian Statesman and Prime Minister of Sardinia, whose memoirs are a definite legacy to humanity. One of his quotes “L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani” ( We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians) has been adapted by many authors over the last few years. May be its high time to adapt the statement into a mission for our republic. Now that we have made Mauritius, We must make Mauritians.
For change to occur, a series of questions need to be answered individually as well as collectively. Are we ready to fill in the cultural chasm we’ve been digging for ages? Are we willing to give up our addiction to ethnic chauvinism ? Shall we abandon the fallacy that our individual well being must be at the expense of others? Can we stop believing we are the only wonder of this world? Can we see beyond our Cartesian self?
One thing for sure, on the green pastures of the Republic, all cows are equal.