(Krishna Athal has received various leadership initiative awards from national and international bodies. Former chairman of the National Youth Council of Mauritius, he authored the ‘Ramrajya: An Enigmatic Leader’s Rise to Power’ book and is currently an executive member of MSM political party. He can be found on Twitter at @athalkrishna.)
Mauritius: an island characterised by endless sandy beaches, azure-coloured lagoons and swelteringly appealing sunny days, the revered land of the three s’s: sun, sand and sea. To the outsider, or rather passing visitor, the island remains the iconic epitome of everything paradise. But the gorgeous sunny days tourists crave turns to a harsher, hotter, far more complex reality for its citizens who get their daily taste of the island’s true self in the form of cultural predispositions, political standpoints and tensions merely bubbling under the surface.
One cannot ignore the uniqueness of the island for many reasons; on the outside it appears like the typical rainbow nation culture dating back to its immigrants and colonial heritage. It also appears to be the world’s friendliest country according to a recent article surfacing on a site called www.peanutsdaily.com. In all honesty, the legitimacy of the source of this survey is questionable to say the least. However, a deeper, more complex cultural dynamic exists and since election campaigns are in full swing in the lead up to December 10th, these cultural dynamics become far more apparent in the political field. I wonder at times why they even have a place in such an arena.
First up on the list of political complexities exists the idea of rampant communalism. No, this is not a myth. It is real. And sadly such a reality exists probably unbeknownst to the foreigners who frequent our island. The fact is that we are a multicultural country but behave far from it. Tolerance and fair representation seem to have fallen from the wagon somewhat and in its place came bigotry and a sense of passive-aggressive racism. This kind of statement is only amplified when people speak out and insist that whether Hindu members of the population vote for PTr/MMM or MSM/PMSD/ML, they must still just vote for Hindu candidates. How is this country poised to progress with archaic sentiments such as that gripping our news headlines and mindsets?
We then turn to another faction within the population: the Creole community. Father Jocelyn Gregoire has since received some harsh criticism – some going as far as to label him racist and likening him to Hitler – when he voiced that the Creole population are underrepresented in both alliance groups. Hardly advocating racism, as the representation numbers speak for themselves. On the one had we have someone advocating blatantly for a communalist existence and on the other someone crying out for better representation and yet propagating communalism seems to be something the Mauritian public are willing to accept and tolerate instead of looking at compromise and better representation across our cultures.
Let’s face it. Electoral candidates are not chosen on merit and when I make such a brash statement, I speak here of Hindu candidates thanks to our ingrained caste system still so prevalent as ever, clearly determined to keep Mauritius – and Mauritians for that fact – segregated according to culture. What we have now is a situation where politicians have found the lines of operations by decoding and misinterpreting the laws of humanity. In other words, bending the rules just enough that it is not technically illegal but not morally sound by any means whatsoever. The Hindu caste system in Mauritius is already a complex cultural issue that consists of intricate subgroups. This cultural issue has since spilled into the political field bringing with it completely new complications that the political sphere could frankly do without and yet is now a standard practice that no one seems to question anymore.
Could it be that this complication that’s spilled into politics is in part thanks to the Best Loser System (BLS) – yet another political complexity. The entire concept of the BLS advocates division within a nation thanks to its compartmentalised ability to show just which culture dominates. The BLS, in my opinion, is a form of appeasing the minority representation so that no repercussions pertaining to unfair representation can be held against those in greater power. It’s the idea of including everyone, even the minorities, who are meant to be happy with their hefty eight seats.
Another political complexity firmly on our list: secularism. Mauritius claims it isn’t a secular state and that it maintains neutrality in such matters of religion. This is hardly the case when we have a Pandit openly expressing a collective support of the PTr/MMM coalition. The same Pandit of course who was said to have used his religious influence for political gains when he took ownership of the hotly contested piece of land in Trou Aux Biches. Whether he used his influence or not is hardly the case, the point is that he was awarded this property on the beach that many would argue would have been impossible for anyone else – perhaps of lesser religious influence – making the same application.
One cannot ignore the sad state of sociocultural affairs in the country either when we have the prime minister announcing, that should his coalition win, sociocultural organisations will be granted higher subsidies and 100 per cent duty free on vehicles purchased. Question is, will we see a surge in different sociocultural organisations forming in the near future, or is this only applicable to the Hindu-based organisations in an attempt to secure votes?
Let’s look at another political complexity in the form of the presence (or lack thereof) of women in politics. In both alliance candidate structures, not even half of the representatives are women. Is this because of traditional Asian cultural tendencies that have masculine dominated political spheres? And how is this still prevailing in the year 2014 in Mauritius? In a day and age where female heads of states are more prevalent than ever across the globe, why is Mauritius once more so determined to stick to these archaic structures? Why are we unable to keep up with modern thinking and let go of cultural and gender predispositions?
Being a small country, the island has the opportunity to introduce change and see it come to reality far quicker than what could happen in other larger states and yet the size of the country instead has resulted in an easily controlled society that in turn then results in passive audiences who do nothing but help continue the cycle. But a rift has formed in this model in the form of passive aggressive sentiment from different cultures. This rift has potential to turn as violent, if not more, like it did in 1999. Instead of our election campaigns unifying a developing nation, it highlights the differences in the people that make up this rainbow nation because like it or lump it at the end of the day; we really are a rainbow nation. By continuing this communalist thinking, people will continue to feel underrepresented, they will continue to resent their government and one culture of people will always feel superior to the other thanks to the advocates of these self-proclaimed higher beings who masquerade as politicians.
We desperately need to mend the deep-seated rift in society and implement a unifying national identity instead of holding onto the sentiment of what makes us different keeps us apart. There is no unity in communalism. Continuing pluralism is hindering the political and cultural development and advancement of this country. Let us not forget that our common thread as Mauritians is multiculturalism but instead, let’s work on finding the common ground between the cultures.
– KRISHNA ATHAL