Since everyone who follows the news will be reading and hearing a lot about the Roches-Noires saga, Lalit believes that it is worthwhile to draw one or two lessons from it.
Let us see what seems to have happened. Former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam was victim, of a burglary at his bungalow. Now, three years later, and after his resounding electoral defeat, Ramgoolam is on the verge of perhaps being arrested. The ‘‘victim’’ of the burglary, and perhaps also of an assault, is about to be called in ‘‘under warning”.
What on earth happened? And what does it teach us? It seems to be all about the fact that, because Ramgoolam was at his bungalow with a woman, presumably a mistress, the burglary and assault, being ‘‘public’’ matters, would risk shedding light on his private life that he wanted to remain hidden.
The lesson here is that there is, or should be, no such thing as a “private life”. While privacy is important and a right that should be respected, a ‘‘private life” or a hiddenaway “double life”, precisely because it involves other people, cannot be expected to be a secret. In fact, life being life, it is, truth be told, not even private.
A private life also, by definition, involves constant duplicity. It is the opposite of integrity. And it is simply not compatible with modern, open, democratic society. A man’s private life, as long as it remains hidden, means routine suffering for all the womenfolk around him.
And, as is always with any kind of power, not only did Ramgoolam cover up his secret life, but a whole coterie of people around him was expected to do the same thing. His friend Gooljaury, Very Important Person Security Unit (VIPSU) officers, Brinks security men, the sentry at his house, all had different version of the story. All the colluders, guilty or not of revering the sacrosanct nature of “a private life”, now inevitably become potential conspirators.
So serious have the ramifications of the cover-up become that two senior police officers, the former heads of the National Intelligence Unit and VIPSU, respectively, have already been arrested on charges of conspiracy.
So, lesson number one is that it is time we all, including the media, stop hiding private lives of those who represent the authority. It does them no favour. Double lives must be exposed on routine basis. Not just Ramgoolam’s, but everyone’s.
While this is not necessarily wrong for a man having affairs, there is a lot of wrongs when he tells lies, and when everyone around him is expected to tell lies for him, in order to cover up his duplicity. Precisely because it is not very important who has affairs with whom, it should be no problem for the Press to publish it.
It is positively dangerous when everyone in society, including journalists, internalize some specious need to cover-up for men’s double lives and even concomitant predatory behavior. Our collusion quite easily spills over into conspiracy. And our covering the menfolk’s péchés mignons can deliver them into the hands of blackmailers, can also mask any more serious predatory behavior or even violence, and can lead them into a concatenation of serious misdeeds as the covering-up process becomes more demanding.
It is obviously in the public interest to know if any public figure has a mistress. The Courts in the UK were right to rule that the Mayor of London could not expect to have a mistress, or mistress-and-child, in secret. Just as Mitterrand should never have been able to get away with manipulating his whole coterie into hiding two of his mistresses and their children, until he was lying in his coffin.
And what is the point of talking about “conflict of interests” in contracts, tenders and nominations, if powerful politicians have a second “life” hidden from view. A life which may well be in conflict, were it only known. What is the point in a declaration of assets by a politician, his wife and children, when there may be hidden mistresses and children ferreting away assets? The very term ‘‘private life’’ implies a life of which the man is ashamed. In fact, the Roches-Noires saga has the sniff of blackmail to it. In general, surely any accident or other misfortune, just like a burglary or assault, will risk provoking even longer strings of lies ? Will it not routinely increase, for example, hit-and-run incidents?
Society cannot afford to discourage witnesses from coming forward, as it will do, if we encourage this kind of ‘‘double life’’. And when we vote for someone, we sure like to know if he is a devious, sneaky, lying person or open and honest.
The problem for the justice system is to work out whether there is any link between the bungalow incident and the death in detention of Ramdhony, accused of receiving stolen goods. His death was it part of some cover-up process taken to extremes ? Or, whether the linking of the two incidents is a Machiavellian ploy by some of Ramgoolam’s adversaries, starting with Facebook pages in 2011. Or, whether the explanation lies in some mixture of both these scenarios, accelerated by a change in Government?
Let us take a New Year’s resolution to begin to make powerful male figures’ private “lives” much more public. And aim, in the long run, to discredit the very idea of a “private life” that is shameful and hidden, thus provoking dishonesty over time. Only true privacy needs our esteem and warrants protection by the State.