Case against Soodhun: for the good of the country

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Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth (L) convened a press conference on Friday 10 November to announce his decision to ask his then Vice-Prime Minister, Showkutally Soodhun, to step down from his ministerial responsibilities after his remarks of a communal nature some weeks earlier.

Showkutally Soodhun had to go. I think that everyone was unanimous about it. It was necessary for him to step down following his remarks of a communal nature during a meeting in his office.

We live in a country where everyone matters, irrespective of creed and colour. Since Independence, there has been some hard work undertaken to keep this country together by promoting national unity.

Free education was given to us, not just to pass exams but also to open our minds and to fight ignorance, racial antagonism, prejudices and discrimination. We are conscious that we need to build a Mauritian identity and therefore, we cannot tolerate that someone comes to threaten the painstaking efforts made towards this end.

Intolerance for others has no place in our country. There is absolutely no question of excluding any particular group to the detriment of others. We have always dearly cherished our diversity and it is certainly not now that we will imperil it by any sort of irresponsibility. Nothing matters more to the Mauritian than harmonious coexistence.

Everyday, the ordinary citizen is working along with people of various faiths in a spirit of friendship and understanding. Everyday, we are seeing to it that a good rapport prevails between us because we know that peace and harmony are essential in the process of nation building. We believe that everybody must be given an equal chance.

Showkutally Soodhun had to go because this time, he went far, too far. Some people are arguing that whatever he said was in closed circuit and therefore cannot be taken seriously. This is not the question.

What he said is the real question. To whom he said it is also the question. There are witnesses. So the argument that he uttered the words attributed to him in a private meeting, not in public, falls flat.

It is also argued that Soodhun is a bit eccentric and somewhat of a joker and whatever inappropriate thing he happens to say must be viewed as a slip of the tongue. This too fails to carry weight because we expect an honourable behaviour from a Vice-Prime Minister, not a frivolous one. It is always possible to forgive one slip of the tongue, but surely not two or three (re: “slave”, the threat to kill).

Public outcry

The Prime Minister has taken the right decision. Besides, it was a decision highly expected by the public at large. Keeping the ex-minister of Housing and Lands in the government would have brought further discredit to it.

Failure to take strong and exemplary action against Ravi Rutnah for abusive and sexist language and against Kalyan Tarolah, for showing disrespect to Parliament by sending sextos, caused the public to feel deeply disappointed with the Prime Minister. There was a feeling that he was weak. Now, at least, he has taken a position and has made a decisive move.

Showkutally Soodhun had communication issues. He seldom thought twice before saying or doing something. He had accumulated a series of blunders or gaffes over time. As a result, he had become a laughing stock.

There was no point in continuing to tolerate his whims and caprices. He had the reputation of being a braggart. His travel by private jet from Saudi Arabia highlights the fact that he was capable of lying. For all these reasons, he needed to leave.

I think he was wrong to have believed that as a long-standing member of the MSM, he commanded respect and was therefore influential and nobody could do him anything. He thought he was virtually “untouchable”.

Others had to accept him as he was. The reality is that people expect a Vice-Prime Minister to carry his head on his shoulders, to control himself fully, and to be responsible in both words and actions. He lacked these qualities.

Public opinion can be merciless. There has been a public outcry and a definite rejection of Soodhun’s behaviour. The public pressure was such that the Prime Minister could not have faced it. It is to the credit of Pravind Jugnauth that he finally understood that he had to act. It is very difficult to stand and watch the public starting to get impatient and frustrated.

You cannot ignore the public when it is getting fed up with procrastination. Public pressure has played a crucial part in the Prime Minister’s decision.

Anyway, it is an important lesson for every politician. There are times when they get carried away and do not realise the harm they are causing to others, directly or indirectly.

Soodhun’s departure must be seen in the context of good governance. He was a hindrance to the government and few people were proud of him as he seemed to have a high opinion of himself.

He has himself to blame for his downfall, for he never really learned from his mistakes. He was causing unnecessary tension in the government. With him out, the government can now turn to more pressing concerns.

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