Two things should never – and I mean never – be underestimated: the intelligence of the Mauritian people and their sense of humour. The prime minister and his advisors have learnt this several times at their expense. The zip lining episode should have alerted them to the fact that there is a limit to how far they can insult the people’s intelligence and ridicule themselves in the exercise of image-building and diversion.
As soon as the footage of a prime minister – in full office gear, sporting formal shoes – awkwardly holding on to a rope for the cameras was released by a communications team that has not yet reached the first chapter of their first-year syllabus, humorous comments flooded social media, each one more side-splitting than the last. But learning is a steep curve for some people and a series of episodes followed – ranging from jogging in front of the cameras to frying badjas for Grand Bassin pilgrims – attracting equally hilarious comments.
This time, the communications guys dug a bit deeper into the art of how to use communication to ridicule oneself even more. So, we were offered something new: a full ceremony was organised to hand over a framed certificate of the death of Father Laval to the representatives of the Catholic Church. Naturally, the MBC headlines and a 15-minute spin were guaranteed.
“The deadliest arrow came when Cardinal Piat highlighted that the country is suffering from three diseases: drugs, corruption and communalism!”
Religious hypocrisy is nothing new and weaponising religion for political gain to detract from embarrassing or damning issues is a tradition that has been used since time immemorial. And several now-notorious roders bouts have been very happy to run and offer spiritual cover for embarrassing and even corrupt and immoral practices.
This time, the show was too blatant. It comes on the heels of the biggest protest march against the government, and the prime minister in particular, in the middle of allegations of incompetence and drug imports. And it also comes at a time when one of the most serious allegations involving a Rs20 million corruption deal was revealed by Former Minister of Good Governance, Roshi Bhadain! This is particularly disturbing as it was followed by an immediate closure of parliament for over two months and…radio silence! Pravind Jugnauth made no attempt to clear his name. Nor has he, as it happens, sent his police to arrest the one making the damning allegation, when we know people have been hauled to the police station and kept in custody – sometimes for days – for as little as posting a joke on Facebook about him or his MPs.
In circumstances like these, religion always comes in as a handy excuse. Seeking the optical protection of the Catholic Church is also a nice attempt at trying to dispel the perception that the MSM and its leader are supported by only one community in this country.
Unfortunately, this communication stunt backfired in a major way. First, the reactions on social media were quick and very telling. One post summed up the situation this way: “Acte de décès du Père Laval! Ah bon, lin mort? Explique contrat terrain 20 millions!” (A death certificate of Father Laval? Oh, he’s dead, is he? Explain the Rs20 million land contract!)
Equally, if not more, important was the reaction of Cardinal Maurice Piat. Though he attended the ceremony on Monday and played the game, the very next day, in his homily following the Father Laval pilgrimage, he released some deadly arrows, raising issues of drug dealers no longer being afraid of the authorities and of openly selling drugs – alluding to the responsibility or involvement of the authorities. He also criticised the failure to implement the Lam Shan Lin report on drug trafficking. He crowned it all by indirectly accusing the prime minister of ignoring the suffering of the people and not coming out of his ivory tower to listen to their worries. He directly talked about the incompetence in handling the Wakashio episode and evoked the “zones d’ombre” (grey areas) surrounding the Wakashio and asked if the ship was not carrying drugs. The deadliest arrow came when he highlighted that the country is suffering from three diseases: drugs, corruption and communalism!
That is quite a pack of arrows. Add that to the social media comments and ask yourself if the communications team would not have been better off leaving Father Laval to sleep in peace. As he has been doing for the last 156 years!