The handshake of reconciliation

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It was a timid and disgraced hand which shook Jayen Chellum’s unwaveringly determined one. The attempt at facesaving was weakened by the time it took for Mrs. Bapoo to reach the conclusion that the suppression of subsidies to the ACIM was abusive, wrongful and unwarranted. She tried everything, from disclosing his salary to blaming him for students turning up late for their exams. She could not, however, justify the act of using tax-payers’ money to punish an institution. Her persistence and the bravado she displayed were misplaced.

Yes, Jayen Chellum reminded us again that it pays to have the courage to stand up for one’s principles, a lesson we tend to forget in today’s materialistic Mauritius where the rules of the game seem to be to rod bout. Yes, he also did drive home his message that it is not easy to do so. The frail almost infantile figure with indomitable will which survived the drastic 12-day starvation gives us an idea of how much the man has suffered. His victory in the face of it is all the more worthwhile.

But apart from the lessons in heroism and selflessness which we have learnt, another lesson is just how easy it is for things to backfire. Instead of destroying the man and his association, Mrs. Bapoo made a hero out of him. People who did not know Jayen Chellum now do. Those who did not know what his salary was now realize how badly paid he is. Those who were annoyed at his ill-advised ‘operation escargot’ now have forgiven him. And more than ever before, people are aware that they need men of principle like him.

But let these not be the only lessons: let us also learn to be fair and balanced in our views. Mrs. Bapoo’s handling of this case was pathetic. However, she remains a great minister with rare leadership qualities. She has worked very closely with NGOs and set up very successful projects which targeted the most vulnerable members of our society.

Jayen Chellum’s mission has been hard but rewarding. His victory was all the more wonderful because he did not gloat, did not try to turn the knife in the wound, did not seek revenge. He chose to celebrate with relief rather than defiance. He has put the whole chapter behind him and ended his struggle on a positive note about having transparency and accountability in all NGOs. Many of the NGOs, too scared of losing their bout, did not support him. His victory is still theirs.

He does not seem to be in a mood to settle any scores. That would diminish the great man who has emerged out of this conflict. He chose to look ahead to the implementation of the lessons he has driven home to us. Let us take a leaf out of his book and look at the silver lining of this episode.

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