With the police nipping at his heels and government threatening more of the same, nobody expected former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam to step back into the political arena anytime soon. His appearance at Tuesday’s executive committee meeting of the Labour Party, followed by a press conference surprised many. Commented differently by various groups, lobbies and factions within the party, the event however, left no one underwhelmed.
The setting was something out of a Bollywood movie: a hero vilified by his opponents who tried to do everything to destroy him coming back triumphant and ready to face more. What he attempted to convey was that though he is no angel, he is ready for his confession and that most of those he has sinned against have forgiven him.
But beyond the romanticism of the narrative and the crowd-pleasing rhetoric, what should be highlighted is the timing of the return of the ostracised ‘lion’. A couple of months ago, that would have been inconceivable. The newly-elected alliance was surfing a wave of discontent and newly-created hope for a better tomorrow. Masses of promises were heaped upon us and we relished the prospects of transparency, meritocracy and good governance.
This week, we had a couple of wake-up calls: the president of the Bar Council, Antoine Domingue, coming out against the “excesses” of a section of the police force which, according to him, is abusing its powers and “using taxpayers’ money to bully lawyers who are doing their job”. He goes further and declares that this country will soon turn into a dictatorship if we do not put an end to this dangerous trend – unprecedented in the history of Mauritius, according to Yahia Nazroo, secretary of the Bar Council, in an interview he granted Weekly this week.
Domingue is no politician. His fear is based on a series of incidents which started with Pazany Thandarayen’s arrest by the police and the illegal confiscation of his confidential documents while being denied his constitutional right to have someone assist him.
The series of horrors continued with the police allegedly opening, or threatening to open, cases against lawyers who, for one reason or another, are not in the good books. So, we see, for example, a case against Brian Glover, opened and closed four years ago being looked into afresh! MP Ravi Ratnah admits that he had raised this case in parliament “because Glover was acting as a political agent [of the previous government]”! So, the police wasted no time in pleasing those in power.
In the same week, the Director of Public Prosecutions, in his newsletter, stressed the importance of the presumption of innocenceand subtly warned against “the deficiency of a criminal justice system where guilt was determined in an atmosphere of hysteria”.
‘Hysteria’ is indeed a term which qualifies the atmosphere surrounding some of the high profile cases currently being tried in press conferences and hairdressing salons.
We are five minutes from becoming a “totalitarian country” – as Domingue put it. Those in power can still remedy the situation. Politicians were not elected to accuse, judge and punish before even the courts have had a chance to do so. Our economy does not run on hot air and score settling, which is what we are being offered now. The more they ignore the actual business of governing, the more they pave the way for Ramgoolam’s return and make it easier to digest the Bollywood fare on offer.