“Should Steven wish to serve the party in a certain capacity, he should declare such interest”

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After sanctioning Steven Obeegadoo, following his comments to the press, the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) seems to be facing internal turmoil. To add to their woes, party Stalwart Vijay Makhan has announced that he will be stepping down from “active political life”. Weekly speaks to him and asks what that means in practical terms for himself and for the party and what he thinks of the polemic stirred by his party comrade Steven Obeegadoo.

You have just announced your retirement from active politics but it sounds more like lev pake rester. Why not leave for good or stay for good?

That is a rather straight-jacketed approach to politics. Being involved in politics is not and should not be confined to being active in a given constituency. Since I joined the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) in November 2006, my party assigned me to a constituency which I have nurtured to the best of my ability. I am also a co-opted member of the party's Central Committee and its Bureau Politique (BP). I am responsible for my party's relations on the international front. I represent it at meetings of the Socialist International and the Progressive Alliance. Besides, I am an elected member of the board of the Progressive Alliance as a representative of the MMM. There are other colleagues in the party who are not necessarily attached to one constituency or another. There is life in politics beyond being active on the coltar. Should the BP agree to my request to be relieved of my responsibilities, I shall withdraw from that body as well while remaining a militant.

What are the real motivations behind this withdrawal anyway?

Withdrawal from active politics! As I have had the opportunity to explain to the leader of the party, I believe that there is a time for everything. However, it would not be entirely honest on my part not to acknowledge that the events surrounding the by-election have precipitated, to a certain extent, my decision. After my return from overseas mid-October, I had an unfortunate accident which heavily constrained my movement for a number of weeks. That period offered me plenty of time to reflect on a number of issues including my continued active political involvement. In 2019, age would not be on my side. And it is the avowed determination of the MMM to open its doors wider to younger persons. My withdrawal would surely liberate space at the constituency level.

Many people might see leaving the party when it’s at its lowest as opportunistic. Why not stay and help the party rebuild itself?

I am afraid that would be taking a very myopic view of the decision I have made. All that this decision entails is that I shall not run for a parliamentary seat whenever the general election is held, despite the fact that Paul Bérenger had announced repeatedly in no unclear terms that I shall be the party's candidate at such an election. Unlike others, I have not abandoned the party. I shall continue to assume my responsibilities within the BP until it takes a stand on my request or at least until the next internal elections. Until then, I will continue to contribute to the consolidation of the party in the debates towards that end. And, sorry, this cannot be described as 'lev pake rester'. I believe I can still contribute at the level of reflections and ideas at the party's will.

When you say you will contribute ideas and reflections, do you believe the party will take your ideas onboard?

I don't see why not, if they are worth their salt. At worst, if they are not retained, they would have been articulated and discussed. This is how it has been so far. Somehow I feel that your question is based on the pre-conceived view that, at the MMM, it is a one-way street which our adversaries like to flaunt and would like everybody else to believe. Maybe it is the way that we communicate that gives that impression but banish that thought, please!

It is not just your opponents who say that but we will come to that later. What is your state of mind? Are you disappointed with your party, angry, despondent or just tired?

A combination of all that. But the MMM has a rich history and nobody can deny that it has contributed positively to shaping our country which celebrates its 50th anniversary in a few weeks. The MMM will celebrate its own half century existence next year. I have no doubt that if everyone concerned plays his or her part as they should, the party will find the favours of the electorate. We, however, need to be more flexible in our approach, listen more attentively to our foot soldiers who constitute the base of the party and make public, as soon as possible, our proposals for the kind of society that we consider would best serve the interests of the country. The party may be down and is going through a bad patch but it is definitely not out!

Steven Obeegadoo seems to have a different opinion. Do you agree with what he said or are you one of those who believe he is trying to work against the party from within?

Steven Obeegadoo, an acknowledged long-time 'militan' has, as we say, brought his block to the MMM edifice. He held the highly responsible position of secretary general until the internal elections within the party following the debacle we suffered at the 2014 election. He is a member of the Central Committee and of the BP and spearheaded the committee that overhauled the party's constitution which is now in force. He is himself part of the leadership. I don't think it is fair to say that he is trying to work against the party from within. Steven has his own style of doing things which unfortunately has led to the present situation. The party had already programmed time for an in-depth discussion of fresh ideas and plans in the face of the party's poor showing in the by-election, the very issues he made public in his interview to Weekend.

There are those who are happy with the way the party is functioning and they stay and those who are not happy and they leave. Obeegadoo seems to want his cake and eat it, don’t you think?

That's not a very fair and pleasant assessment but, in view of the turn of events, it might lead some to such a conclusion. Practically everyone within the party shares most of the things Steven said in the interview that has triggered the current situation.

Including the fact that the party is no longer credible, is off track and is stuck in its old ways of operating?

I emphasise the word 'most'. If indeed, 'the party is no longer credible, is off track and stuck in old ways of operating', then we are all responsible for that state of affairs, including Obeegadoo who, until a couple of years ago, was secretary general. It is his modus operandi that causes problems.

Do you agree with expressing these ideas in the forum in which they were expressed?

No, I think these are things that would have best served the interests of the party had they been articulated within.  The MMM is a structured party and has many levels at which any member can express his views, analyses or ideas. From the Branch, to the Regional through to the Central Committee, the BP and the Assemblée des délégués. That's what the party's constitution provides for. Having said that, should Steven wish to serve the party in a certain capacity, he should declare such interest and let the party members decide at the internal elections which, I note, he is not in favour of holding at this point in time.

Can I translate that into undiplomatic language: “The reason behind what Steven said is that he wishes to replace Bérenger as leader, but he is not confident that he will convince the party members to vote for him, which is why he did not agree to holding internal elections now.” Can you evaluate my translation?

No, I shall leave you to your translation.

Come on! Give me a mark out of 10 for my translation!

(Laughs) I plead the fifth amendment.

I take that to mean that I'm not too far off the mark!

As they say in court; “I refuse to answer on the ground it may incriminate me!”

Isn’t this a good time to hold those elections and thrash out all the issues after allowing members to vent their frustrations?

I am in favour of holding such elections in accordance with the party's constitution. We are not talking about individuals but rather 'whither the MMM?' The MMM is a family which is best symbolised by the 'soldat lalit' and it is for him and with him that we should act. It is the soldat lalit that we should save.

A lot of ideas are being thrown around about how the party should rethink its ideology, policies and strategy and all the usual talk about youth and women but concretely, what would you do if you were the leader of the MMM?

I’m not the leader of the party. But there are not one thousand and one ways to achieve that. As I have said, we are already in the process of an overhaul and I believe that those who have concrete ideas towards that end should articulate them. The doors of the MMM are open to welcome not only fresh ideas but new members. To the youth, both men and women, I want to say that nothing ventured nothing gained. It is easy to sit in the comfort of one's living room, criticise and post on the social media but it's an altogether different ball game to join the fray and demonstrate the courage of one's conviction. The MMM is, in accordance with the provisions of its constitution, open for new membership. Regional Committees are functional. And despite what anybody may say, one is free to express oneself but the discipline of the party must be upheld again as expressly underlined by its constitution, a public document that is available on its website.

Obeegadoo also talks about two currents within the party – a conservative one and a modernist one. Is there such a rift in your opinion?

Not as I see it. Everybody wants the best for the party which as I have said has a rich history and continues to contribute to the progress of our society. The approach may differ. What I do not accept is the connotation that those who do not uphold his approach are categorised as being conservatives!

In the alliances game, how do you view the MMM’s almost open courtship of the Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM)?

I’m sorry but I do not read the situation as you seem to perceive it. But of course, there is a tendency to speculate and read beyond certain circumstantial declarations and positions. It could be that I am politically blind but I do not see any courtship.

Or maybe you don’t want to see it…

Sorry, I do not have X-ray eyes. Having said that, I do not think it is in the interest of the party to consider any form of alliance at this point in time. Politics is dynamic and we cannot say for sure how and in which direction the future will evolve.

If the MMM keeps losing its members, who do you think the militants will turn to? The Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD)?

Apart from those who have left the party guided by short-term interests, the last one being Zouberr Joomaye, I do not see any further departure on the horizon. Of course, I may be wrong.  The militants de base have nothing to do with the PMSD. If there is a temporary discomfort among them, they would rather stay at home than cross the Rubicon. The MMM and the PMSD are poles apart.

After the by-election, the PMSD too seems to have problems of its own. Do you think it will be able to surmount its problems and bounce back?

The PMSD has always enjoyed the trappings of being in government and leaving it opportunistically. It has always played its political cards according to what it has perceived as good or favourable tidings for itself. How it will address its problems is best left to itself to sort out. We have our own to handle. So I shall spare you and the readership of Weekly any haughty attempt at forecasting the fortunes or worries of the PMSD.

Any lessons to draw from the by-election?

It is true that we live in a democratic system and therefore we must play by its principles and norms. The electorate is supreme and makes its choice as it wills, based on considerations best known to itself. But beyond the lessons drawn from a purely party political perspective and which have been sufficiently ventilated, there is a crying need to streamline the present election procedures. Over the years, a number of proposals have been made to practically no avail. The Electoral Commission has to take bold steps and propose a blueprint after having considered all the proposals put forward by the political parties so far. The organisation of any election should be the sole preserve of the Commission, including the recruitment of personnel at election time. Counting should be done immediately after the closure of the polls. The advisability of introducing a foolproof electronic voting system should be earnestly considered. The by-election has cost the taxpayer millions of rupees for a paltry turnout. I believe it‘s time to seriously consider legislating to make voting compulsory. There is a need to review the number of signatories required for fielding a candidature. There are obviously other aspects that require attention.

Who do you realistically see at the helm of the country after 2019?

This government is for sure unpopular but the other parties have problems of their own which they need to address to be able to win the favours of the electorate. We are two years away from the next election and, as I have said earlier, politics is dynamic and circumstances will change one way or another. Add to that the fact that public opinion is fickle. So venturing a forecast at this point would be either foolhardy or futile or both on my part.

For more views and in-depth analysis of current issues, Weekly magazine (Price: Rs 25) or subscribe to Weekly for Rs110 a month. (Free delivery to your doorstep). Email us on: [email protected]

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