Post-elections: what’s wrong with the Labour Party?

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For the first time in its history, the Mauritius Labour Party has been defeated at two consecutive general elections but more importantly its leader, once charismatic and much revered, was not returned on both occasions. The electorate failed to give him legitimacy which is sine qua non for political durability. There should obviously be something rotten in the Garden of Eden. Like in 2014, it seems there will not be an indepth introspection into this defeat. However, it’s time to turn up some stunning truths. Let me state at the outset that I owe Navin Ramgoolam a lot for having inter alia favoured me with a ticket at two general elections and also appointed me as Attorney General. But unfortunately, I no longer recognize the person I knew and the hero I appreciated for several years. Ramgoolam had all the attributes to remain Prime Minister for a very long time but he eventually became his own enemy.

«Is Navin Ramgoolam bigger than the Labour Party or is the party bigger than him?»

After the 2014 defeat, I tried a number of times, in vain, to reason the party as to the need for discipline, structures functioning properly and the need to present the Mauritius Labour Party as a credible alternative. The importance of internal changes in the party is that they are a precondition for the party’s ability to change the country. It is said that one who sweats more in training bleeds less in war. I was taken lightly, perhaps even ridiculed and told that in 2014 l’alliance Lepep won by default and in 2019 the Labour Party would, in turn, win by default. I was even denied a ticket in 2019 because I dared to tell Ramgoolam earlier this year that he can stand as candidate, lead the party and any eventual alliance but he should not present himself as the prime ministerial candidate. Had he agreed, the election results would have been entirely different today. The writing has been on the wall for a long time but some people in the Labour Party interpreted it in the way that best suited them. Mahatma Gandhi once said: Blindness in a leader is unpardonable.

“After 2014, Ramgoolam surrounded himself with a group of yes-men and yes-women…”

After Labour Party’s de- feat in 2000, Ramgoolam rightly agreed to rebuild the party. A new constitution was adopted and structures such as Constituency Labour Party, local committees around each polling station, Young Labour, Women’s League, National Policy Forum and Policy Commissions were set up. The party became full of activities and it became a party of ideas. As per the constitution the polit-bureau met every fortnight, the central executive committee and each constituency labour party on a monthly basis. From 2000 to 2005, the party functioned perfectly well resulting in a resounding victory in 2005 against an MSM/ MMM alliance.

Once in power, the party structures were completely neglected and ignored to such an extent that successive secretary generals were not even favoured with a copy of the party’s constitution for implementation. I am among the very few having a copy of same as I authored the party’s new constitution in 2001, except for clause 22 which was made by Kailash Purryag. By 2010, the party was already disorganized and was somewhat rescued by the MSM. Come to 2014, the party had almost stopped functioning, with meetings of the polit-bureau and central executive committee being called at the whims and caprices of the leader who incidentally stopped believing in the Constituency Labour Party. The MMM was seen as the saviour but unfortunately things did not work the way envisaged. From 2014 to 2019, the party lingered into a comatose state. No annual party conference was held during those years. The recent annual party conference was convened and held contrary to the constitution and standing orders of the party.

The Labour Party should as at present be the most disorganized mainstream party to say the least. The party has been in power for 15 years but could not build a new headquarters to date. Donations were undoubtedly received at the 1991, 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010 general elections. One wonders where the money has gone. The ruins of the former headquarters, unfortunately, reflect the state of the party. If the leader has really used money belonging to the Mauritius Labour Party for his personal use, this should be strongly condemned and sanctioned. I do hope that if the Rs 220 million, seized by the police from his safe, is not found to be tainted and recovered, this money be used to erect a new building for the party, purchase one office in each constituency and the rest put in the bank with its interest used for the monthly expenses of the party. Much has been said about Ramgoolam’s private life. To this, I will simply say that he had to lead by example, both in his public and in his private life.

In 2015, Rashid Beebeejaun resigned as Deputy Leader of the party and contrary to clause 18, no one was appointed to replace him. I still wonder why Shakeel Mohamed was not appointed despite being the leader of the Labour Party Parliamentary Group from 2014 to 2019. Had it been for Ramgoolam, Arvin Boolell and Shakeel Mohamed would have already been sacked from the party. Nita Deerpalsing resigned as chairperson of Young Labour around the same time and was replaced by Rajesh Jeetah. Can you imagine a person approximately 60 years of age getting an old age pension leading the youth wing of the party? This ran clearly contrary to clause 17 of the party’s constitution which stipulates that Young Labour shall be open to all persons between the ages of 15 and 35. Likewise for the Women’s League, when Sheila Bappoo resigned as chairperson, no one was designated to replace her.

It is sad to say but Ramgoolam turned from a democratic leader, a gentleman in politics to an arrogant autocrat and a paranoid. With time, the party became centred around his person only, thus suffocating the party. This reminds me of a poem by William Cowper : “I am monarch of all I survey, my right there is none to dispute………”. Ministers, civil servants, party officials would be sworn at, humiliated and denigrated. In 2014 during the campaign, I recall my late father telling Ramgoolam that the situation on the ground was getting out of hand. The latter arrogantly told my father with unwarranted arrogance and sarcasm whether he wanted to substitute himself for the leader of the Mauritius Labour Party! Over the years, to many, it would seem easier to meet the queen of the United Kingdom than to get an appointment with Ramgoolam. Following the 2014 election defeat and the incidents that unfolded, he gathered a lot of sympathy. It was expected that he would again become the leader of the 1990s and early 2000 and change his approach. Unfortunately, this did not and will not happen.

After 2014, Ramgoolam surrounded himself with a group of yes-men and yes-women, being at his beck and call chanting, as rightly said by Ezra Jhuboo ,“to meme nou le roi, to meme nou raja”. Most of them were jobless after the 2014 debacle and were clinging to him in the only hope of getting a ticket, being elected and becoming minister. They were his worst enemies. Furthermore, Ramgoolam gave a lot of importance to the opinion of few persons outside the party who seemingly had complete control over him often rendering useless discussions and even decisions taken at the level of the party. When the Labour Party headquarters shrunk, the power centre of the Labour Party did not move from Guy Rozemont Square to Les Salines but rather to Le Bout du Monde in Ebene where few arm chair politicians gradually took full control over the party by pulling the strings from the shadows. Furthermore, the decision to designate seven or eight persons to work in each constituency was shooting ourselves in the foot. I have yet to understand the logic behind such a decision which promoted back-stabbing with prospective candidates campaigning against one another instead of focusing on opponents.

The party should now see through an all new set of lenses. People in the party need to stand up and take drastic measures. I will simply remind Arvin Boolell and Anil Bachoo of what Voltaire said: Tu dors et Rome est dans les feux. There was a time, when Ramgoolam was bigger than the party but today the party is bigger than him. The party should realize that it can survive and win without Ramgoolam. Side by side, we should all recognize and be grateful for what he has done for the party and the country but time has now come to move on. It is unfortunate but the sands of time slow for no man. In 1997 when John Major lost the general election he uttered the following words which should resonate within the Labour Party: When the curtain falls, it’s time to leave the stage. The party should forthwith change all office bearers, transform and present itself as a credible alternative to the present government, otherwise it runs the risk of falling into political oblivion. The Labour Party needs fresh air, fresh and vital ideas and healthy co-operation. Transformation isn’t an easy plot. Yet the life of the caterpillar must end for the glory of the butterfly to shine.

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