The making (and unmaking) of a national hero

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Nothing predestined Bruneau Laurette to become the national hero he has turned out to be. He was a totally unknown figure. Dressed in army fatigues and displaying photos on his Facebook page with sophisticated guns, escorting vessels and, as he describes it on his home page, “planning tactical response against attacks of pirates in the high-risk sea”, he did not exactly have the profile of a hero. Only two things explain his meteoric rise and shed light on how a previously anonymous person justly earned his place in the history books. And it is these two things that will help him stay at the heights he has reached.

Firstly, his courage. In a country that was paralysed by fear and so worried about antagonising the powerful for fear of retaliation, Bruneau used his knowledge of the sea after the Wakashio oil spill, came out all guns blazing against the inaction of the government, bravely took on ministers head-on, challenged the official narrative and took two ministers to court.

“A very serious allegation of corruption was made by Roshi Bhadain against the prime minister. That allegation has not been denied by the accused and, what is more, the ICAC has already stepped in to avoid any accountability even when parliament re-opens or press conferences are held.”

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, he felt the pulse of the people. He knew there was a lot of dry tinder lying around waiting for a match. Bruneau lit that match at the right time, allowing the people of this country to make all their frustration, anger, helplessness and feelings of injustice heard in an unprecedented mass protest. It is a moment that comes but rarely in history. And sometimes that’s all it takes to make a hero.

The Bruneau Laurette we saw on Tuesday at the court in Port Louis didn’t seem to be dented by the allegation of a bouncing cheque that was slapped on him and – whether true or not – it has the clear aim of nibbling at his credibility. Nor should he worry about that or the possibility that more allegations will come his way as he continues his fight. This may even play in his favour: if the authorities give the impression of harassing him, they may raise him to the even more enviable status of a martyr.

What he has to watch are the acts he undertakes from his position of fame. His courage and resolve have to be channelled properly and he has to keep his finger on the pulse of the people. If he does, he will realise that many of his followers do not agree with a protest in Angus Road in front of the prime minister’s house. Yes, we all understand that a very serious allegation of corruption was made by Roshi Bhadain against the prime minister. Yes, Bhadain even explained the link between all the protagonists in the alleged corruption case. And, yes, that allegation has not been denied by the accused and, what is more, the ICAC has already stepped in to avoid any accountability even when parliament re-opens or press conferences are held. Having said that, dragging hundreds of thousands of people to the prime minister’s private house is not likely to yield the intended results, assuming that permission is granted to hold a protest there – which is neither likely nor desirable. Protest marches are meant for people to voice their anger and articulate their demands. They are not a court of law. Protesters cannot decide what is ill-gotten and go and grab it – even symbolically. Bruneau has to channel his courage into action that is in synchrony with the protesters’ wishes. 

Positions of power and fame are very lonely. It was good to see Bruneau Laurette as invigorated as ever and with his right hand raised in a fist, promising a total cleaning up of the country. I hope the left hand is checking the pulse of the people. That, in my opinion, is the only way he stays on the right side of history.

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