Letter from Sir Harilal Vaghjee to Sooroojdev Phokeer

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Dear Mr Fokheer,

Forgive me for this blast from the past. I know I should have contacted you earlier to perhaps compare notes with you and save the country from joining rogue states but I didn’t think it was my position to tell you things you should have known before taking on such big responsibilities. I have also been unwell. I have been feeling so dizzy turning in my grave that it was impossible for me to put pen to paper. So I am writing today fully aware that, in many ways, it is rather too late.

As I write, my head is still spinning out of control. I hear your shrieks, threats and oppressive comments. Whatever happened to dignity and decorum! I see your rulings and wonder what happened to fairness. As you know, there is the law and the spirit of the law. What do you make of the latter? I see you on your feet more often than not and, though I don’t think standing up and sitting down would do you much harm, doing so at every attempt of the opposition to do the job they are paid to do reduces parliament to a school yard where kids have to run for cover every time they see the school bully approaching. It is difficult for me to continue to see parliament as the temple of democracy, honourable behaviour, dignity and decorum it once was. It looks more and more like a tavern where drunk goondas terrorise customers, while their followers goad them on out of fear, a dumb search for recognition and a deep desire to be in the good books of the mighty. Those permanent grins and tap la tab every time you say something out of place are not doing you any favour, believe me. When the day of reckoning comes, you will find yourself all alone.

I have been watching a House I have presided over for years becoming what it is today. I hear people still being called “honourable” but I see little honour in the behaviour of many. I mean what honour is there when MPs start every sentence by praising their leader? What honour is there when ministers go to the airport to receive vaccines bought from a laboratory in India or dates donated by Saudi Arabia? We lived through acute food shortages but I never saw ministers taking pictures hugging packets of dates at the airport! I am grateful that my time came before that became a tradition in my country.

Last week, we crossed the Rubicon. Expelling an MP and suspending three others for the rest of the session for objecting to your expunging the Hansard of a statement about Showkutally Soodhun on the pretext that it might offend another country shook me out of my well-deserved repose.  Since when have our parliamentary debates been regulated by the whims and fancies of other countries? Hiding the truth about the expulsion of any ambassador – including yourself – from any country, systematically opens the way to lots of nasty rumours. I would avoid that like the plague if I were you.

This week, I heard another novelty in parliamentary debates: the prime minister – no less – admitting that no minutes had been kept of the meetings of the High Level Committee on Covid-19 chaired by himself! Rs1.7 billion – BILLION – were approved in those meetings and no trace of that? Lol, as they would say in your world! And this whole bazaar with more questions than answers and more answers to unasked questions is broadcast live on our national television? Splendid!

Please do not see in my sharing these thoughts with you anything more than the fact that I am saddened that a country I saw climb to the top of all the rankings in Africa and stay there for decades is now on the grey list of an international money laundering watchdog and the black list of the European Union. This week, it has also made it to the UK’s list of countries requiring enhanced due diligence. As if that were not enough, we have also been classified as an autocracy by a respected Swedish democracy watch organisation!

Sadly, your behaviour in the national assembly is not alien to that. And sadly for you in particular, hiding behind the prerogatives you enjoy under the standing orders will not earn you the respect you have been craving. Only fairness and adherence to the principles of democracy will. And perhaps a sense of humour.

It takes humility to understand that.

I wish you and your leader that humility. A lot of it. I wish the country the miracle needed for it to get back the place it has lost on the roll of honour. I do wish that happens during your lifetime. Fare thee well, Sir, and good luck to my beloved country!

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