Vijay Makhan: “The MMM, probably based on miscalculated tactics, has been too accommodating in its choice of flag bearers

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This week, we talk to MMM stalwart Vijay Makhan about the recent defections from the party, the state of the MMM in general, the aspirations and outlook of his party. We also talk about the political and economic situation.

Another exodus from the MMM is making the headlines. This one cannot be dismissed as insignificant, can it?

Exodus, you say? I don’t see it that way. If you are referring to the former members of the No. 6 Regional, who followed the one who made a re-exit, then it is a contained but nonetheless orchestrated departure. 

How about the ones who are in government today?

Those who left the party ahead of the last elections wanted to do politique autrement. The MMM supporters who believed in that mantra and followed them are now cursing themselves. When they had announced their politique autrement platform, they were very critical of the MSM-led government. Yet, they are now cosy-footing with the same horde! 

What about the three members who have recently left?

Those who shot to relative prominence following their initial investiture by the MMM? I don’t qualify that as an exodus. I believe that to express surprise at their departure would be tantamount to ignorance of the term politics as we unfortunately and, in general, practise it in Mauritius. Translate that to self-serving interests as opposed to the noble cause that we profess to serve when we sign up, that is service to people and country.

Whether you call it an exodus or not, they left the MMM, didn’t they?

The political system is so perverted that you will find a number of so-called politicians join in more for self-interest, believing that they have a birth right to be propelled to the fore on account of their social status, that is ethnicity, community and caste as the case may be. If the particular basin in which they evolve appears to be shrinking on account of possible competition from their own social groupings and the likelihood that they may be sacrificed further down the road, then they depart.

They claim that the MMM has deviated from its course and no longer responds to their “values and principles”…

That is the easy excuse. What they mean is that it no longer responds to their specific aspirations. However, I think the public, savvier than ever, has made up its mind, rightly or wrongly, as to the true motivations behind the latest departures.

 So many people leaving the party is still not significant, according to you?

I wouldn’t qualify these as insignificant. Such departures do have an incidence on the way the public at large perceives politics, which is rather negatively. Those who have re- or rere-exited contribute to a large extent to that perception besides sending the wrong signal to the younger generation desiring to engage in politics. 

So you are not worried about the way this is going, are you?

To say that I am not worried would be a refusal to face reality. Our system has gone awry and we only have ourselves to blame. We have, over the years, allowed such considerations as mentioned earlier to carry the day, thereby exposing our society to such comings and goings. The MMM, again rightly or wrongly, probably based on miscalculated tactics, has been too accommodating in its choice of flag bearers. It welcomes back, with an incomprehensible ease, people who left in the belief that their own interests, at the particular point of their departure, were best served elsewhere. They are allowed back in, only to leave again at leisure using the same excuse of deviation of principles etc. Is it a case of juicy carrots dangled in the other camp? I sincerely don’t know, though speculations run rife. Politics cannot be reduced to becoming MP, PPS, minister, DPM or prime minister! Yes, I am worried and I shudder at the unpalatable face of politics today. There is an urgent need to stop the rot and place politics back on sounder footing.

 Let’s call a spade a spade. It is clear that Madan Dulloo’s departure was triggered by the entente that the MMM has entered into with three other parties. Don’t you agree?

I do not know whether his departure was triggered by the entente, as you say. For, isn’t he on record to have said that the MMM structures at the levels of its Bureau Politique and Central Committee welcomed such an entente? 

Where do you see this entente leading?

So far, there seems to be a commonality of purpose. The conviction seems to be there. I, however, believe, like most of the people who follow the political evolution of our country, that the entente should be all-inclusive. I have said it before, country should come first. Egos must be left locked up in personal cupboards. 

The question of leadership seemed to be the major reason leading to the breakup of the entente with the Labour Party. Who is now leading the ‘new’ entente?

As far as I see it, there doesn’t appear to be an issue regarding who is lea- ding the entente. I find that the responsibilities are equitably shared among the leaders of the parties that constitute the entente. There is room for the Labour Party. I am sure that the personalities at play know, by now, the behavioural characteristics of each other. The municipal elections are around the corner or so we are made to believe. That should be a litmus test for the opposition. Thereafter, the opposition leadership can objectively decide how they wish to proceed. I do not think it is absolutely essential for any of the current leaders to determine, at this point in time, who among them should lead as a prospective prime minister.

«I believe, like most of the people who follow the political evolution of our country, that the entente should be all-inclusive.»

But that voters will need to know who will lead the entente, don’t they? Who will it be?

Is it wishful thinking or too far-fetched to hope that an outsider could be considered for the post without necessarily having to be leader of a party? The leaders should ponder over this possibility. That would decant the seemingly difficult situation and blow a breath of fresh air in our system.

What do you mean? All the candidates vying for the post of prime minister are party leaders, aren’t they?

Yes. That has been the system so far, based on the Westminster pattern. But we are now well over 50 years old since independence. We have seen how all too often, programmes are cast aside and parties are voted in more on account of who leads. That exacerbates what I said earlier about ethnicity and communal/ caste-based politics. What I am saying may sound like day-dreaming and living in Utopia but I am aware that some genuine patriots are reflecting on the need for a new constitution for the country. Some thought could be given to this notion of a non-party apparatchik to lead the country based on the programme of the party or alliance that is voted in. The MMM almost did that in 1976 when Bérenger as secretary general of the party was de jure leader but it was Anerood Jugnauth who was proposed as prime minister, again based on ethnic politics!

«The political system is so perverted that you will find a number of so-called politicians join in more for self-interest, believing that they have a birth right to be propelled to the fore on account of their social status, that is ethnicity, community and caste as the case may be.»

 In an interview with Cassam Uteem in Kitchen Politics, we jokingly invoked the possibility that Nando Bodha’s resignation may have been orchestrated by the MSM. Don’t you think it served the purpose of the MSM more than that of the entente?

If as you say, jokingly or not, the MSM may have orchestrated the resignation of Nando Bodha, to throw the opposition in disarray presumably, then the latter would not have been so vociferous in denouncing the abusive actions of the government, its abysmal performance and expressing his discomfort at continuing to be part thereof. Do not forget that Bodha was the secretary general of the MSM prior to his resignation. Marginalised as he was within his own party, he must have reached the limits of his patience and his generally accommodating nature to have taken that decision. It is to his credit that he did not join one of the existing major opposition parties. As to whether his resignation served the purpose of the MSM, one could easily venture into that schema, for he represented a possible thorn in and obstacle to the MSM which could have led to stronger dissent within the party nearer election time. The coincidental disarray within the opposition following Bodha’s resignation was a kind of godsend for the MSM. 

Do you really think it’s ‘coincidental’ or does it fit with the ethnic calculator?

That also, I am afraid. l Though a day is a long time in politics, as things stand, there is no reason not to believe that the MSM will find its way back to Government House if a general election were held today, is there? Yes. Unfortunately, we have witnessed in past elections how despite all the hue and cry against an incumbent government over poor performance, overt policies of nepotism, cronyism and what not, the results were far from what was expected. We have said it time and again, unfortunately the electorate is fickle and come election time, other considerations determine their choice at the ballot box even if they spend the period between two elections castigating the team that they voted in! Add to that the money politics which, regrettably, holds sway, as we have all seen. The outcome of such an election, while depending on the sagacity and discernment of the electorate, depends also and principally on the opposition. If they genuinely wish to see the back of this government, they know what needs to be done. After all, lest we forget, the present government garnered only 37% of the vote at the last elections. The opposition will only have themselves to blame should the incumbent be returned!

«I do so wish our economic operators and our learned economists are right when they aver that the worst is behind us. I think it’s too early to trumpet that.»

 As things stand, we have a split and anaemic opposition struggling for its survival with so many vested interests involved and a united and strong government with what seems to be an unlimited amount of money. So where is democracy heading?

The other day at the virtual board meeting of the Progressive Alliance, of which I am an elected member representing the MMM, I said that one is having to defend democracy as opposed to promoting it. Promotion of democracy presupposes its expansion but unfortunately it is on the decline including here. I make mine the comment that: In a sound democracy, rulers should be changed regularly, like diapers for the same reason!

I also wanted to mention that the last election is being contested by all opposition parties but the petitions are still dragging on… Why should electoral petitions be allowed to drag on for so long?

Granted that our judicial system is such that an issue can be protracted permitting undue procrastination, but in a democracy that should not be so. It will soon be two years since the elections were held! I should like to reiterate what I had said in a previous interview here, that time has come for a specific Constitutional Court to be set up to address such issues as electoral petitions and abuse of authority expeditiously, especially at election time.

There is also the issue of the state of our parliament, isn’t there?

Parliament should be a beacon of public accountability and not a forum where some display arrogance and embark on ego- centric trips while others flag utter disregard for civility and project a high degree of mediocrity! Hitherto trumpeted as the Temple of Democracy, save for a few notable exceptions, it has now been turned into an arena for substandard discourses and a forum for trading insults, mudslinging and vulgarity. Far from being an honourable chamber, it has been turned into a cushy centre for mediocre representatives, mostly voted in by the power of money, not to mention the deplorable attitude and behaviour of the speaker! Known party cronies are being considered for positions of decision in democratic institutions. Juicy contracts for the provision of public goods, as came to light recently in the Moka Court, are being awarded to politically affiliated agents...and one could go on. All this surely doesn’t consolidate democracy.

Economically, the country is faring well, though, isn’t it? Tourists have started flooding the country, businesses are open again and many economic operators are saying that the worst is behind us. Don’t you think?

Really? Are we faring well? Possibly, when compared to statistics as they appeared during the lockdown periods. I do so wish our economic operators and our learned economists are right when they aver that the worst is behind us. I think it’s too early to trumpet that. We can be cautiously optimistic and not lose hope. Indeed, as during every crisis, we need to demonstrate our resilience and adapt to the new circumstances and exigencies. However, we need to be alive to the fact that the world as we knew it, before the unwelcome visit of Covid-19, has changed. Those who believe that we will soon be back to what and where we were prior to the onslaught of this uninvited guest have to face the reality that a new normal is emerging…in all spheres of life and that includes the economic sector as well. The government is doing what it can to face the crisis and, as some claim, it is doing its best. The question is: is its best good enough? We must all face the crisis collectively and carry our stone to erect the new normal on sound foundations.

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