Politics: the rise of Pravind Jugnauth

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Pravind Jugnauth officially joined the MSM in 1990, beginning his political rise.

Pravind Jugnauth officially joined the MSM in 1990, beginning his political rise.

The Labour Party’s Arvin Boolell, on September 11, stated that it was the Labour Party that led to the creation of Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth’s political career. How true is this assessment? Here’s the story of the rise of Pravind Jugnauth’s political star.

1) The rocky start

IT was the Labour Party that was responsible for Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth’s political career; this was the gist of a statement by the Labour Party’s Arvin Boolell, while at a wreathlaying ceremony at the ‘samadhi’ of Sir Satcam Boolell in Vallée-des-Prêtres. How accurate is this assessment? To judge that, we must look at how Pravind Jugnauth’s political career got started. 

In the 1990s, it took off to a rocky start. Officially joining the MSM, led by his father Sir Anerood Jugnauth in 1990, Pravind Jugnauth’s political start benefited from two factors: the first was the Sun Trust that was created following the 1987 elections that long served as the party’s war chest and firmly controlled by Anerood Jugnauth, then Prime Minister and patriarch of the MSM. 

The second was the lack of successors within the MSM to inherit the leadership of the party after Anerood Jugnauth. “What we have to remember is that the MSM started off as a breakaway of the MMM,” says historian Jocelyn Chan Low, “it did not start off as a dynastic party.” One figure with ambitions to eventually inherit the leadership of the party was Madun Dulloo, who had long positioned himself politically as a proponent of reconciliation with the MMM led by Paul Bérenger. 

From attempting unsuccessfully to paper over cracks between the MMM and what would become the MSM in 1983 to serving as a key mediator that led to the alliance between the two parties for the 1991 elections. “When the alliance between the MMM and the MSM broke apart in 1993, Dulloo’s position was weakened considerably within the party,” recalls Chan Low. Dulloo’s leadership ambitions finally came to a crashing halt when in 1994 he was revoked as agriculture minister, ostensibly after clashing with then-Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth over the closure of the St. Antoine sugar estate. Following the episode, Dulloo was replaced by Kailash Ruhee as agriculture minister and Dulloo quickly found himself expelled from the MSM itself. 

What the episode demonstrated was the lack of a clear successor to Sir Anerood Jugnauth within the MSM. Pravind Jugnauth’s first general election proved to be badly timed: he stood for the first time in constituency No. 11 for the 1995 election that led to the 60-0 drubbing of the MSMRMM alliance. A year later, in 1996, however, the younger Jugnauth found himself winning a municipal council seat at Vacoas. “From there he climbed his way up, obviously with some help from his father,” says a long-term political observer of local politics.

The Labour Party crediting itself with Pravind Jugnauth’s political rise ignores the role that other parties have played as well.

2) Stepping into national politics

IT was not until 2000 that Pravind Jugnauth really entered national politics. A year earlier, in 1999, he was made the deputy leader of the MSM. Once again, the MMM and the MSM found themselves entering into an alliance; this time brokered by a businessman Abu Meghoo which stipulated a power-sharing agreement between Sir Anerood Jugnauth and the MMM’s Paul Bérenger, who would split the prime ministership between themselves, with Pravind Jugnauth elevated to deputy prime minister towards the last two years of the mandate. For the first three years, while Sir Anerood Jugnauth held the prime ministership (2000-2003), Pravind Jugnauth was agriculture minister. 

“He was quite an efficient minister who oversaw the reform of the sugar industry through centralizing the industry and introducing the VRS scheme that allowed the industry to survive,” says an observer. When in 2003, Anerood Jugnauth became president of the republic under the deal with the MMM, Pravind Jugnauth saw himself becoming deputy prime minister taking on the finance portfolio. It was at this time too that Pravind Jugnauth officially became the leader of the MSM. “The MSM party as well as the Sun Trust was in the hands of Pravind Jugnauth,” says Chan Low. 

In an attempt to repeat the longevity of the MMM-MSM alliance between 2000 and 2005 – the only political coalition to last an entire mandate – for the 2005 elections the MMM’s Paul Bérenger suggested that the same formula be repeated once again. The difference this time around would be that instead of a 3-2 split of the prime ministership, Paul Bérenger and Pravind Jugnauth would each become prime minister for a two-and-a-half-year term each. Except that this time, the formula did not work at the hustings. The MMMMSM bloc would win just 24 elected seats with the remaining 38 elected seats going to the Alliance Sociale led by the Labour Party led by Navin Ramgoolam. Pravind Jugnauth failed to win his seat at No.11, leaving Nando Bodha to lead the MSM within the National Assembly. “Paul Bérenger then felt that Pravind Jugnauth could become prime minister but following the loss in the 2005 election he blamed Pravind Jugnauth for that,” says Chan Low, “this led the MMM to start looking to Ashok Jugnauth.” 

Ashok Jugnauth, the brother of Sir Anerood Jugnauth, had started in 2006 to split off from the MSM to form his own party – the ‘Union nationale’ (UN). On the surface, this was over his opposing the MMM and the MSM flying apart while in the opposition together over whether or not to make the MMM’s Rajesh Bhagwan the opposition whip in parliament. The episode saw the leader of the opposition seat briefly change hands from Paul Bérenger to Nando Bodha until two MSM MPs Joe Lesjongard and Sekar Naidu left to join the MMM in 2007, making the MMM the largest party in parliament again and landing the post back to Paul Bérenger. 

“Ashok Jugnauth was Bérenger’s fall back candidate, the MMM was looking to undermine the MSM at the time while Ashok Jugnauth seemed a good Hindu candidate for prime minister, so the MMM built him up,” says an observer.

The 2009 by-election saw Pravind Jugnauth take on his uncle, Ashok Jugnauth, in what was a proxy battle.

3) The road to 2009

It was not hard to see why Ashok Jugnauth saw himself as an alternative to his nephew Pravind Jugnauth. After all, he had a longer track record within the MSM: he was elected for the first time as part of the MMM-MSM alliance becoming civil service minister in 1993. Although like Pravind Jugnauth, he was not elected in 1995, he was hardly alone in that given that no single MSM candidate succeeded in getting elected. And he was health minister between 2000 and 2005. Whereas in the 2005 election, Pravind Jugnauth failed to get elected in no11, his uncle did in no 8. 

At first sight this seemed to be a parallel to what happened nearly a decade ago within the PMSD: when Xavier-Luc Duval and his uncle Hervé Duval feuded, with the former first getting closer to the MSM and then the Labour Party, while the latter stuck with the MMM. It was a by-election for a seat in No. 20 in 1999 that finally brought an end to the feud: Xavier-Luc Duval won beating out the MMM’s Francoise Labelle, who Hervé Duval had thrown his weight behind. Labelle’s defeat led to Hervé Duval bowing out of active politics, leaving the PMSD as a rudderless party that eventually was reunified under Xavier-Luc Duval in 2009. 

But there were a number of key differences between what had happened with the Duvals and what was happening between the Jugnauths: Ashok Jugnauth’s main problem was with Sir Anerood Jugnauth engineering the rise of Pravind Jugnauth within the party, rather than with Pravind Jugnauth himself. But like the episode with the Duval’s, this too would be settled via a by-election. 

Although Ashok Jugnauth could claim to have been elected in the 2005 election, this was short-lived after the Privy Council in 2008 confirmed a decision from the Supreme Court finding Ashok Jugnauth guilty of electoral bribery by promising land for a Muslim cemetery to his constituents and hiring his supporters to the health ministry that he controlled before the election. “This was a case of Pravind Jugnauth seeing an opportunity in the byelection to move from No. 11 where he was defeated to No. 8,” says an observer. It was also a way to knock Ashok Jugnauth down a peg. 

The resulting by-election in 2009 pitting Ashok and Pravind Jugnauth against one another is the episode that Boolell is referring to when he credits the Labour Party with Pravind Jugnauth’s rise. While it looked like a fight between uncle and nephew, in reality, it was a proxy battle between the Labour Party and the MMM, both of whom did not field candidates of their own. Navin Ramgoolam at the time saw Paul Bérenger’s MMM as his main foe and threw his weight behind Pravind Jugnauth during the by-election in No. 8 while the MMM backed Ashok Jugnauth and his UN. “The Labour Party helped Pravind Jugnauth beat Ashok Jugnauth in the by-election,” Chan Low points out. 

Pravind Jugnauth won 52.46 per cent of the vote as compared to Ashok Jugnauth’s 42.04 per cent. Out of the by-election, emerged a Labour-MSMPMSD coalition for the 2010 election, dubbed the ‘Alliance de l’Avenir’. The 2010 elections saw a re-run of the battle between Pravind Jugnauth and Ashok Jugnauth in no 8, but this time too, Pravind Jugnauth emerged victorious bagging 57.6 per cent of the vote as compared to the 49.8 per cent that went to Ashok Jugnauth who stood as a candidate for the MMM-UN-MMSD bloc. This second defeat led to the MMM and Paul Bérenger abandoning Ashok Jugnauth as an alternative to the MSM, and it soon dropped Ashok Jugnauth entirely. 

The 2010 election victory of the Labour-MSM-PMSD bloc saw Pravind Jugnauth once again become finance minister – the last time he had held the post was between 2003 and 2005 – and he continued to hold that portfolio until July 2011 when the MSM quit the government and moved into the opposition alongside the MMM over the Medpoint scandal. Shortly ahead of the 2014 election, Paul Bérenger resigned as leader of the opposition in September leaving the way open for Pravind Jugnauth to take up the post until the election in December 2014. 

For that election, the MMM joined up with Navin Ramgoolam’s Labour Party while the MSM-PMSD-ML bloc entered into an unusual arrangement by Mauritian parliamentary standards: Pravind Jugnauth stayed as leader of the largest party in the bloc, but the alliance’s prime ministerial candidate was Anerood Jugnauth who quit the presidency to head an alliance though not being officially part of any of the parties that it comprised of. Pravind Jugnauth took up the post of ICT minister until he was forced to step down after an intermediate court judgement against him finding him guilty of conflict of interest. 

However, after the Supreme Court reversed that decision, Pravind Jugnauth was free to rise to the post of prime minister after Anerood Jugnauth stepped aside citing health reasons in January 2017. The younger Jugnauth continued to head the government until he led his MSM-led coalition to another victory at the polls in the November 2019 election. 

While it may make political sense to credit the Labour Party with engineering Pravind Jugnauth’s rise, in truth, his political star had begun ascending within the MSM party long before. And long before the Labour Party decided to back Pravind Jugnauth in the 2009 by-election, helping him beat Ashok Jugnauth, it was another as part of coalitions with another party – the MMM – that saw Pravind Jugnauth first get elected at the national level, occupy ministerial posts as well as be considered as a potential prime minister for the first time in his political career. 

While the Labour Party helped him along the way, Chan Low concludes, “the seeds of Pravind Jugnauth’s rise were planted long ago”.

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