Chronicle of a Scripted Fall from Grace

We have all collectively ensured that social harmony prevails in the country at all times. Whoever puts social harmony and unity in peril crosses a red line — By Mrinal Roy

The derogatory and callous remarks caught on video made by Showkutally Soodhun are damning. Yet, despite the enormity of his discriminatory stances and the potent risks to social harmony in the country, there was no public condemnation, nor even a semblance of remonstrance or disapproval by the Prime Minister. This would have sent a strong signal of reassurance to the people and allayed the legitimate fears of unfairness of the homeless poor, on something so vital for their betterment and well being.

Repeatedly condoned for unavowed reasons for too long, he had become a serial offender. The country remembers his death threat against the leader of the opposition captured on video, now the object of criminal prosecution and the repugnant remarks against a woman, who standing for her rights as a citizen dared call him to order. There was also the diplomatic gaffe of his unauthorised communiqué issued in June 2017 erroneously proclaiming that Mauritius had suspended all relations with Qatar which the Mauritian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to peremptorily deny and quash. Instead of being upbraided and sanctioned, he was allowed to run amok, unchecked like a bumbling bull in a china shop. His latest deplorable remarks were the last straw. He had to go.

His repeated wrongdoings had scripted his ignominious fall from grace. May this sanction act as a warning to all those who, once elected, do not scrupulously honour their mandate of rectitude and diligent service to the people.

The most galling aspect of this fall from grace has been the indecent attempts to use partisans to defend and absolve him from blame in contrived press conferences. Is that what hard won freedom for all was meant for?

Every Mauritian knows that social harmony and cohesion are key catalysts of our progress and socio-economic development as a country. We have all collectively stood as bulwarks against any rabid sectarian rhetoric or actions and ensured, despite our diversity, that social harmony remains paramount, is safeguarded and prevails in the country at all times.

Whoever puts social harmony and unity in peril in the country crosses a red line. There is and should be zero tolerance towards such arsonists who should be swiftly and severely sanctioned. No one including party apparatchiks, comrade in arms or the political coterie should be exempt from exemplary sanction for any parochial and divisive remarks likely to put social harmony at risk.

However, despite the gravity of the situation and the tenor of the discriminatory remarks made, the PM seemed hesitant and reluctant to make the call. At a time when there was urgent need for prompt sanction to prevent matters from getting out of hand in a context of rising public outcry, there was dragging of feet and patent procrastination.

On taking cognizance of the deplorable contents of the video on Tuesday last, the PM chose to order a police investigation intimating to the press that he will decide on the course of action on the basis of its findings. It is only when confronted with the clamour of the people, the religious Establishment and the political parties that the PM bowed to pressure and finally asked Showkutally Soodhun to step down, three days later on Friday last to allow ‘the police investigation to be carried out unhindered’.

De facto disqualified

Does the PM and the government fully measure the gravity of the discriminatory remarks made by Showkutally Soodhun and the associated risks to the unity of the nation and social harmony in the country? There cannot be any mitigating circumstances or justification for such condemnable comments in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society like Mauritius. Do they realize that these remarks have de facto disqualified him from representing the people or holding office in the country? They better come to terms with this reality.

Social harmony is an absolute and necessary condition of the country’s sustainability and cannot be a subject of compromise. It is the bedrock of the country’s unity. It is not a matter for glib lip service. It is the solid basis and anchor of our society. It cannot in any circumstances be tinkered with, with impunity. This message must be loud and clear to all and sundry and in particular to the political class.

The tenor of the sectarian remarks also exposes the makeshift manner social housing, which is one of the important thrusts of government policy is allocated. Beyond the legitimate public outcry, it is important that the criteria for social housing are transparent and devoid of any form of discrimination. In a country marked by widening inequalities, the homeless poor represent a microcosm of Mauritius enduring common hardships. Their needs must be addressed in an inclusive and fair manner.

This latest incident also highlights the sorry state of our political system and the feet of clay of our democracy. It now transpires that the leader of the opposition who had a copy of the incriminating video decided owing to his lack of trust in government and its institutions to hand it over instead to an investigative journalist to research and validate its appalling contents.

The government has from the outset been plagued by an array of allegations against Ministers and MPs. Several Ministers and a Private Parliamentary Secretary have had to step down for various alleged wrongdoings and are the object of investigation or prosecution. Other MPs and party members holding key government posts have been questioned by the Commission of Enquiry on Drug Trafficking for their alleged links with drug traffickers and kingpins as well as their frequent visits to jail to meet inmates serving term for drug trafficking. All this reflects poorly on the standard of ethics of some of the hotchpotch of candidates fielded to contest the last general elections. Taking refuge behind the rule of law, no corrective actions have as yet been taken by the PM, despite obvious questions of propriety.

 Lax stewardship

This appalling array of events has yet again exposed the intrinsic failings of our political system. Many lessons can be drawn from these incidents. Lax stewardship and a reluctance to sanction the black sheep in government has been the hallmark of governance. In most cases of allegations against members of government, there has been hesitation to sanction. A nominated PM is dependent on and is the hostage of the support of MPs. Is this lack of authority and decisive decision-making due to the fact that the PM has been nominated rather than legitimately elected by the people through a plebiscite at the polls?

No one can become the Prime Minister of the country without being chosen by the people through general elections. It is obvious that only a PM who is chosen by the people at the polls has the legitimate mandate and the moral authority to run the country.

It is high time to let the people again make this choice at the polls.

 

*  Published in print edition on 17 November 2017

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