Prime Ministers have to reconcile party management and national interests

A political party is rarely ever monolithic and its leader is constantly engaged in appeasing and even anticipating tensions in order to avoid dissent – — By Rajiv Servansingh

Lessons from recent events

The sacking of the Vice Prime Minister Showkutally Soodhun, who happened to be one of the stalwarts of his party, by the Prime Minister had become inevitable as soon as the video depicting the former’s despicable and hugely offensive language became public. Coming as it did in the aftermath of a long series of gaffes, this latest scandal was utterly indefensible. Given that the outcome of this episode was so obvious, the question which arises is why did it take so long for Pravind Jugnauth to make that decision?

The answer to this question lies at the heart of the functioning of our party systems and the Westminster model of government which we have inherited from Britain. The Prime Minister in so far as he has great powers, is likely to exercise these on the condition that he enjoys a comfortable majority in Parliament and a solid constituency in his party. In the conditions prevailing in Mauritius, this second proposition is rarely in question although at the end of his prime ministership Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam did have to confront both of these two challenges. As it was nicely put by political author Kenneth N. Waltz: “The requisite art for a Prime Minister is to manage the party in ways that avoid the defiance of the many or the rebellion of the few”.

Although the MSM does enjoy a rather comfortable numerical majority in Parliament, it has nevertheless been constantly undermined by continuous instability. There has been the break-up of the initial “Alliance Lepep” with the departure of the PMSD and the sacking of no less than three ministers and one PPS for alleged improper and dishonourable behaviour over less than two years.

All this happened in the midst of several public scandals and characteristic acts of nepotism which have been widely publicized. It is unrealistic under such circumstances to expect that there would be a problem only when the party is split or the Prime Minister is faced with an unruly faction — as it had been the case with SSR.

A political party is rarely ever monolithic and its leader is constantly engaged in appeasing and even anticipating tensions in order to avoid dissent. To quote again from Kenneth Waltz: “Concessions are made; issues are postponed and at times evaded entirely.” It is during the management of these behind-the-scene skirmishes that the roles of the leader of the country and manager of a party easily come into conflict. The distinction between the strong and weak party leader is therefore contingent on how far in the same set of circumstances he arrives at reconciling the two roles.

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Visit of Yogi Adiyanath
Realpolitik: Interest, Necessity and Raison d’etat

The recent visit of Yogi Adiyanath as Chief Guest on the occasion of the celebration of the arrival of the first Indian indentured labourers in Mauritius has caused quite a hue and cry principally among the political class.

No one would doubt the good faith of Shakeel Mohamed when he expressed concerns about what he termed the “controversial” nature of the person. Had he explained at the outset that he was expressing his personal opinion and not necessarily that of the leader of the Parliamentary Labour party, he would have saved himself and the party which he represents in Parliament some unnecessary embarrassment. Indeed Navin Ramgoolam was prompt to rectify the situation by stating as much.

Other political leaders including that of the MMM were also quick to express reservations on the choice of the Chief Guest for the occasion. As for the Prime Minister, he chose to entangle himself from this developing awkward situation by promptly alleging that the choice of the visitor was not that of the Mauritian government but that of the Indian Prime Minister himself. This is most unlikely as any person ever remotely familiar with the ropes of diplomacy would confirm.

Be that as it may, as was to be expected given the sensitive nature of the issue, all hell seemed to break loose on social media with commentaries on the opportuneness of inviting someone who overtly claims to be a die-hard firebrand leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party to Mauritius. In what turned to be a sort of no holds barred “debate”, opponents and supporters threw the most uncivil remarks at each other mutually denouncing the “hypocrisy and communalism” of their adversaries.

The point here is that such wild accusations and heated arguments serve no real purpose except that of creating unnecessary tensions which harm our otherwise natural propensity to search for consensus on such “sensitive” issues. In order to avoid such unnecessary controversies in the future, it is most desirable that our Ministry of Foreign Affairs should with the blessing of the PMO craft and make public a principled policy approach defining the criteria which are applicable when the government proposes to invite guests for State or official visits for any occasion.

The highly experienced cadres of the Ministry are surely capable of developing such a framework which will henceforth inform the decision making process regarding future invitees either for State or official visits on different occasions. It is hoped that the formulation and publication of such a policy framework would primarily serve to prevent each visit to be viewed through subjective sectarian prisms and avoid the kind of commotions which we have observed recently.

It is pertinent to remark that the controversy which has emerged hinges around the distinction which needs to be made between the political status/official position of an invitee – and his political ideology. Respect for the democratic process and the sovereign choice of voters or the prevailing political system in different jurisdictions, suggest that what matters most is the function and not the policies. We are here in the domain of realpolitik where more often than not the State’s interest becomes the spring for action. This is why as in so many instances in the democratic process matters are not so clear-cut. Leaders have to make judgements on a case by case basis taking into account experience and prevailing environment.

In this particular instance those who have scoffed at the visit of Yogi Adityanath should really give careful thoughts to what are the ethics involved and what would be the consequences of a generalization of these ethics to the choice of future visitors keeping in mind the larger interests of the country. Well defined guidelines would serve to constrain any excesses but at the same time provide the rationale which guides the choice of a visitor.

 

*  Published in print edition on 17 November 2017

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