Can we speak of nationhood after 50 years of independence?
People have a right to dream. Candidates for elections have the right to sell dreams.
Campaigns are in full swing in constituency no 18, Belle Rose- Quatre Bornes, pending ballot on 17 December 2017 for the partial elections. Many are the candidates of the new generation with new parties that pledge to bring about a new political mindset, promising a shift in paradigm, and a whole new way of doing politics as opposed to the traditional parties which they call dinosaurs. New dreams seem to surface out as at each electoral consultation.
From Mouvement Premier Mai to Nouveau Front Politik through Resistans ek Alternativ, amongst others, there’s every reason to pay heed to what they have to propose to the people of the said constituency. For what they’ll be preaching will act, they say, as a stepping stone to the next general elections.
Some with pertinent messages of hope, trust, commitment and selfless dedication incarnate the emergence of a new breed of politicians who admit understanding people’s plight and having at heart the country’s destiny. No one has the right to doubt their sincerity, honesty and seriousness of purpose.
If indeed they mean what they are saying, the route is not as smooth as they’d tend to believe. Carving one’s way through thorny avenues minutely patched by ever-present cronies, boot-lickers and a number of pseudo-lobby-groups watching every step of people in power with a view to safeguarding their own self-centered interests, is no joke.
Can we safely say of Mauritius as a “nation” today? Is the notion of nationhood still valid? 50 years after independence we still seem to be struggling for an identity. Forget about the rhetorics. We still speak in terms of communities with which we identify ourselves. We still think in terms of Muslims, Hindus, and Christians first; then as Mauritians.
Socio-cultural and religious groups, and quite a number of those that seem to operate as pseudo groups, with little or no, if at all any mandate, surface out often with the blessings of those in position of power to make sure their communal identity is not tampered with. A glance at the social media can give an idea of the extent of their proliferation and whether they enjoy credibility. They quickly rush to the rescue of politicians in quest of a lifeline in times of their suspected defaults. “Pas touche nou So and So”. Do they need to be refreshed that those elected politicians are there to serve the nation without favours to any particular interest group? Nation building? Who cares?
1982 opened up new hopes for all, with the “ene sel lepep, ene sel nation” rhetoric, which has ever since remained only a slogan. Throughout their struggle for a better, freer and more consolidated, just and equitable Mauritius, hundreds of thousands of militants would chime the above rhetoric at all political fora, even outside. It had become almost a leitmotiv. People had high hopes. They’d be proud to break the barriers that stood on their way for a significant change; the change towards a true unified nation. But these hopes were short lived with numerous unexpected and unwarranted obstacles that crept in to display their ugly faces against nationalism. The whole momentum for creating one people, one nation was curbed by egotistic motives of some people who thought or were made to think the country has gone out of “their hands”.
I remember once in the early months of 1983. I had just returned from a tour of duty at Agalega. Having been absent during the change in government some months ago I had little idea of what really happened in the meantime to trigger a split in government that had just recorded an unprecedented overwhelming victory. I was walking down the Royal Road in Port Louis just on the footpath of the MCB building for some administrative matters when a woman in shabby clothing, completely stranger to me, crossed my way. She stopped and greeted me like she knew me for long. It was clear from the brief conversation, that she mistook me for one of her relatives: “Ki maniere beta? Ou bien non? Mama bien? Zot pa pe vine lacaz ditout. Ki sa do?” I engaged in the conversation just not to disappoint her. Without giving me time to respond she continued: “Ayo Beta ki mo pou dire. Nous pa ti attane pays pou sap dans nou lamain. Ene grand erreur nous ti faire nou fine donne 60 zero. Abe Bon Dieu grand nou fine regagne nous pays”.
I stood dumbfounded for a while. Rightly, because I didn’t expect such words from somebody I didn’t know the least. Getting to my senses again I realized the gist of her message. Blindfolded by the urge for a change in regime, she utterly regretted having subscribed to the “ene sel lepep, ene nation” rhetoric.
That encounter, for reasons still unknown to me, has stuck in my mind and is still vivid 34 years later. The words are still resonating in my mind. Someone from nowhere somehow crossed my way somewhere talking to me unsolicited about a political matter which I hadn’t yet given any thought in view of my fresh return from the remote island. Was it a word of caution or was she brainwashing me? Anyway, the communitarian instinct she displayed at that moment is still the talk of the day, 34 years from then. The mindset of people is complex and malleable. That’s what seems to be gnawing our vision of nationhood.
Yet there was at that time a new breed of politicians fresh from the universities, determined, with a new paradigm, and a new set of promises towards bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. It wasn’t long before they fell naively, and lamentably so to say, into the gargantuan trap and got devoured. They made the mistake of associating themselves with people not in phase with their declared aspiration and inspiration, that of shaping the country into a more solid democratic base, free from biased ethnic considerations.
The only major step they succeeded in taking was amending the constitution to make it mandatory to hold elections every five years. But the hunger for power of those determined to perpetuate the precedence of communalism over nationalism took a new turn, although in essence they preached unity. With practically no opposition in parliament in the wake of 60-0, opposition came from inside. It’s not intended here to dwell into the circumstances leading to the split of a homogeneous vision. Suffice it to say that whatever be the motives, the communal instinct had its share. The rest is history.
So a first dream for change was shattered, even usurped; and ensued in a false sense of maturity towards nationhood.
Today another breed of the younger generation is inspiring high hopes, again with the declared objective of a major overhaul of the political and governmental systems. Each of them has their own strategy of vision. It’s yet another core of promising opportunities for a new era after that of the 1980’s. Appeal to the younger generation is high on their agenda. Targeting a generation that appears to have lost its anchor and the notion of role model in the present system seems to constitute a winning strategy for some. The succession of political blunders, and quarrels in the sanctuary of parliament is not something that will go a long way to guarantee our citizenship identity. Every time there’s a blunder the ethnic and communitarian machinery is triggered. So strong and manipulative is it, that it practically clogs our grey matter; and the whole concept of nationhood crumbles.
Dreams are an integral part of our life. There are dreams that we can control and those that are far beyond our imagination. Dreams that we dream with closed eyes and those with open eyes. Dreaming while at sleep makes of us spectators to what we dream, without any control. In conscious dreaming we can have full control. These are the dreams that make of us actors in shaping our life and those of others depending on what we want our vision and mission to be. These are the dreams that bring about change.
People have a right to dream. Candidates for elections have the right to sell dreams. It’s not a sin. Provided, once elected they stand up to their dream manifesto, if they have one. In December 2014 the mob believed in the manifesto of the present day residual ruling alliance. They believed in yet other new dreams. It wasn’t long these proved to be a mirage with just the same sort of blunders, if not worse, that were severely criticized of the previous government.
The dream of the modern generation warrants that we pledge in unity for a better and more peaceful coexistence in Mauritius. The social fabric seems to be the least fragile. Any spark has the potential to spell havoc. Since childhood, at home, in schools and colleges we have been taught to live in harmony. But the approach of elections favours mushrooming of a number of stumbling blocks. Our communal instincts are revived; hatred and antagonism set in; and we spend the whole mandate healing wounds. Why can’t we stop this nonsense of “divide and rule”? Why can’t we annihilate the ugly moves of occult communal forces?
Why can’t we wake up one fine morning and chime the rhetoric of nationhood in the same coordinated voice? True, we have diverse ethnic, communal, and cultural heritage. But that should not be an impediment to the building of a united culture with one community, one country, and one nation. We are all humans of the same breed. We have the same blood flowing in our veins.
Our religious beliefs are sacred and need to be practiced (or celebrated as the case may be) in sacred sites, in our respective temples or homes or elsewhere in our daily life, with due respect to the faiths of others; but certainly not on political platforms. Is it really necessary to jump (at every occasion) on the political bandwagon to offer our religious platforms for propaganda that have nothing to do with sacredness of the celebrations? Should our religious and cultural belongings continue to be the appendage of politicians? It’s very fashionable these days. How long will we tolerate the hijacking of our beliefs?
Politicians and ruling parties and alliances often practice a doublespeak language, luring the electorate before the elections, and whipping them afterwards. Is it that difficult to speak a single straightforward unambiguous language?
Visionaries speak the language of unity, the language of truth, the language of sincerity, the language of honesty, the language of transparency, the language of peace, justice and equity, the language of meritocracy, the language of ethics and morality, the language of selfless dedication to the cause of patriotism, the language of one people, one nation. Not just as a slogan; but as a firm, sincere and honest mantra of beliefs from deep inside their heart.
We have the right to dream of a country free from nepotistic practices that favour the advancement of mediocrity for the benefit of a handful of cronies. That’s what we should strive to cherish for our country and leave as legacy to the coming generation.
Great people dream. Their dream is not like any dream. They dream, not for themselves. They dream for their fellow countrymen. And they take bold steps in a constructive, consistent and coherent manner with a view to bringing that dream to fruition. The resonance of the words of that woman, or dare I say “communal angel” (in view of the mysterious nature of the encounter), is so sharp even today that it becomes a real chore for the daring ones. Is there anyone out there to take up the challenge?
The focus is now on constituency no 18. Let’s hope that a great man (or woman, to be gender neutral) emerges from the ballots with another bunch of new hopes for their constituents, and a new dream for the whole country. If they succeed in realizing their dreams along the lines of an effective nationhood, posterity would, no doubt, remember them as the pioneers of true nation building against those busy with personal empire building.