What’s wrong with the Labour Party?

What’s wrong with the Labour Party?

For the first time in its history, the Labour Party has been defeated at two consecutive general elections but more importantly its leader, once charismatic and all pervading, not returned on both occasions. The electorate failed to give him initial legitimacy which is sine qua non for political durability. There should obviously be something rotten in the Garden of Eden. Like in 2014, it seems there will not be a deep introspection into this defeat as well. It’s time to turn up some stunning truths and read the tea leaves of the political landscape. Let me state for the record that I owe Navin Ramgoolam a lot for having favoured me with a ticket at two general elections and also appointed me as Attorney General. But unfortunately, I no longer recognize the person I knew and hero worshiped for several years. Ramgoolam had all the attributes to remain Prime Minister for a very long time but he eventually became his own enemy.

After the 2014 defeat, I tried a number of times, in vain, to reason the party as to the need for discipline,  structures functioning properly and the need to present ourselves as a credible alternative. The importance of internal changes in the party is that they are a precondition for the party’s ability to change the country. It is said that one who sweats more in training bleeds less in war.  I was taken lightly, perhaps even ridiculed and told that in 2014 l’alliance lepep won by default and in 2019 the Labour Party will, in turn, win by default. I was even denied a ticket in 2019 because I dared to tell Ramgoolam earlier this year that he can stand as candidate, remain leader of the party and of an eventual alliance but should not present himself as the prime ministerial candidate. Had he agreed, the election results would have been different today.  The writing has been on the wall since a longtime but some people in the Labour Party interpreted it in the way that suited them. Mahatma Gandhi once said: Blindness in a leader is unpardonable.

After Labour Party’s defeat in 2000, Ramgoolam rightly agreed to rebuild the party. A new constitution was adopted and structures such as Constituency Labour Party, local committees around each polling station, Young Labour, Women’s League, National Policy Forum and Policy Commissions were set up. The party became full of activities and became a party of ideas. As per the constitution the polit-bureau met every fortnight, the central executive committee and each constituency labour party on a monthly basis. From 2000 to 2005, the party functioned perfectly well resulting in a resounding victory in 2005 against the MSM/MMM alliance.

Once in power, the above were completely neglected and ignored to such an extent that successive secretary generals were not even favoured with a copy of the party’s constitution for implementation. I am among the very few having a copy of same as I authored the party’s new constitution in 2001 except for clause 22 which was done by Kailash Purryag and who, instead, presented same at the Labour Party Conference. By 2010, the party was already disorganized but was somewhat rescued by the MSM. By 2014, the party had stopped functioning completely with meetings of the polit-bureau and central executive committee held at the whims and caprices of the leader who incidentally stopped believing in the Constituency Labour Party. The MMM was seen as the savior but unfortunately things did not work the way envisaged. From 2014 to 2019, the party lingered into a comatose state. Even the Annual Party Conference was not held . The recent annual party conference was convened and held contrary to the constitution and standing orders of the party.

The party headquarters is badly organized to say the least. The party has been in power for 15 years but could not build a new headquarters. Donations were undoubtedly received in 1991, 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010. I wonder where the money has gone. The ruins of the former headquarters unfortunately reflect the state of the party. If the leader has really used money belonging to the Mauritius Labour Party for his personal use, this should be strongly condemned and sanctioned. I do hope if the Rs 220 million, seized by the police from his coffers, is recovered, this will be used to erect a new building for the party, purchase one office in each constituency of the island and the rest put in the bank, its interest used for the monthly expenses. A public figure has no private life. Habit is second nature.

In 2015, Rashid Beebeejaun resigned as Deputy Leader of the party and contrary to clause 18, no one was appointed to replace him. I still wonder why Shakeel Mohamed was not appointed despite being the leader of the Labour Party Parliamentary Group from 2014 to 2019. Nita Deerpalsing resigned as chairperson of the Young Labour around the same time and was replaced by Rajesh Jeetah. Can you imagine a person of 60 years of age approximately and touching old age pension leading the youth wing of the party? This ran clearly contrary to clause 17 which stipulates that Young Labour shall be open to all persons between the ages of 15 and 35. Likewise for the Women’s League, when Sheila Bappoo resigned as chairperson, no one was designated to replace her.

It is sad to say but Ramgoolam turned from a democratic leader, a gentleman in politics to an arrogant autocrat and a paranoid. Had it been for Ramgoolam only, Arvin Boolell and Shakeel Mohamed would surely have already been sacked from the party. With time,the party became centered around one person only, thus suffocating the party. This reminds me of William Cowper who said “ I am monarch of all I survey, my right there is none to dispute”. Ministers, civil servants, party officials would be sworn at, humiliated and denigrated. In 2014 during the campaign, I recall my late father telling Ramgoolam that the situation on the ground was getting out of hand and he arrogantly replied whether my father wanted to substitute himself for the leader of the Labour Party! Over the years, to many, it would seem easier to meet the queen of the United Kingdom than to get an appointment with Ramgoolam. Following the 2014 election debacle and incidents that unfolded which raised a lot of sympathy in his favour, it was expected that he would again become the leader of the 1990s and early 2000. Unfortunately, this did not and will not happen. Now, the country has to acknowledge that Navin Ramgolam will not change.

After 2014, Ramgoolam surrounded himself with a group of yes man and yes women, being at his beck and call chanting “ to meme nou le roi, to meme nou raja”. Most of them were jobless after the 2014 debacle and were clinging to him with the only hope to get a ticket, be elected and become minister. They were his worst enemies. Furthermore Ramgoolam gave a lot of importance to the opinion of few persons outside the party and seemingly they would have complete control over him often rendering useless discussions and even decisions taken at the level of the party. When the Labour Party headquarters shrunk, the power centre of the Labour Party did not move from Guy Rozemont Square to Les Salines but rather to Le Bout du Monde in Ebene where few arm chair politicians gradually took full control over the party by pulling the strings from the shadows.

The decision to designate seven or eight persons to work in each constituency was shooting ourselves in the foot. I have yet to understand the logic behind such a decision which promoted back stabbing and prospective candidates campaigning against one another instead of concentrating on our opponents. Many candidates at the 2019 elections were not even qualified to stand as clause 20 stipulated that to be eligible to stand, one has to be a member of the party for at least two years. Many of the candidates were happy to bathe in tubs filled with another persons’ sweat.

People in the party have to stand up and drastic measures need to be taken. To the Boolells and Bachoos, I will simply remind what Voltaire said: Tu dors et Rome est dans les feux. There was a time, when Ramgoolam was bigger than the party, today the party is bigger than him.. The party should realize that it can survive and win without Ramgoolam. We should recognize that he did a lot for the party but time has now come to move on. It is unfortunate but the sands of time slow for no man. In 1997 when John Major lost the general election he uttered the following words which should resonate within the Labour Party: When the curtain falls, it’s time to leave the stage. The party should forthwith change leadership and all office bearers, transform itself and present itself as a credible alternative to the present government, otherwise it runs the risk to fall into political oblivion. The Labour Party needs fresh air, fresh and vital ideas and healthy co-operation. The party should see through an all new set of lenses. Transformation isn’t an easy plot. Yet the life of the caterpillar must end for the glory of the butterfly to shine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.