Descendants of Dynasties
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Descendants of Dynasties
A while back, a descendant of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty was found guilty by a local court in Surat, Gujarat, of making defamatory comments against “Modi”, the surname of the Indian prime minister. “Why do all the thieves have the name Modi? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi,” exclaimed Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress Party, on April 13, 2019. Local press added context: “Nirav Modi is a diamond tycoon on the run, Lalit Modi is a former sports executive banned for life by the Cricket Council of the Great Peninsula.” Narendra Modi has been in power since 2014, just like the surname Jugnauth. The complaint against Rahul Gandhi was filed by... Purnesh Modi (who is not related to Narendra Modi).
Rahul Gandhi, 52, great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, commented on the verdict (which he will appeal) in a simple tweet: “My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means to realize it...” The Congress has been banned from demonstrating against inflation and unemployment and suffers from acts of intimidation by government investigative agencies. Any resemblance to Mauritius is purely coincidental.
In Mauritius, when we talk about ‘tickets’, we reshuffle those at the bottom, but at the helm of the political system, the same surnames revolve and pull the strings. If meritocracy is not programmed in our genes, it is confirmed in action over time, in the transmission of values. This must be placed in the context of the brief history of the country’s political dynasties, distinguishing between the two or three dynasties we know.
Facing Mauritian realpolitik, the power struggles to control this or that fringe of the electorate or this or that district of a constituency are, in fact, only cheap entertainment. Media battles are facade games, second knives by people passionate about politics but practicing it at a level much lower than that of the golden surnames.
Qualitatively and quantitatively, Mauritian political dynasties are dissimilar. In the Jugnauth family (including in-laws of Pravind and excluding Uncle Ashock), the dynasty aims to consolidate power and the money that comes with it.
With the Ramgoolams, it’s different. SSR didn’t want his son to go into politics, telling him he’d be better off pushing carts in a supermarket. Years later, Paul Bérenger went to see SSR’s son on Desforges street to convince him to enter politics, take over the leadership of PTr, and ally with the MMM, presenting him as a prime ministerial candidate. Navin Ramgoolam declined, claiming no interest in politics.
Later, SAJ shared a plane to London with Ramgoolam, who had applied to study law at the London School of Economics. SAJ tried to persuade him to join the MSM, promising the deputy prime minister position, then prime minister in three years. Ramgoolam declined, explaining his focus on law. SAJ questioned the need for law study when Ramgoolam was already a doctor, but he declined.
In 1990, SAJ sought to change Mauritius’ status to a Republic and abolish the right to appeal to the Privy Council. Ramgoolam opposed this and made a statement from London to l’express. Back in Mauritius, he asked Sir Satcam and Sir Gaëtan not to vote for the bill; they refused. SAJ threatened jail if Ramgoolam opposed the bill. Ramgoolam challenged him, starting a campaign against the bill and political parties. As people rallied around NR, things changed. Cardinal Margéot invited him to lunch and the BBC sought his bill opposition reasoning.
“Cardinal Margéot invited me to lunch with him at the diocese, and the BBC wanted to know why I was opposing the bill. Margéot made a comment in Le Mauricien that ‘Ramgoolam may be right; we should consult the people through an election.’ I took a copy of the newspaper and drove to see SGD in Floréal. SGD agreed with me that it would be fatal for Mauritius to abolish the Privy Council, but he didn’t want to oppose it because he had campaigned against Independence and was now afraid he would be seen as far-right, opposing all constitutional change. When I showed him Cardinal Margéot’s statement, he agreed to oppose the bill. That’s the story of my beginning in politics...” Ramgoolam confided to l’express.
Paul Bérenger, with no politician father, was declared by Sir Gaëtan Duval in 1995 as his political heir, surprising Bérenger and activists. Bérenger then offered a ticket to his daughter and two others to relatives by marriage. Like the Jugnauths, meritocracy may not be the primary driver of these surname choices, but rather political interests and the pleasure of influencing and directing.
In addition to political heritage, the children of political party owners must manage significant money and secret funds. These funds, of which we see only a part in rare financial reports, remain largely hidden due to the absence of a law on political party financing. Political financing is an essential indicator of good governance, with potential legislation remaining in the hands of those most inconvenienced by it...
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