Dear Editors and Heads of News,
LALIT has noticed that there has been an on-going campaign led mainly by Labour Party leader Dr. Navin Ramgoolam to blame his 2019 election defeat on “Bangladeshis”.
We know that, from the year 1991, this man Navin Ramgoolam is a bad loser. He was already shouting from the rooftops about “eleksyon marday” and “eleksyon kokin” all that time ago.
But from that to his more recently blaming the poorest and politically weakest section of the Mauritian working class, the migrant workers from Bangladesh, for his election failure is one enormous step.
This kind of naked xenophobia is not acceptable. It is potentially dangerous. And it is based on a pernicious lie.
Former US President Donald Trump seems to have learnt from Ramgoolam! There, in the USA, “Mexicans” are responsible for all the crimes including stealing Trump’s election in 2020. Here it was the “Bangladeshis” who were responsible for stealing the election from the Labour Party in 2019, one year earlier than Trump’s claims!
There, in the USA, there was Fox News to amplify and invent “proof” for a series of election challenges based on mass hysteria of some kind, and culminating in the attempted coup of 6 January 2021. There, in the USA, there is a good one-half of the press and media that every day denounces Donald Trump’s big lie. It is called a lie every time he makes the claim.
Here, in Mauritius, if Ramgoolam’s dangerous xenophobia were to stay within the limits of the crowds he and his allies draw to meetings, it would be bad enough. Luckily we do not have a Fox News here. But, the influence of this pernicious lie, this cruel lie, on Mauritian politics gets much worse, much more dangerous, if the press, radio and television simply amplify it, simply publish it without constantly criticizing it. In addition to reporting the xenophobic outbursts, some in the Press have been responsible for, like Fox News, participating in the promotion of these racist lies. This is all particularly dangerous when social media makes lies hard to correct.
And Dr. Ramgoolam now speaks in the name not only of Labour but also of the MMM and the PMSD. We in LALIT have publicly called on his allies to oppose his potentially dangerous line of so-called argumentation. They should come up instead with a proper program so as to oppose the MSM and win against it.
We now call on the editors of the newspapers and the heads of news of audio-visual stations to oppose this kind of xenophobic lie that has no further aim than to discredit the electoral process so as to mollify a bad loser. However, its effects can be extremely bad.
Labour and the MMM and the PMSD have all had multiple court challenges to the elections. One by one, they have been withdrawn, lost after publicly being exposed as fraudulent, or simply rejected.
In particular, no proof of any possible fraud involving people from Bangladesh – let alone numbers of any kind of fraud at all by anyone at all to alter election results — has ever been so much as presented to the public, let alone to the Courts. No Labour Party, MMM or PMSD agent has ever come forward to say they have seen or challenged even one person from Bangladesh for voting while not being on the Register, or for impersonation, or any other imaginable electoral fraud. When Navin Ramgoolam quotes someone who is no longer able to stand as a witness – we refer to murdered MSM agent Kistnen – we can hardly call this proof.
The Bangladeshi people being insulted are insulted, as a group, again and again as if they do not have feelings, as if they do not work here alongside us, pay taxes here as we do, buy vegetables in the market like we do, and generally form part of our society. It is sadistic to do this. It is a horrifying example of xenophobia, with all its built-in dangers. What kind of behavior are we tolerating from Dr. Ramgoolam when he speaks like this? In just one LALIT branch, members made a collective list of people they know who are Bangladeshi and married to a Mauritian, and have lived here for over two years, or are students from Bangladesh on courses longer than two years, thus all eligible to be on the Electoral Roll. We came up with five. This is normal human inclusiveness that we treat these people from Bangladesh as one of us.
Neither Ramgoolam nor any of the parties he now speaks for have ever, between them, managed to scrape up a single witness to a single ballot cast by even one person from Bangladesh who is not on the Electoral Register. Though this is not the point. The point is an electoral trickster or fraudster is an electoral trickster or fraudster. That is what is relevant in reports, and in opinions. We know there were three or four ballots clearly fraudulently replaced and sneaked out of their respective voting rooms, and then made to appear in the hedges of various politicians or religious men, and then make headlines. These are the only proven cases of “fraud” that we are aware of in the 2019 general elections.
Whenever it is pointed out to Ramgoolam that there has been no example of such a fraud by Bangladeshi people, then he changes tack and insinuates that maybe it was not so much tricked ballots or impersonation, but rather that there were loads of Bangladeshi “voters” actually on the Electoral Roll in 2019.
However, in Court the Electoral Commissioner Irfan Raman, to whom we grant the highest level of credibility on this, explained that there were 45 people, who are Bangladeshi, and who were perfectly legally and perfectly constitutionally on the Electoral Roll and thus entitled to vote, if they chose to. (This is in line with the right to vote being linked, for democratic reasons, to residence, and the special status given in the Constitution to Commonwealth citizens. We add that 67 British citizens had the same right to vote, but this has not caused any xenophobic comments from anyone. This betrays the racism or communalism no doubt involved in the false accusations against Bangladeshis. The Bangladeshi electors (45 out of 838) constitute less than 5% of the voters who are not Mauritian citizens. In all, 838 citizens of all the countries in the Commonwealth were eligible to vote in all 21 constituencies combined. They come from Brunei, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Singapore, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Zambia, Australia, Bangladesh, Great Britain, Canada, India, Malaysia, Mozambique, Pakistan, South Africa, Seychelles, Sri Lanka. And they live here. The laws on democracy apply. Therefore it is normal. It is also normal that, given the number of people literally lured into the country by government policy and who are resident here, will rise. In fact, it has risen. On 22 August the Electoral Commissioner replied to Navin Ramgoolam’s most recent outburst at the Vacoas meeting of the PT-MMM-PMSD by publishing the numbers for the 2023 electoral roll, which confirms a doubling of the figures over the four years. It is worth noting that once again Ramgoolam had an outburst of the same xenophobia in this context.
The point is that Ramgoolam’s alliance lost the 2019 election by a good deal more than this maximum of 45 potential votes spread over 21 constituencies. So, it is pure garbage that Ramgoolam is peddling to a gullible, and somewhat sadistic, public he believes he holds in his hands when he blames Bangladeshis for electoral fraud.
In fact, Dr. Navin Ramgoolam lost to the lowest of the three winners in Constituency Number 10 by 638 votes. If the totality of the Bangladeshi eligible voters chose to go and vote and were all, by chance, registered in Number 10, Ramgoolam, remember, lost there by 14 times that number! It would also mean all Ramgoolam’s electoral agents were totally useless.
Only mass hysteria can let leaders like Navin Ramgoolam get away with this kind of dangerous scapegoating, this kind of pernicious witch hunting.
And the oil stain spreads. Not only are there false allegations about election fraud by Bangladeshis, but now people get in a tizz because Bangladeshis go to a political meeting. So what? It is probably a lie, too, but if true, so what? What is this? And their faces are put up on social media pages? Curiously, when Mauritians came forward, and said, “That photo is me, I am Mauritian,” this soon just gets swept under the carpet and two weeks later, you can see the same dangerous photo pop up again on someone’s social media page. What are these photos of Bangladeshi people as if they are fugitive slaves, runaway indentured labourers? And indeed, even that, a poster showing “runaway” workers, was indeed pasted up in Curepipe last year at a building site. You see what we mean about this talk being dangerous.
Workers from abroad, like Mauritians working in Canada or the Gulf states, in France or the UK, are not barred from attending political meetings while they are residing there. It would be simply unthinkable. It would immediately, and rightly, be denounced as “fascist”, not just xenophobic. Mauritians are, like other Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK, entitled to vote in UK general elections. So, could everyone please step back, take a breath and put into question this whole xenophobic narrative.
Instead, Ramgoolam is already threatening the following: “If I win the next elections, fine. If I lose, I will blame the Bangladeshis again.” And we all remain silent? All those experienced Labour Party cadres just follow like sheep? All the leadership cadres of the MMM and PMSD, two experienced parties, who know how elections work, just go along with this kind of talk?
This open letter is to call on the Press to do two things: refuse to spread the xenophobic electoral lies, or if they quote Ramgoolam or his allies spreading them, to quote them in order to denounce them for it.
The Press stepped up in the past, if belatedly. We congratulate the quasi-totality of the Press for this courage in the past. And we would welcome a declaration today against xenophobia similar to the one made against communalism in the press in 1968. Let us explain:
Six weeks after Mauritian Independence Day in 1968, during the time of the “race wars”, on precisely 24 April 1968, twelve chief editors of Mauritian newspapers and media signed a joint declaration, which we would like to reprint here today:
“Declaration Commune de Redacteurs en Chef
“En rapportant un fait, une nouvelle ou une anecdote, il arrive trop souvent et dans tous les secteurs de l’information (de la conversation privée à la presse écrite ou parlée) que la communauté des personnes en cause dans le récit soit citée en manière de précision.
“Il est bien évident que dans la plupart des cas cette précision n’apporte aucun élément additionel d’information et qu’elle est la conséquence d’une habitude de pensée fortement contaminée par le ‘communalisme’.
“Considérant que les récents et pénibles évènements qui se sont déroulés dans notre pays mettent particulièrement en relief les dangers de cette habitude.
“Estimant d’autre part que depuis un mois à peine la population de ce pays peut enfin se réclamer d’une nationalité unique.
“Nous avons résolu, dans l’exercise quotidien de notre profession, d’éviter l’emploi d’etiquettes communales dans toute la mesure du possible. Nous invitons les autorités et leurs porte-parole ainsi que nos compatriotes en géneral à repousser comme nous un usage qui est au détriment de l’evolution de la personalité mauricienne.”
ADVANCE – Marcel Cabon
LE CERNEEN – Hervé de Sornay, Reynald Olivier.
LE CITOYEN – C. Banharally
CONGRESS – B. Gowrisunkur
L’EXPRESS – Philippe Forget
L’ORAGE – M. Céleste
STAR – R. Boolaky
BLITZ – H. Edoo
LE DIMANCHE – Raymond Nauvel
MAURITIUS TIMES – Bickramsingh Ramlallah
La Vie Catholique – France Boyer de la Giroday
MBC/TV – Percy McGaw”
So, the Press then stood up, at the time of the “bagar rasyal”, just one month after Independence, took their responsibility and publicly resolved to stop the infernal process of unnecessary classification and categorization. We call for this to be renewed against both communalism, and as we have argued in this article, against xenophobia. Just as in the so-called “bagar rasyal”, the conflict which started between one set of “two communities”, ended up between a different “set of two communities”, so today xenophobia, bad in itself, turns quickly into communalism. If, that is, there are not already communalist undercurrents in the present Labour Party run campaign.
Just as the press stood up last time, today the press can take a stand: a person who impersonates another or votes under a false name is guilty of that. It is not relevant that they are one community or even one nationality. To use this, is to promote communalism and xenophobia.
We call for the Press to take note, meet together, and make a similar undertaking. This is our appeal to you.
Rajni Lallah, for LALIT.
22 August, 2023.