Touria Prayag's Blog

l’Express Weekly, 24 September 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 24, 2010

Editorial   Click here to read l’Express Weekly

Paving the way

The minister of Finance has not won the war
yet. The union leaders he met with on Tuesday
remain cautious: “the proof of the pudding is
in the eating,” as Rashid Imrith states in the
interview given to l’express Weekly today. However, the
new minister has secured many battles and has managed
to wriggle his way out of trouble, fending off lobbies.
The fi rst lobby which raised its head was that of exporters
asking for the devaluation of the rupee. Advancing the justifi cation
of the weakening of the euro, they started painting a picture
of doom and gloom. The hotels and the sugar estates offered
a pas de deux (or trois) to the textile operators, dancing to the
same tune. Of course, everyone knows that devaluation is not the
remedy. Unless there are serious fundamental macroeconomic
imbalances which dictate devaluation as a last desperate resort, it
is not opted for as countries do not gain, in the long run, by way
of devaluation of currencies. Rupee devaluation is tantamount
to a transfer of wealth from the larger community of defenceless
savers, wage earners, pensioners and taxpayers, to a handful of
business owners. It is effectively an insidiously and perniciously
impoverishing tax on the public at large. The permanent benefi ts
of currency devaluation accrue only to a handful of exporters
to the detriment of the masses. Even then, the expected gain is
neutralised by a reduction in the prices of export goods and/or
by the rise in prices of inputs used in such goods.
It is also interesting to note that when the rupee was, for years,
very low and we felt like paupers every time we left the country,
we did not hear a whimper from the exporters! You will have also
noticed that the importers have been crouching in their funk holes
for a while. Lying low, their euphoria must be tremendous but it did
not trickle down to the consumers. The prices have not gone down
one little bit as a result of our supposedly high currency, just the
opposite, and nobody is asking them for an explanation. Not even
the associations which are paid to defend the consumers!
Of course, Pravind Jugnauth does not say this to the lobbies.
He does not tell them that devaluation, in fact, causes infl ation
to surge beyond control and chokes productivity growth. He
doesn’t need to. With unexpected tact, he sends them to the governor
of the Bank of Mauritius, who, he claims, works independently
of him. Touché! They move away and now the governor of
the Bank has to deal with this disgruntled lot next week.
Another battle has been won with the union leaders in the
pre-budgetary discussions. They handed in their shopping list
with the usual no-half-measure requests to the minister who
made no concrete promises other than the fact that their proposals
“will be the object of an analysis”. However, he sent the
normally sulky unions into ecstasy and they came out of his offi ce
charmed. They were unanimous: they met a different Pravind
Jugnauth. One who listens and keeps his cool. One who smiles
through adversity. One who shares a cup of tea with them. In
other words, they met another Navin Ramgoolam!
Navin Ramgoolam’s popularity is based primarily on such aspects
as body language, the right word, the calm demeanour, the
disarming smile and the shared cup of tea which make everyone
feel they are so special. The kid is learning fast and paving the way!


l’Express Weekly, 17 September 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 17, 2010

Editorial             Click here to read l’Express Weekly

Burning Issues

Some nonentity from a tiny obscure church in the middle of
nowhere rises to stardom overnight by threatening to burn
the Quran. As the media, hanging on to his every word,
beamed images of him on all its channels, the world held
its collective breath and prayed for some sanity to return to our lives.
Basking in the media attention he had always been dreaming
of, Pastor Whatshisname played on as the world watched helplessly.
First, he suspended the action to enjoy more media attention and
then, just as the cameras started to move away from him, he tried to
make news again by announcing his cancellation of the whole plan.
And the international media unwittingly magnifi ed the story, making
Whatshisname what he had always wanted to be: news. Big news.
In the indescribable fear which gripped America, and in the
middle of the publicity around the event and the consequences that
ensued, the fi nger started pointing towards the media: Should it have
covered Pastor Whatshisname? How much harm did this over-publicized
event cause in a country whose president just over a year ago
promised a “new beginning” in the relationship between America and
the Muslim world?
In a mea culpa editorial, Ravi Somaiya, a Newsweek editor, admits
that the media had, in fact, become the pastor’s “fulcrum and
lever”. He even acknowledges that “Reporters and editors (myself
included) did lay the groundwork for him by tacitly promoting the
current wave of Islamophobia seething across America” and that they
may have even “helped promote Terry Jones and his Christian fundamentalists
as exemplars of faith in America.”
But in an era where information is at everyone’s fi ngertips, do
editors really have a choice? As it happens, the coverage of such an
event, despicable though it may be, also created an opportunity to
show the tolerant side of an America pleading against extremism.
The debate is as pertinent in our local context, in the light of
the other burning issue of l’express: without wanting to excuse some
occasional excesses or going against the sound argument that a story
which carries a risk to life or security should be dropped, should editors
really deny their readers the opportunity of a good debate? We did
perhaps run the risk of tacitly promoting some ancient objectionable
and obsolete issues which are now restricted to some backward-looking
sitting rooms, but didn’t we at the same time create a platform for
a healthy debate which showed precisely how obsolete the system is
in an era where the son of a barber is no longer bound to be a barber?
Didn’t we challenge mentalities by pushing people to rationalize their
thoughts and perceptions? If we did, raising the issue was worth it.
Well, Pastor Whatshisname decided that he had had enough publicity
and that he was not interested in burning copies of the Quran
any more. But if he had, there is no doubt that the number of cameramen
and reporters would have outnumbered the pastor’s followers.
And I doubt that anyone would have pinned a degrading label on the
press. The reason is very simple: fi rst, as Somayia concludes, we are
“in a world where a cabal of a half-dozen editors no longer controls
what is news.” Citizens from all walks of life infl uence news and views.
Secondly, thrashing out issues openly creates a healthy forum for
presenting different views.
Does creating opportunities for debate warrant the label the
“gutter press”? I doubt it. Is anyone likely to extend an apology for
the refl ection of the semi-intellectual reeking of the sewers which the
mirror has been sending us since? I doubt that even more.

l’Express Weekly 10 September,2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 14, 2010

Editorial    Click here to read l’Express Weekly

The God Dividend

The words were clear and must have been spoken with such innocence we nearly missed them. Yet, they are pearls to keep in our annals to transmit to our children and grandchildren. At that same meeting Mr. Choonee perhaps wishes he had never set foot in, the following words allegedly fl owed out of his mouth effortlessly and hit an audience which was expecting to hear nothing less, “Listen, do you know of many governments in the world who would pay you to pray to God? Your God. Our God. If we have to pray, government gives us subsidies to do so. So we can pray.” And there I was, stupid me, thinking that religion was about fi nding comfort in the grace and guidance of a loving God; about private, personal and intimate prayer which is supposed to lift you up as a person; about the divine sort of love which results in the giving of oneself even if it draws taunts rather than applause. Or perhaps about the recognition that you have a relationship with God that needs to be continuously nurtured by giving Him a share in your life not only through prayer but also through good deeds. Stupid indeed! Religion is about the government paying you to perform a set of rituals which you may or may not understand yourself and to walk around pretending you are so self-righteous that you can afford to dictate the social policies of the whole country. And this type of ritual practice is exalted as something positive while any belief in a set of values which truly improve society is saddled with everything negative. This is a totally selfserving way of approaching Religion. While in other countries religious men have to rattle their buckets in the streets to raise funds for their organizations and still live on a shoestring budget, in our paradise, we pride ourselves on disbursing a staggering Rs. 74m every year on religious subsidies to (how right you are Mr. Choonee!) pay people to pray to a God they supposedly vehemently believe in! And we have become so resigned to the inevitability of this money coming out of our pockets to subsidize the lucky minority praying for us in the same way as we resign ourselves to all the other things we cannot do anything about. Of course, nobody is denying any citizen the right to practice the religion they choose if they choose. And churches as well as religious organizations can continue to have their belief systems and pray to their hearts’ content. What they should not have is taxpayers’ money –that money we’ve worked so hard for; that money which is being squandered by a few lucky ones who, in the name of religion, get on the public payroll to practise these overpriced rituals which are carried out to supposedly save our souls. There comes a point when society should take stock of what all the hand-outs it dishes out at every budget bring back in return. If we are honest with ourselves, we will fi nd that religious subsidies bring very little other than pushing religion from the private to the public realm where it was never intended to be. But it seems that this whole issue has gone into overdrive and that religious lobbies have gained an impenetrable cloak against criticism. I doubt that God would approve of this lucrative aspect of religion but Mr. Choonee should be thanked for expressing so beautifully and candidly what others fi nd all sorts of metaphors to hide. And, for the record, they come from ALL religions!

L’express Weekly, 3 September 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 3, 2010

Click here to read L’express Weekly

So What?

The headlines are catchy, pompous and unambiguous: “The World’s Best Countries: a Newsweek study … ranks the globe’s top nations.” Nowhere in the whole study is there any mention that only 100 countries were surveyed. Nowhere is there talk of anything but a classifi cation of all the countries of the globe. The fact that Mauritius had the dubious honour of not being named among the world’s best 100 countries triggered much anger, emotion, disappointment and disbelief. How can we possibly be ranked behind countries like Nigeria, India and Madagascar? Who would want to go and live there? Behind Azerbaijan? Who even knows where that is? A question by yahoo regarding the best and worst countries in the world received the following answer: “Best – Australia: good weather, great sights, high standard of living, strong economy, not overcrowded, faraway from the trouble spots, laid back locals. Worst – anywhere but Australia.” If you substituted “Mauritius” for “Australia”, no one would see any incongruity. But Newsweek’s study was not based on impressions; fi ve distinct aspects of national well-being were considered: education, health, quality of life, economic competitiveness and political environment. Whether we were left out of the list because we did not make the grade or because we are too small and, not being members of the EU, not “important” enough is not clear. Nor is it signifi cant. What is more important is why we seem so convinced that our rightful place is there. Yes, we have beautiful sunshine which we soak up through our windscreens as we sit in traffi c for the best part of the day, beaches which the owners of bungalows and tourists enjoy, a political environment so stable that we can predict the results of the next general elections and an economy where a few players, raking in profi ts by the bucketful, are constantly campaigning for currency devaluation. We have free quality schooling for the rich and powerful who falsify their addresses and free hospitals providing care particularly for non-communicable diseases where we hold some world records! Our eating habits are terrible, alcohol is ravaging hundreds of homes and as far as drug use is concerned, we compete with Iran for another world record! We live in a secular state where religious lobbies dictate most of our social policies and women are dragged to court for being too poor to have an abortion done in a clinic. Patriarchy is rife and, if this is not enough to push us down the list, we have Mr. Choonee as minister of Arts and Culture! But so what? As it happens, the survey reveals that cold, dark and depressing nations seem to top the rankings. The Nordics always dominate such lists. An American analyst offers the following humourous explanation for the link between freezing temperatures and a high ranking: “A heated classroom is better than being outside, hence education is important; moving briskly is good preventive medicine, thus health is robust; quality of life improves immensely when one must get as close to one’s beloved as possible to fend off the chill; the political environment is better when it’s too cold to fi ght in the streets.” Let’s face it: we are a nation fraught with prejudice, perpetually gazing at our navels and our national sport (outside gambling) is measuring ourselves agaisnt others. This study, for whatever it is worth, is a good lesson in humility. We should refl ect on it and retain a sense of humour. After all, this is still the country where we want our children to grow up. Which Newsweek expert can take that away from us?