Touria Prayag's Blog

l’express Weekly 30th March 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 30, 2012

Less nest feathering, more democracy

The president of the republic has apparently decided to walk out of
the State House and step back into the political arena. Resigning
is the honourable thing to do after the incongruous situation involving
his various brushes with the government of the very state he
has been heading. Going back to the political arena is his own decision.
However, it is perhaps in order to look away from this whole tragi-comic
movie and question the essence of our democracy. What is happening in
front of our very eyes is a complete hijacking of the democratic process. In
this merry-go-round of political executive power, images from the Orwellian
Animal Farm keep coming back to us with ever more force and vigour. And,
as in Animal Farm, we are mere spectators. We theoretically have the power
to choose our leaders. In reality, though, we are watching the same players
blowing out the candles and sharing out the cake, shamelessly deciding who
should savour the cream and who is entitled to the cherry. Greed and thirst
for power have been the determining factors. The interests of the country
have been a very poor packaging which attracts no one any more. When push
hits shove, legality takes over.
The constitution in itself does not prevent a past president from engaging
in politics. Nor does it prevent a prime minister from being tossed back at
us again and again. And perhaps the biggest problem of our political class is
that it has too many lawyers. We thus concentrate too much on the law and
lose sight of ethics, decorum and good practice.
Our worry with this whole game of musical chairs is that our youth are
not given the opportunity to be active players in the political game. Nor is the
electorate in general. Think about it: how much more say do we have in our
republic than they have in traditional monarchies?
Navin Ramgoolam has a golden opportunity to put an end to this perversion
of democracy through proper reforms which would deepen our democratic
process. These should not be based on a different form of cake sharing
between president and prime minister. We are really not interested in that. A
code of ethics to be followed at all times by everyone should be drawn up.
Below, for what they are worth, are some of the elements it should include:
● Limiting the mandate of ministers including prime ministers to an agreed
and fi xed number.
● Putting an end to the very unhealthy practice of pre-election alliances, the
worst perversion of democracy ever.
● Reserving the highest position of the state for people who have not been
involved in politics and who are able to remain above party politics.
● Not allowing father/brother/son to be in the political game at the
same time.
● Putting an end to the disgraceful culture of turncoats which involves unethical
bargaining and frustration. Those who cross the fl oor should go back
to the electorate.
What we are suggesting, in other words, is introducing a real democracy
where the people have a say and the youth are given the opportunity to drive
this country forward. What we have now looks more like feathering one’s nest
and that of one’s children.
This leads to the question everyone must be asking: would an MMMMSM
alliance win over Labour-PMSD? Our answer is: who cares? In the
current system, neither is good news for the country. The messenger is ready
to be shot!

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Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 24, 2012

l’express Weekly 23 March 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 23, 2012

The margoz republic

If ever there were a prize for the best performance of how to turn a
crisis into a disaster, then the two nominees would defi nitely be the
attorney general and the president of the republic. And, judging from
the comments in the room that fateful Wednesday, the jury is still out
about who deserves it most.

The opening of the conference on ‘The media: where do we draw the
line?’ at the Intercontinental Hotel was a moment of great embarrassment
for the country. First, the attorney general walks in later than the president
in breach of all required protocol. He then addresses everyone in the room
except the one he should have addressed fi rst: the president of the republic.
After enumerating all the excesses of the Jugnauth government as far as
stymying media freedom was concerned, he dashes out of the room before
the latter even begins to deliver his speech!

The president of the republic, on the other hand, goes into a prepared
diatribe against the government – his government since he is a still sitting
president – and openly criticizes its media policy in very virulent terms:
“The MBC has become an instrument of political propaganda in the
hands of and under the control of the government,” he said, to an audience
of stupefi ed international lawyers and media professionals.
The question here is not about opinions and who has the right to
hold them. We are not saying that the president is wrong to hold the
same opinions everyone else arguably holds. The MBC has always taken
its marching orders from government house. SAJ will perhaps recall
his humorous utterance when faced with the criticism that his speech
was being aired on all the channels available at the same time: “Pa mo fot
sa. Mo innocent ladan!” (It is not my fault. I am an innocent bystander).

The question is not about Yatin Varma not being allowed to think that a
president who deserves decorum should begin by showing some. We
all know that the president has already gone into the political arena and
that whether he is waiting for his new luxury car, his birthday or some
other event of similar ‘national’ interest before he leaves, his days in
the State House are numbered. The issue really is that, irrespective of
what we think about the person, we owe respect to the position he holds
and so does he. And, an international forum is certainly not meant for
settling scores between those holding the highest offi ces in the state.

The image of the banana republic thus portrayed was immediately picked
up by the main speaker, Geoffrey Robertson, who, tongue-in-cheek, referred
to the Newspaper and Periodicals Act enacted in 1984, “by the then prime
minister, now president and who, I hear, may become prime minister again!”
A banana republic is too sweet a term for us. Perhaps we should call
ourselves, “The margoz republic”. And for those who still have enough
appetite for another helping of margoz, just look at our representatives.
The race for recruiting MPs is full swing and everyone is at it. One might
perhaps wonder whether our political parties have not turned into sects!
The more you recruit, the higher you climb. Between those courting
and those enjoying the courtship, one MP sums up the situation for us:
“ We flirt around but we won’t sleep with anyone else!” Anyone for some
more margoz?


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Interview in l’express Weekly 16 March 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 17, 2012

Today, we open our pages to a guest of a different kind: a mystic who is unlike any other. He wears a long beard and a “ kurta- shaul” but speaks more like Karl Marx. Strongly rooted in worldly and pragmatic matters, Sadhguru J. Vasudev has addressed prominent global forums like the United Nations Millenium Peace Summit and the World Economic Forum on issues as diverse as socioeconomic development and leadership. He landed on our island on Wednesday, at the invitation of Ex- Minister of education Armoogun Parsuramen. We took the opportunity to snatch away a few minutes of his busy schedule.

The word “ Sadhguru” means true teacher. And, if the packed hall of guests who had left everything behind to come and listen to him at the Indira Ghandi Centre for Indian Culture on Wednesday evening is anything to go by, his teachings must be among the best brands on the supermarket shelves. And the teachings are not religious. Far from it. “ I am never in religion,” he says with a laugh.

“ What we are offering is a certain science or technology of wellbeing.

When I say technology of well- being, there are technologies today to create external wellbeing,” he adds. And he insists that he is not teaching or preaching. “ I am telling people about a technology that every human being can apply.

I am insisting on that because too many preachings and teachings have already happened,” he says.

He becomes even more pragmatic: “ A technology means that you don’t necessarily have to believe in it; just use it. You see this girl with the camera,” he says pointing to our photographer, “ she merely learned to use the camera. If she believed in it, she would not get a good picture.

It’s only because she knows how to use it that she manages to get a good picture.” He adds, “ She doesn’t believe in Nikon, but she knows from experience that it works well and she’s learnt to use it.

It’s the same principle and that’s the whole thing, moving from belief to knowing. Bringing life to a simple understanding: what you know and what you do not know. When you have the ‘ I do not know’, the possibility of knowing increases, but if you eliminate the ‘ I do not know’ then the possibilities of knowing are destroyed. That’s what belief does.

That’s why I distance myself from religious work. Religion implies belief as opposed to knowledge,” he clarifies.

We thought we had misunderstood so we put the question squarely: “ So you wouldn’t classify yourself as a religious man?” The answer was immediate: “ No I do not. I don’t belong to any religion.” We push our luck a bit further: “ Do you see it as a handicap or a source of comfort?” He looks around him, smiles cunningly and replies: “ Do you want me to live for some time?” Yes I do. “ Your question does not suggest that,” was his reply. A good enough answer! He qualifi es it: “ I don’t say that religion is a wholly bad thing,”- the word ‘ wholly’ is very important here – “ but the way it’s conducted is dividing the world in a way that’s diffi cult to fi x again. Instead of bringing humanity together, we are dividing it every which way. All I’m saying is that there was a time when human intellect was undeveloped to the extent that there were only a few people capable of understanding the world. But today there is a large mass of people that is moving in that direction. Yet, there is still a large mass of people that needs to cling to religion and belief. You cannot ask them to start seeking knowledge straight away. People who evolve into a certain level of intellect, or questioning capabilities, should move into seeking. The fundamentals of seeking are that you have realized that you don’t know so many things and hence you need to seek. The fundamentals of belief are that you do not know, but you still believe. Now I’m not saying whether belief is right or wrong.

What I am saying is that just because you believe does not mean that you know. Suppose I believe in one thing and you in another.

Today or tomorrow we are going to fight over that. It does not matter how much we actually know about it. If you want to defuse confl icts or possible confl icts, the important thing is that you also admit what you know and what you do not.” We could not resist the comment here: “ You almost sound like Karl Marx. Do you identify yourself with his thinking?” He did not sound offended: “ No I don’t. He just wrote economics which did not work. I believe in something that works. If something is working for somebody then alright. If somebody is getting solace from it, I will not trample upon their belief.

I’m not some kind of atheist who’ll trample on people’s beliefs. Now the question to ask is: ‘ Are you looking for solace or for a solution?’ If you’re looking for solace, then you can go on believing in something and it will work wonderfully well for you. But if you are looking for a solution, if you are looking for liberation, then your belief system is not good enough and you have to start seeking.

How many people are on the path of liberation is different from how many people are just seeking solace.

So whatever you are seeking in your life, if it’s working, then good enough. I won’t go around trampling and smashing gods.

That would be crude. Believing or disbelieving in God are not so different. One believes positively and the other believes negatively.

They are both believers.” “ Does what you are saying apply to all religious systems uniformly?” we ask.

“ If they are nurturing belief systems, then yes,” he chances.

We insist: “ Are they all the same?” He laughs: “ You’re asking for trouble! And the thing is that I can’t swim all the way across the Indian Ocean tomorrow.” “ You talked about seeking the truth.

That’s what we are doing,” we said.“ What I am saying,” he clarifi es, “ is that religion and belief arose when humanity had arrived at a certain stage of development.

That is not to say that it’s completely useless but, whatever was arrived at was presented in a certain format and whether that format is relevant today or not, that is the question. The fundamental goal of religion is.” He has still not answered our question and he knew it. “ Are you talking about all religions in the same way?” We insisted. We must have provoked him into the straightforward answer: “ Of course I am talking about all religions! You see, in the past, you had a distinction between religions that were god- oriented and those that were liberation- oriented. Now the two have become the same with the same level of rigidity. The format that they have arrived at today is the same. The goals may have been different in earlier times, but today they are all beginning to look about the same. What I mean is the format, the presentation, not the sum fundamental value of the religion.” This is not of course what the packed hall was going to hear. He is here to tell them how to contribute to their own well- being. But haven’t we heard it all before about how your attitude determines the way you feel about life and how you carry your own weather with you and decide whether you want to be happy or miserable? Don’t we know that the cards we are dealt are not nearly as important as the way we play them?” Still, it is not about attitude. He explains: “ We have to understand that the cards are not always in our hands but it’s not about attitude. You may maintain a good attitude but suddenly your chemistry goes a little funny. You may be a very sane person but act insane one day. This happens to everybody at a point in time. Your human experience is chemically managed. Now we have technology through which you can create a blissful chemistry.” “ But how do I change my chemistry by listening to you for one hour?” we ask. “ You will not change by listening to me. All I am saying is that it is possible to change your chemistry. Scientifi – cally explaining how it is possible.

This is science. It’s about how to manage your body chemistry and it takes about 30 hours of focused time in order to do that. This is about creating the chemistry the way you want it, no matter what the situation around you is. If you are looking for situations as you want them, then you are restricting yourself to only a few situations.

But if you choose to treat the world as your playground, then nothing is going to happen the way you want it.” “ Aren’t you talking about attitude, here?” “ No,” he insists.

“ Attitude is a very superficial thing. You can have any attitude, people do have attitudes but that is not something that’s enduring.

It can be broken by life situations very easily. Right now, life situations and social situations are shaping human consciousness.

That’s not how it should be. Human consciousness is what should shape the world, and that is what we are striving for.” We try to give him a sendoff gift: “ I see that in one day you people planted 856,000 trees and you entered the Guinness Book of Records for that.” He slaps it back right into our face: “ I’m not too bothered about that.

I hope somebody comes along and breaks that record. What is important is to see our country green, not to wear a badge on our sleeves. We wanted to have 114 million trees in 80 years’ time, so far we have planted 16.7 million trees and we are planting another 6 million this year. One thing in Tamil Nadu is that there has been a 7.6% increase in green cover in the last 7 years. That’s remarkable in Asia given that Tamil Nadu is the only place where the green cover is actually going up rather than down. But that’s just a minor part of our work.”

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l’express Weekly 16 March 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 16, 2012

Too early for a funeral

Those who had started writing Navin Ramgoolam’s political obituary had better put their pens down. It is far too early.

His latest move of proroguing the national assembly is proof enough that he still has some cards up his sleeve.

And he is going to use each and every one of them. He is showing that he has no sense of humour and that the political jokes have lasted for too long; the leader of the opposition, even after announcing the MedPoint remake, half jokingly said that the only one who could change his decision is Navin Ramgoolam himself by coming up with electoral reform. More recently, answering a guest’s question at the Garden Party about when he intended to go to Mahébourg, the president replied, “ When I return to the political arena.” Perhaps we are heading for a more serious era.

The reason given for proroguing the national assembly is the economic crisis. That’s just for public consumption of course. The fear that Bérenger may put up a motion of no- confi dence is not the reason either. In fact, if anything, the leader of the opposition now has more time to prepare a motion to put up on April 16 th if he so wishes.

There is no doubt that the prime minister is in a rather uncomfortable position. Managing a split in a government coalition isn’t the easiest thing at the best of times and these aren’t those, what with a president who is practically in the political arena and an opposition promising a no- confi dence motion. He has, however, come out of every situation so far smelling of roses. And this latest episode is no exception.

To take the full measure of the latest move, one should perhaps not concentrate too much on the time aspect of the prorogation. A prorogation is not just about delaying the re- opening of parliament.

It is also and mainly about presenting a new programme and fi lling in new posts. Psychologically, this puts an end to the last vestiges of the Alliance de l’Avenir as we once knew it. Politically, it also allows the government to settle some scores. Apart from pushing the president to read a programme he manifestly would rather not, the fi rst casualty of this will be the deputy speaker, who naturally could not be removed from his position under the previous programme. Few on the government side will shed any tears over this. For one thing, Prit Roopun did not exactly show the decorum required for his position.

You will recall that when the opposition walked out in protest over the Local Government Bill, he trailed behind fl outing the need for impartiality required of him.

There will be other casualties and other winners as well. Some MPs on the government side who have been fi dgety, trying to take advantage of the government’s weakness to bargain their way to a semblance of power will be rewarded. Those for whom there is nothing left will have to do with Navin Ramgoolam’s charm and generous smile. And of course some of his legendary promises which he may or may not keep. Still better than the vague somethingism they are being offered on the other side. One more masterly stroke by Navin Ramgoolam!

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l’express Weekly, 9 March 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 9, 2012

An alliance of disdain

The president, it would seem, is not ready to be put out to pasture. Politics, they say, is like Hotel California: “ You can check out any time you like but you can never leave”. Though this week’s press conference in which the prime minister detailed him to either dissociate himself from the MMM’s suggested remake or resign may seem to have lobbed a bomb with a sizzling fuse into his lap, the preening, smugly self- confi dent silence he has been serving to the nation continues. Neither a full support of Paul Bérenger’s initiative nor an orderly, dignifi ed exit out of the State House look likely; the word “ dignifi ed” being the problem. And, while the president’s lips remain sealed, the MMM keeps on shoveling out information about the distribution of posts in the context of a MedPoint 2 remake.

For all the pomp and pageantry that has kick- started this announced alliance, it will be under pressure from day one. In fact, it already is with the leader of the opposition stating that the president has to make a statement and “ pren so responsabilité”. It is an alliance based on disdain.

You know it, I know it and the protagonists, more than anyone else, know it. SAJ is disdainful of Paul Bérenger and has never made a secret of it. We will recall the notorious interview the president gave l’express just before the last elections in which he sap lor kal and opened his heart about the feelings Paul Bérenger awakens in him, something which the Labour Party then forgot to denounce, just as they forgot to denounce the selective invitations to an offi cial dinner at Réduit. And Paul Bérenger is not left out of these noble sentiments: his disdain for Pravind Jugnauth is clear and has never been made clearer. By refusing to consider him for the post of prime minister, he is putting a nail in the coffi• of his terrifying ambitions. Even the golden opportunity Pravind offered his brother Paul by initiating a polemic about electoral boundaries was not taken up by the latter, who immediately dissociated himself from drinking from the communal chalice he was offered.

While the disdain is the common denominator, the degree may vary.

In this respect, the disdain Paul Bérenger seems to have for Pravind Jugnauth is unequalled. For, the former is not particularly fastidious about his bed partners. Just about any Vaish will do, including Dinesh Ramjuttun as prime minister of this country. So, the fact that he is unwilling to offer Pravind Jugnauth the opportunity to jump into bed with him, not even in the context of a koze kozé is rather revealing. And don’t you think Father Jugnauth is unaware of this; which is why he will not make a statement either way. Let everyone stew in their own juice. Legally, he has done nothing wrong. Ethically, moralité pa renpli vent. Constitutionally, no one will be able to remove him – not with his son in parliament. And the game continues.

If it is not clear who the winners of this game are, what is sure is who the losers are: all the youth of this country. In the alliances of Jurassic Park, their aspirations for this country, their contribution, opportunities for them to play an active part in taking this nation forward into an era where meritocracy plays a more important part than heredity and privilege are wiped out. No one is even asking them about their opinions. Nobody cares.

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Don’t miss this week’s interview with minister Xavier-Luc Duval.

l’express Weekly, 2 March 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 5, 2012

Of mountains and molehills

The redrawing of constituencies has put the government and the opposition at loggerheads, with the opposition itself being divided on the issue and the president of the republic neck- deep in what seems to be a cacophony. Whether or not we are heading for a constitutional crisis as some political observers have been warning is hardly the question at this point. The real issue is whether the game is worth the candle.

This whole hullabaloo about municipal elections and gerrymandering is diffi cult to understand. For one thing, municipal elections are something which most citizens, rightly or wrongly, ( that is irrelevant here) do not give two hoots about. They have far more pressing issues to deal with to even seek to understand what the debate is about. And for another, weren’t these issues hashed up in parliament ages ago and settled for good, we thought? Because the big confusion, verging on a crisis, we are neck- deep in today is dangerous for the reputation and credibility of our institutions, it is in order to take a step back and shed light on the events. Hervé Aimée presented a bill with several schedules to parliament. There was disagreement and a heated debate over the schedule concerning the new boundaries and who is entitled to draw them. A debate which was justi- fi ed considering that we have two statutes in our constitution pertaining to local government, one dating from 1989 and the other one from 2003 which creates an incongruous situation. The opposition walked out at the time of the vote and the bill was passed. The opposition threatened to go to the Supreme Court to declare the bill unconstitutional. They should have done so. It would have been good for democracy. They didn’t, thus missing a chance to settle the issue once and for all.

The president of the republic did not credit their thesis. Not only did he give his assent to the bill but he also declared to the press that there was “ nothing illegal” about it.

Suddenly, the debate is back on the table with more viguour and venom.

The MMM’s position is not clear. While Paul Bérenger has offi cially dissociated himself from the leader of the MSM in his accusation of “ ethnicisation of towns”, and while he expressed his faith in the Electoral Commissioner’s Offi ce, he still maintains that there was gerrymandering. A position which is very uncomfortable in the light of the recent declaration made in a communiqué put out by the ECO yesterday.

The MSM is in an even more uncomfortable position: its ministers sat through ministerial committees when the bill was drafted and formulated.

They did not raise a peep then. Besides, what difference does this make to them anyway? It’s not as if they are likely to have more than zero candidates elected ( that is if they fi eld any) wherever the boundaries are placed. Oh, but it’s a question of principle, you see. Really? How? The president of the republic is not a court of law. He has no legal powers to declare the act anti- constitutional. Nor does he pretend to have any. All he can do if he is not satisfi ed is suggest the redrawing of the boundaries. Those who really want to fi ght for principles should go to the Supreme Court and have the whole issue settled once and for all. In the meantime, let’s please get on with the elections. We cannot afford any more delays!

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Don’t miss this week’s interview:

Dr. Rakesh Joshi, Chairman of the Indian Insitute of Foreign Trade, talks about how an airline cannot prosper  without connectivity.