Before looking at the LALIT’s Year 2015, let’s take a glance at the political context.
2015 saw the coming to power of the new Lalyans Lepep Government, led by Aneerood Jugnauth. After just one year in power, a Government that had been quite popular with its increasing of pensions and of low-earners’ wages, and having got support for its “cleaning up” of the mess made by the previous Labour-PMSD Government and for its putting order in the BAI empire Ponzi, is now already becoming unstable itself. It is clearly a Government without any political coherence, and without a unifying program. Its victory at the polls a year ago was, as Prime Minister on 18 December in his Radio-TV interview rather candidly admitted, a case of the people using the general elections in order to get rid of the unpopular previous regime.
Meanwhile the Opposition Alliance, after its decimation in the General Elections, broke into the separate components of Labour and the MMM, and the MMM split, with Ganoo and Company forming their Mouvement Patriotique, and then got trounced at the Municipals, too. And Navin Ramgoolam is facing criminal charges of all sorts, as well as being totally discredited. Rama Valayden’s joining Labour has not been enough to overcome the massive liability that Ramgoolam has become to his party.
So, with a Government that has not really stabilized itself into a coherent force and with a divided and weak Parliamentary Opposition, the political work before a party like LALIT has been vast, and on numerous fronts. We will outline some of our political struggles below.
Campaign against the Biometric ID Cards
When LALIT first took the decision to oppose the Ramgoolam biometric ID card system, we knew just how hard a battle it was to win. We, however, decided to make it a central part of our political work because of the importance of the process of the struggle in drawing the attention of the broad masses of people to the dangers of the new kinds of repressive surveillance that the technological revolution has produced and that the State can use. So, it was with some surprise, and a good deal of satisfaction, that we note that in 2015, we have had the victory of the destruction of the Central Database of fingerprint data. But, as with all victories, contained within it, there are also defeats. So, we have continued, with patience and perseverance, to fight for a more complete victory.
Here’s a brief outline of our actions from the December 2014 elections onwards. LALIT took the initiative, together with seven other organizations, through a common petition, to remind the new Government that its electoral program said it would dismantle the biometric ID card system. But, the Government decided, instead of honouring its programme, to hide behind the judiciary, thus to wait for a Supreme Court judgment. The judgment eventually called for the destruction of all the biometric data stored centrally. But the Government, unbelievably, just continued to operate its ID Card Conversion Centres, to take fingerprints, and then to introduce an ersatz consent form so as to give the State a fig-leaf if there was any further legal challenge.
LALIT was alarmed.
So, on 19 August, LALIT organized a march in Port Louis to hand over a formal complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), Ms Madhub, against the State. She met a LALIT delegation. At the very same moment that LALIT was holding this action, we heard with surprise that the Minister Bhadain and his PS were having an impromptu Press Conference to announce that the Government would close its Conversions Centres the day after tomorrow. From then until 11 September the State would destroy the fingerprint data. Here is what the Cabinet had on 5 June, following the 29 May judgment, said it would do: The ID Card system is being reviewed to remove the biometric data, including photograph, fingerprint image and fingerprint minutiae.
Anyway, by mid-September, the fingerprint data was destroyed. But not the biometric photographs, which can still be used for one-to-many identification, and not just one-to-one verification. In addition, there is still the centralized stocking of biometric fingerprint images and fingerprint minutiae in spite of the judgment, and despite the Cabinet decision.
So, biometric photographs are all still stored. New photographs are being added. And there is still the temporary storing of biometric data on fingerprints. The judgment and Cabinet decision do not permit the stocking of data even for a short time.
Following a further letter from LALIT, the DPC has, in fact, intervened to call for Minister Bhadain to explain. To no avail. His arrogance knows no bounds.
Now that Dr Madhewoo has been granted leave to appeal to the Privy Council, the Government will have to once again postpone the deadline for converting to the new biometric cards. It is already 31 January, 2016.
All this is an indication of the incoherence of the Government.
Everything remains unclear. Even the laws, already declared unconstitutional since 29 May, have not yet been amended.
LALIT is the only political party that has consistently over time sustained a campaign against this new form of State control over people. The methods we have used included leaflets, poster campaigns, demonstrations, YouTube clips, and constant work with other organizations. (See News Archive, click on MORE, 20 August 2015 for 36 actions on ID Cards.)
Campaign for Recognition of Kreol Language
LALIT has maintained pressure for the Kreol language to be introduced into Parliament, as medium in education and for keeping Minutes of Associations.
Immediately after the elections, in December 2014, LALIT wrote to the Speaker and the Prime Minister on the issue of Kreol becoming one of the official languages of Parliament. And then, when the Government came up with the Parliamentary debates on introducing live and direct reporting of the National Assembly proceedings, we went ahead and organized a series of actions – posting up posters all over Mauritius, writing a letter to each MP, and getting support from other organizations – in order to point out the ludicrousness of TV reporting in languages that people do not use. The campaign has had massive support. A number of MPs took a stand in favour. The Prime Minister said it was not on the agenda, and in any case MPs already use Kreol in Parliament and the Opposition Leader said it was inevitable! These last two reactions show how far the balance of forces in our favour now. People who are against have to come up with ridiculous statements implying they are in favour, but there is nothing that needs to be done.
Amongst the broad masses, and on all manner of blogs, people have spoken out in favour.
LALIT has also seized the chance to bring up the question of Kreol as medium in schools, for mother-tongue based multi-lingual education, at a time when the new so-called 9-year schooling is being debated. We use the term so-called in this context because there is already compulsory 11 year schooling. So the nine years refers to the same syllabus for all children.
And there is the on-going LALIT campaign, together with other organizations like Ledikasyon Pu Travayer, Playgroup, ABAIM and individual activists and writers, to change the balance of forces in favour of Kreol in all walks of life. We now have to aim for a total victory.
Re-unification of the Republic, the right of return for Chagossians, and US Diego Garcia base closure
In December 2014, LALIT addressed a first letter to the Foreign Affairs Minister Etienne Sinatambou calling on the new Government to start proceedings to put a case for an Advisory Opinion before the International Court of Justice at The Hague for Britain having acted illegally in excising Diego Garcia and the whole of Chagos as a condition for Independence. Despite this having been in their electoral promises, the Lepep Government has been rather weak on the issue. In the President’s Speech in January 2015, the Government announced that it was seeking diplomatic solutions for Chagos, and did not even mention the ICJ.
Then, when the UNCLOS judgement was handed down in March 2015, the British Government declaration of its supposed Marine Protected Area in Chagos was declared illegal. After this positive judgment, LALIT once again wrote to the Government calling on it to prepare a UN resolution at the General Assembly in order to put a case before the ICJ. Once again we addressed the call to the Prime Minister, with copies to the President and the Foreign Affairs Minister, as well as to the Opposition Leader. In the appeal we also called on the Government to organize a State, as part of the build-up towards an ICJ case.
But, the Prime Minister in his speech at the UN General Assembly made no reference to the ICJ at all, but made the usual vague statements about Chagos, offering negotiations over the new lease. And the MMM in opposition aligned itself behind the Jugnauth position.
So, LALIT is really the only political force that has consistently taken a stand against the US military base on Diego, and the way in which this base stands in the way of completing Mauritius’ Independence and thus in the way of the total decolonization of the country, and also blocks Chagossians from returning to their birthplace.
LALIT, together with the women’s organization, the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, which has also consistently kept Chagos on the agenda wrote a joint open letter to warn the Chagos Refugees Group (GRC) against the British State’s move to divide and weaken the struggle against their illegal occupation of Chagos by circulating a questionnaire to Chagossians to supposedly check out their opinions on various completely hypothetical resettlement plans. LALIT said it was like some kind disguised and illegal referendum, a trap to be avoided. We called on the organization to reject the questionnaire which they did, although their reasoning was rather weak.
In fact, in 2015, through this very same questionnaire, the Mauritian Government has been thoroughly humiliated. While the UNCLOS judgement expressly forbids the UK to do anything like this without consulting Mauritius, the British State just went ahead and did it. But, given Jugnauth’s weak positions, the British decided to humiliate him.
Later in the year, in October, LALIT sent a second letter to the GRC, calling on them to take a much clearer position against the military base on Diego Garcia, if they want to win support for their cause instead of colluding with its presence.
LALIT’s on-going campaign for an Alternative Economy
LALIT has continued its campaign For an Alternative Economy, particularly in the context of the crisis in the sugar industry which is still, despite its fall, so supported by the State.
So, in February 2015, as Finance Minister Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo was preparing his budget, LALIT submitted proposals to him and the Agro-Industry Minister Mahen Seeruttun. In particular, we proposed the development and strengthening of the agricultural sector, linked to developing preservation and transformation of food crops, as well as of sustainable fishing. We substantiated our arguments by sending them copies of our booklet on the issue, the Charter we contributed to on Food Security, and the short film LALIT made in 2006 predicting all the dire problems that everyone can now see in the sugar industry.
In April, LALIT organized party sessions on agricultural diversification and preservation of food crops to study in detail new developments in this field and to take note of the scope of the harm being done by the government continuing to destroy all the best agricultural land. We have gradually over the course of 2015 drawn attention to the immense dangers of the Smart Cities strategy that the Government has gradually outlines.
LALIT has also continued its decentralized meetings on the issue, this time with input from supporters in Rodrigues.
In August, during a think-tank style session, LALIT leading member Ram Seegobin spoke on the need to conceptualize the ‘new economic geography’ that has developed in Mauritius. The countryside, like the cities, have been turned upside down and totally disfigured over the past 15-20 years, in ways that we have not get got our heads around, he said. It was an important talk on an important change. The debate afterwards was very rich.
So, LALIT’s campaign is now taking the form of mobilization against the Government’s Smart Cities that represent both the destruction of agricultural land and a new kind of settler colonization.
LALIT against the military occupation of Palestine
LALIT has always put the Palestinian Question on the table, opposing Israel’s continued colonization of the West Bank and Jerusalem and cruel encirclement of Gaza. Our work is constantly enriched by the participation in support brigades in Palestine of our members, Alain Ah-Vee and Kisna Kistnasamy.
This year, there was the curious development of the traditionally most anti-Palestine political party, the PMSD, taking position in favour. In fact Tourism Minister Xavier Duval visited Bethlehem in Palestine, and swore support to Palestine. So, this put Palestine on the agenda, too, as did the rise of ISIS in the Middle East.
In October, the time was ripe for LALIT together with the Idriss Goomany Centre and the CTSP, with the collaboration of the Fim K-lib and the Muvman Liberasyon Fam to organize a one-day solidarity campaign in the form of the first ever Palestine Film Festival. Former President of the Republic Cassam Uteem was part of the event, too, and did the launch speech at the first film which was shown at the LALIT headquarters in GRNW. The films played to full houses in two of the three venues, and all three were resounding successes.
LALIT is now actively building the basis to join the international BDS campaign to isolate Israel by means of Boycotts, Disinvestment and Sanctions. LALIT’s letter to the Prime Minister in November, signed jointly with other organizations, called for the Mauritian State to take the initiative in the SADC, AU, COI and Non-Aligned Movement on the basis of three demands: 1. Freeze diplomatic relations with Israel until the end of occupation and colonization. 2. Support an embargo on all arms sales, in particular from Europe and the US, to the Middle East, including Israel. 3. Suspend all commercial links with Israel in the context of the BDS campaign. The letter was endorsed by the CTSP, Idriss Goomany Centre, the MLF and the former President Cassam Uteem. The Prime Minister Office sent a long reply, of rather abject resignation to the status quo.
LALIT and the Muvman Lakaz continued to expose the backlog of successive Governments in building houses for the working class. We also exposed the mendacious campaign that the State runs that nine out of ten people are home-owners, when it knows only too well that this statement hides the most extreme overcrowding and leaves families vulnerable to the most domineering big brothers and uncles. Now, with the Smart Cities strategy, the Government is subsidising the construction of housing for the rich from abroad, instead of for working people.
On the drugs issue
LALIT’s long struggle for a more humane and caring policy around drugs, instead of just locking people up has meant we have gained massive support over the past 35 years. With the new Government setting up a Commission of Enquiry into Drug Traffic, and with Health Minister Gayan’s suppression of the Methadone treatment for new applicants, LALIT was able to step in and distribute hundreds of copies of our book on Drugs, brought out this year. LALIT also gave copies to the DPP and the President of the Republic after they took stands on the drugs issue. The DPP said in public that he was going to re-think some of his ideas after LALIT’s book.
LALIT, together with the association JUSTICE that we helped set up, has been at the forefront once again of struggles against police violence and torture. During the year, we have supported the family of Mr. Iqbal Toofany, whose death in police custody has finally been found by the enquiring magistrate to have involved foul play, so a case will no doubt ensue against five police officers. We have once again popularized our demands to end police violence. We have also followed up on the torture case against four police officers, whose actions had led to the death of Mr. Rajesh Ramlogun.
In its Women’s Commission, and also in conjunction with the MLF, LALIT has continued to expose the strategy that aims only at ‘Gender equality’ as one that risks reinforcing Patriarchy, instead of weakening it. Our members in the Women’s Commission work on analysing which demands end up actually strengthening, as opposed to weakening, Patriarchy, and avoiding them.
Sessions on particular subjects
During the year, LALIT organized a number of sessions open to non-members as well as members, where a leading LALIT member or a guest speaker, introduced a subject like:
Ram Seegobin on “Towards a new economic geography of Mauritius”.
Lindsey Collen and Shabeela Kalla on “The State over Time”.
Ish Sookun (guest speaker) on Linux.
Rada Kistnasamy on “Recomposition of the bourgeoisie’s organizations, viz MSPA, MEF, JEC.”
Kisna Kistnasamy on “Automation, Robots, Computerisation and its effect on value.”
Alain Ah Vee on “What is electoral politics?”
We also had sessions just for members, on subjects like:
The Offshore, with special reference to the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements.
Ecology from a Marxist viewpoint and the emergence of ersatz ecologists financed by capital.
LALIT’s links with other organizations in the times of a downturn.
What strategy to further develop the campaign against the biometric ID cards.
We also began thinking about and discussion the role of NGOs that end up acting like a brake on the struggle for socialism, or worse. We have started to conceptualize a symposium on the theme for 2016.
Means of struggle
The first “means” or “medium” of LALIT is our internal structures which permit us to think beyond and outside of the status quo mind-set that the bourgeoisie establishes. In particular, our neighbourhood branches. But also our Commissions, our regular “LALIT program” meetings, the editorial meetings for our bimonthly magazine. All these structures form the lungs of a party, allowing it to breathe. The Assembly of Members that elects the Central Committee meets regularly. And this year, we have had an additional series of meeting on what we are calling a new “Ti-Liv LALIT”, a booklet for new adherents.
During 2015 LALIT’s Web Commission modernized the presentation of our website, and made it more user-friendly. We also fine-tuned our links with YouTube and Sound Cloud. These work alongside our own audio and video recordings on the site. And we also use DVDs for members who do not have internet access.
LALIT’s bi-monthly magazine, REVI LALIT, is the most important tool for developing the kind of coherence a party needs between its members and supporters, and between these and new members as they join. Our magazine is the best tool for links with the workers vanguard from previous struggles, workers who are often not at all active in today’s trade union bureaucracies, as they can see just how bought off they are. It is also the best tool for recruitment as people join on the basis of ideas they are reading about. The editorial board guides the production of each magazine. Number 121 which came out in December is the 5th this year. The distribution is through members and also through subscriptions. It extends to Rodrigues Island as well, and even beyond Mauritius to Reunion. The Magazine is also uploaded on to our site after three weeks or so.
We also distribute leaflets by the thousand in all the main bus stations about 5 or 6 times each year, including in 2015.
We also use email and sometimes snail mail for circulating documents.
LALIT and the Mainstream Media
During 2015, LALIT was constantly on private radios and in the Press, sometimes through communiqués, other times in interviews, and yet other times through declarations to the Press. Even MBC Radio, that has boycotted LALIT for 40 years, invited LALIT members twice this year. There are often conflicts with the Press. This year, for example there were conflicts over the BAI scandal. After an article in Revi LALIT 118, taken up by Le Mauricien in a news article, the Director of Defimedia Group, Eshan Khodabux announced that he was going to sue both Le Mauricien and Lindsey Collen, as well as give a police deposition for criminal defamation. But the threats turned out to be hollow. There was nothing defamatory in what our member said.
It is a constant battle for LALIT to avoid ever becoming dependent upon the bourgeois press for our communication with the broad masses. Any party that succumbs to that, even if it were a force for change before becoming dependent, will be useless in the struggle for socialism. The Press has its own agenda(s), and the pressures in favour of the bourgeoisie operate at all sorts of different levels within the institution called the Press.