New Delhi, Aug. 11: The accession of Paul Raymond Berenger to the Prime Minister’s chair in Mauritius next month has brought a few creases to the foreheads of South Block officials.
Berenger, the first person of non-Indian origin to become Prime Minister in independent Mauritius, will take over from Anerood Jugnauth who will be President.
The island nation, which has over 68 per cent Indians and where more than half the population is Hindu, has traditionally been considered by India as its pocket borough and is strategically important for the country.
Jugnauth had to make way for Berenger according to the arrangement between his party, the Movement Socialist Militant, and its coalition partner, the Movement Militant Mauricien, which came to power in September 2000.
A lot of people, however, are uncomfortable with the arrangement. With the date of the change over drawing closer, their opposition has also intensified. Naveen Ramgoolam’s Labour Party, the main Opposition party in Mauritius, had joined hands with several other parties, including that of maverick local politician Harish Boodhoo and the Movement Republican Party, to oppose Berenger. But in the last one year, it has not been able to garner the support required to block the transition.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had reportedly expressed his worries when Jugnauth was in India for the Bharatiya Pravasi Divas celebrations in January. The Mauritius Prime Minister had assured him that the changes in his country would not adversely affect relations with India.
On the face of it, South Block mandarins are playing down the developments in Mauritius and trying to put up a brave front. They claim that Delhi’s traditional relations with Port Louise will remain unchanged.
“Berenger is a shrewd and matured politician. He knows Mauritius and, therefore, he also knows that it is far away from France and much closer to India in every sense of the word,” a foreign ministry official said. “It will be extremely foolish on Berenger’s part to do something that will jeopardise Mauritius’ bilateral relations with India.”
However, sceptics point out that fissures have begun to show in Mauritius along ethnic, religious and linguistic lines. Much of this was sparked by the rivalry between Jugnauth and Ramgoolam who had not spared any attempt to create a rift among Hindus to corner the majority votes in the island.
Though Berenger has done nothing to indicate that he is against people of Indian origin, there is fear in Mauritius as well as in India that he could take advantage of the division among Hindus and isolate them further.