Mauritius: The transformation from Anerood Jugnauth's to Pravind Jugnauth's MSM has claimed many scalps along the way

12 February 2021

The exit of Nando Bodha, the last of the MSM figures associated with Sir Anerood Jugnauth, from the MSM marks the culmination of the long transformation from Anerood Jugnauth's to Pravind Jugnauth's MSM. However, this transformation has been a long time in the making and has claimed many scalps along the way.

So how are exits such as those of Bodha a recurring tendency of Pravind Jugnauth's consolidation of power within the party, why does the government's argument that Bodha's exit is due to ambition unconvincing and what is this new MSM that Bodha has left?

The Sun Trust

The Mouvement socialiste militant (MSM) was born of a splinter group from the MMM in 1983 and was literally born into power, having been conjured up by Sir Anerood Jugnauth while he was a prime minister. But it was actually as from 1987 that the MSM became synonymous with the Jugnauth dynasty and it was then that the ultimate root of the rise of Pravind Jugnauth lies.

"You have to understand that Anerood Jugnauth himself was initially never very interested in micro-management or how a party worked," former diplomat and political observer Sateeanund Peerthum tells l'express. In the 1970s, as part of the Mouvement militant mauricien (MMM) opposition, Anerood Jugnauth worked as a parttime politician, juggling his political career at the MMM alongside his career as a barrister. "He did not want to risk it all," says Peerthum.

When Anerood Jugnauth finally became prime minister in 1982 leading an MMM-PSM coalition, Anerood Jugnauth filled the prime ministerial chair, while Paul Bérenger actually ran the party machine. When the MSM was created in 1983, as an offshoot of the MMM, it was not a well-oiled party machine that beat back what remained of the MMM in the 1983 elections, but rather through Anerood Jugnauth attracting support through a combination of an MMM tearing itself apart along communal lines and Anerood Jugnauth as a prime minister offering the spoils of office.

"The real change in terms of Anerood Jugnauth's thinking came after Harish Boodhoo's challenge to his leadership," Peerthum maintains. Boodhoo, who broke from the Labour Party to form the PSM joined up with Anerood Jugnauth against Paul Bérenger's MMM.

In 1983, Boodhoo dissolved his PSM into the MSM and insisted on holding the position of Chief Whip within the government. If Anerood Jugnauth in the MMM had left the running of the party to Paul Bérenger, in the MSM it seemed like it would be Boodhoo who wanted to run the machine. That was, until Boodhoo started insisting that Anerood Jugnauth carry out a purge within the MSM ultimately leading to Boodhoo's resignation in 1985 and his turning against Anerood Jugnauth and the MSM. "It was after that challenge that Anerood Jugnauth really took hold of the party machinery himself and started paying attention to things like its finances and really started thinking seriously about who would succeed him," Peerthum argues.

That consolidation of his hold over the party was not long in coming. After the 1987 elections, Anerood Jugnauth, using donations to the MSM party built a 14-storey tower within the capital Port-Louis, the Sun Trust, which was held not by the party (political parties have no legal status in Mauritian law and are not required to keep or produce accounts) but owned by a trust held by the Jugnauth family itself.

"This is the elephant in the room that no one is talking about, you have a party which relies heavily on resources generated by the Sun Trust which is controlled by a single family," Ram Seegobin of Lalit points out, "this is a basis of the economic hold of the Jugnauth family on the party and why its hold cannot be challenged". An economic hold over the party, unprecedented in Mauritian politics, is what ensures the continued domination of the Jugnauth's over the MSM, and which is what meant that after Anerood Jugnauth there could only be a Pravind Jugnauth.

The other challengers

Nando Bodha is not the first to be brushed aside, or find himself isolated, during the ascent of Pravind Jugnauth to the leadership of the MSM. The first to be discarded was Madan Dulloo. "He was there from the very beginning of the MSM and was active within the party while Pravind Jugnauth was still a student in London, so it was entirely legitimate and understandable that Dulloo saw himself as Anerood Jugnauth's successor," argues former journalist and political observer Lindsay Rivière.

These aspirations were cultivated by Anerood Jugnauth himself, whether through rhetoric or through giving Dulloo big jobs, such as penning the first report of a commission of inquiry on drugs set up in 1984. In addition Dulloo had the right qualifications: the right ethnic profile, a vote-getter in rural areas and a good lawyer. And there was precedent too: after all, the Labour Party after its dramatic defeat in 1982 had just witnessed the leadership pass from Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam to Sir Satcam Boolell, so why not an eventual transfer of power within the MSM too?

"This is how Anerood Jugnauth got you, he cultivated everybody's ambitions within his party, so when he started conspicuously promoting Dulloo, everybody else turned on him and Dulloo became isolated within the party," Peerthum posits. By 1994, Dulloo's dream came to an end when he was chucked out of the MSM after a disagreement over the closure of the St. Antoine sugar estate which was in Dulloo's constituency.

Then there is the case of Pravind Jugnauth's uncle Ashock Jugnauth. Anerood Jugnauth's half-brother was an MSM minister since 1991, when he was given the relatively low-profile civil service ministry and then the health ministry between 2000 and 2005. In the 2005 elections, Pravind Jugnauth failed to win a seat in parliament whereas Ashock Jugnauth did. "The uncle thought that the nephew was too young and inexperienced and that as the brother he was the natural successor," claims Peerthum. "It was when Pravind Jugnauth started rising that relations between Anerood and Ashock Jugnauth really soured," says Seegobin. In 2006, Ashock Jugnauth left the party to found the UN.

Ashock Jugnauth's ambition was not entirely out of place, in fact it paralleled a similar intra-dynastic feud: in 1997, Gaëtan Duval's brother Hervé Duval took over the Parti mauricien social-démocrate (PMSD) which saw Xavier-Luc Duval leave the party to found his own Parti mauricien Xavier Duval (PMXD). That particular clash led to a by-election in N°20 which saw Xavier-Luc Duval win, beating out the MMM candidate despite Hervé Duval's backing for the MMM. Following the byelection, Hervé Duval quit politics opening the way for Xavier-Luc Duval to eventually unify the PMSD under his command in 2009.

Although Ashock Jugnauth had to give up his seat in 2008 after the Privy Council found him guilty of electoral bribery, Ashock Jugnauth (with the help of the MMM) took on Pravind Jugnauth in a by-election in constituency 8, however was beaten by Pravind Jugnauth (with help from the Labour Party) putting an end to Ashock Jugnauth's ambitions.

Others more recently cast aside by the MSM were Anil Gayan, who despite being with the MSM from the very beginning of the party found himself being expelled from the party in 2005 after the expulsion of Vijaya Sumputh. In a by-election in 2009 (the same one that saw Pravind and Ashock Jugnauth face off) Gayan too threw his hat in the ring under his outfit Front National Mauricien and got just 202 votes. He made a brief return in 2014, under the tutelage of Anerood Jugnauth as prime minister, and a series of missteps later (suspending methadone treatments as health minister and clashing with the tourism sector as tourism minister and Vijaya Sumputh's salary issue) he found himself not being given a ticket by the party in the 2019 polls.

"Before the 2014 elections, the MSM was in the doldrums facing a Labour-MMM bloc, so they were fishing for whatever they could get, and this included old MSM hands like Gayan and Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo," says Seegobin. And Roshi Bhadain. "He was received with open arms in 2014 as a candidate so Bhadain thought he could go far" argues Peerthum.

However, in 2017 Bhadain broke with the MSM following the transfer of the prime ministership from Anerood to Pravind Jugnauth. Complaining of the sidelining of Anerood Jugnauth within the MSM (something that Bodha too has reiterated) Bhadain went into the opposition founding his own party. Anerood Jugnauth ascribed Bhadain's move to his ambition to becoming finance minister as a springboard to eventually becoming prime minister. An ambition that Bhadain has repeated recently as well. "It's obvious he saw himself as the heir apparent and did everything to please the old man Jugnauth and then concluded that he did have much of a future within the MSM," states Seegobin.

So how convincing is the MSM's explanation that Bodha left because of the lure of higher office being dangled by Bérenger's MMM? "I don't think that's the explanation," says Rivière, "Bodha has always had excellent relations with the MMM, especially with Joanna Bérenger who was his opponent in the same constituency, and Bodha always favoured closer ties with the MMM, so it's hard to imagine that such offers from the MMM have not been made until now, such an offer would have on the table for a long time".

If Bodha nurtured ambitions to become prime minister he never made them public. "The parallel in this case is closer to the sudden resignation of Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo in 2019, another person who did not talk of becoming prime minister and who left because he could not take it anymore". Like Bodha, Lutchmeenaraidoo was shunted off to the foreign ministry, before he resigned. As part of the MSM's old guard, Bodha was like a fish out of water in Pravind Jugnauth's new MSM machine.

Pravind's MSM, SAJ's MSM

So what does this new MSM look like that Bodha can find no place in? The transformation of Anerood Jugnauth's MSM into Pravind Jugnauth's MSM has been a long, laborious process. Buttressed by the economic domination of the Sun Trust, Pravind Jugnauth officially took over the party in 2003 after Anerood Jugnauth became president under a power-sharing deal with the MMM.

"He obviously had to redraw the party to conform to his own personal style," says Rivière. But Pravind Jugnauth's absolute hold over the party is a much more recent development. Although officially party leader since 2003, the shadow of Anerood Jugnauth still loomed large over the party: most of the political heavyweights were still Anerood Jugnauth's creations, Anerood Jugnauth was still at Réduit and Pravind Jugnauth had yet to lead the party to electoral victory and enjoy power as a prime minister on his own.

In 2014, for example, the MSM entered into a strange (and unprecedented in Mauritian history) arrangement, where although Pravind Jugnauth was officially party leader, Anerood Jugnauth was prime ministerial candidate, officially not belonging to any party. It was only after Pravind Jugnauth was handed the prime ministership in 2017 and led the MSM into the 2019 election - with Anerood Jugnauth nudged into retirement - that the transformation from one MSM into another was completed.

So what does Pravind Jugnauth's new MSM look like? On the one hand, it's marked by an infusion of Pravind Jugnauth's men and women. "We have to remember that the original MSM generation was in large part former members of the MMM who were greatly influenced by the MMM's programmes and they brought a lot of that with them into the MSM," explains Rivière.

Just to take one example, when the MMM came to power in 1982, it put into effect prescriptions from the IMF and the World Bank that it itself had previously excoriated. Throughout the 1980s, the MSM led by Anerood Jugnauth wielded these as a potent political cudgel to devastating effect, criticizing the MMM using its own arguments on the IMF/World Bank against it.

"This second generation of the MSM is very, very different from the first one that held sway between 1983 and 2000, with them it's less about ideology and more about pragamatism, affairisme and deal making" Rivière continues, "they have different backgrounds but are opportunistic and materialistic so there has been a shift away from core values that marks this new MSM".

These new Pravind's men have largely displaced the old guard such as Bodha and Soodhun. To make up for the lack of experience of Pravind's new men, the party has grown reliant on ex-MMM refugees such as Steven Obeegadoo, Joe Lesjongard, Alan Ganoo, Kavy Ramano and Ivan Collendavelloo. They bring political experience that Pravind Jugnauth's innercircle does not have, bring in votes from urban constituencies key to winning the prime ministership and most importantly have neither the long history within the MSM nor the ethnic credentials to pose threats to Pravind Jugnauth's hold on the party themselves.

"It's easy to see why the old guard such as Bodha felt frustrated, instead of being elevated, they see themselves being sidelined not just by new Pravind's men but also by ex-MMM turncoats getting choice places within government" concludes Seegobin.

The other characteristic is the odd combination of a personality cult and a curious emptiness that lies at the heart of MSM decision- making. "This is one feature of this new MSM, the budding cult of personality where no one can say anything without first praising the beloved leader," Rivière points out. But this personality cult does not hide any deeper water.

Anerood Jugnauth had a long, combative political culture that dated back from when he started politics in 1963 and proceeded to work in the Hindu Congress, the IFB, then as MMM president and then leading the MSM. "Pravind Jugnauth in contrast has nothing that distinguished him from anybody else, Anerood Jugnauth at least developed the textile industry quickly, we have yet to hear any plan from Pravind Jugnauth to replace lame duck industries like sugar and textiles, or does he just plan to muddle along?" asks Seegobin.

In terms of political style, he adds, "Anerood Jugnauth used to make snap decisions, not necessarily the right ones, whereas Pravind Jugnauth just lets things devolve hoping they resolve themselves". Look at how long it took for the scandal-ridden Yogida Sawmynaden to step down as minister.

It's less the hot-blooded energy of Anerood Jugnauth and more the indecisiveness and inertia of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam until 1982, whose government simply lurched from one crisis into the next and gave the impression of being perennially in crisis.

Bodha, associated with the MSM since 1986 does pose a significant threat should be officially join the opposition (rather than just meeting with Arvin Boolell). According to Rivière he has been there for three decades, knows the inner-workings of the party, knows the political agents and most importantly, knows who else like him is alienated by Pravind Jugnauth's new-look MSM. His conclusion: "he is potentially a far more dangerous enemy to the MSM than anybody else who has previously left or been sidelined by the party have ever been. But only time will tell".

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