The most powerful men in Mauritius: Harish Boodhoo

Youtube video grab of Harish Boodhoo

Once upon a time, there was Harish Boodhoo, who was an ally of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and who ended up abandoning the Labour Party to form his own political party that helped swing the votes against the then ruling government.

As a Labour supporter I thought it was the nastiest form of betrayal, but later I accepted the change because it proved that the Labour Party was outdated and the subsequent governments that came out of the downfall of the Labour actually brought Mauritius back from its knees.

But what was the role played by Bhai Harish in the real economic and social transformation of the country?

Once in power, Harish was not the same man he portrayed himself as during the fierce campaign to remove the Labour Party from power. He had changed and that change was for the worst for his personality, for the country’s image and and for issue of political integrity in Mauritius.

Today we are paying the price of what Harish had accomplished during his days in the government and he cannot deny those.

After the elections in 1982, Boodhoo became a powerful masterpiece in the MMM-PSM (Party Socialist Mauricien) coalition that defeated the Labour Party and the PMSD by 60-0 on the 11th of June elections.

But his role as an actor for change turned into a strange wayward course, in which he became the enemy of the press amid his rise as a fanatical element within a government that had promised so many things.

While he was putting the broom in the MMM’s action plan – opposing Paul Berenger within the governmental institutions – he was also firing the engine of fascism within that same regime under the rule of Sir Aneerood Jugnauth.

it took Harish nine months to break the MMM-PSM coalition, following which he dissolved his party to merge with the MSM and was altogether instrumental in letting both the PMSD of Sir Gaetan Duval and the Labour Party of Sir Satcam Boolell to head to the government house as a member of the new coalition in power.

The MMM broke down, left the government with Paul Berenger acting as leader of the opposition thus leaving the future play into Harish hands to elaborate his political game.

Without Berenger in the game, Harish targeted SAJ in slow lethal doses, pushing his agenda forward with the muzzling of the press and the rise of a sort of a kingdom of the mafia at the government house – at least at the wings of the then deputy PM.

With the era where the press in Mauritius was put under severe stress by the Sir Aneerood Jugnauth-Boodhoo regime, new laws were passed that would raise the ire of media practitioners and they did not lay down their arms.

Instead, they demonstrated in the streets, were arrested and jailed as they were against the new laws and the terms of and conditions that made it tough to own and print a newspaper on the Island.

These new laws went against the freedom of the media, and the freedom of the press and Boodhoo surely knows who was behind these laws.

As deputy Prime Minister, Harris was made a powerful man who allowed many things to happen.

And I fought my own battles against the media laws and against the politician Harrish Boodhoo.

The first thing I did was to inform the BBC – I was the BBC Network Africa guy in Port Louis – that the local media needed all the help it could get to fight back against the draconian laws.

This went into the ears of responsible people outside of Mauritius and soon enough I was asked by a UN agency for media freedom to detail the situation in which the media was and how the new laws were retrograde for a democracy like Mauritius.

I did a report of 50 pages – interviewing editors, journalists, activists and unionists – that was sent to the UN via a British agency in Port Louis. A British citizen working for the agency was diligent to send the document out in all secrecy, using his position as “Manager” of the agency to ferry the documents under ‘diplomatic delivery’ to the UK and on to the United Nations in the USA.

It took sometime before for the UN committee on media freedom pressured the Mauritian government to the limit, forcing it to abandon its anti-press laws. It was a mighty defeat for the Jugnauth-Boodhoo tandem and it soured their relationship to a certain degree.

This defeat also changed the fortunes for Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo who was Minister of Finance. 

But all these did not come without pain as I was made to realise that as long as Harish was in the government, he would be a threat to the media.

One fine morning, I went to the Government House in Port Louis only to hear from the policeman on duty at the gate that I was banned from entering the Parliament and all the ministries for that matter.

I protested loudly, and vehemently. But the officer refused to budge, saying I should call the office of media accreditation of the Ministry of Information to get the information about the ban.

I had only one course of action: Call Sir Robin Ghurburrun who was an influential member of the Mauritius Labour Party and a personal friend.

Hearing the voice of Sir Robin on the phone, the police officer was trembling with fear. He allowed me into the Government House where I quickly found out that my accreditation papers were not at the Ministry of Information but were with the deputy Prime Minister, Harish Boodhoo.

That day I wrecked havoc at the Ministry and like magic, my papers were brought in and my status as an accredited journalist reinstated instantly!

The same day, after the incident, I received a call from the office Vishu Lutchmeenaraidoo. I was close to his clan and they said they regretted my actions at the Ministry of Finance. They also said this issue could have been resolved if I had confided to Vishnu.

I told them I do things my way. And I solved it my own way, albeit with an angry face. But this is when my relationship with the Vishnu clan grew.

However, I did not lay off Harish Boodhoo – who used to call me ‘Bhai Mahmood’ – when we had the chance to meet at a printing shop at La Rue Corderie, Port Louis.

I remember chasing Harish at the Government house in the lifts, and chasing him on the streets, after his car and at his events where he acted like a chauvinistic fascist.

I sent memo’s to Vishnu and Sir Aneerood’s office to plead with them to act against Harish Boodhoo for his cosy relationships with a certain mafioso group – and it happened that the head of this group had long term relationships with my family (as neighbours).

I also sent memo’s to the PM’s and Vishnu’s offices as part of my complaints against Harish Boodhoo for his fascist talks and ways. He would make everyone stand before he enters the halls where he would hold talks that veered more towards a dictatorial lecture. These talks had nothing to do with a democracy.

It took them a few more years to decide to revoke Boodhoo as Minister but the beauty of all these elements was the publication of an article in Africa Now in which I predicted the firing of Boodhoo by Jugnauth. That issue of Africa Now came with a thud, when Boodhoo was eventually revoked days after the publication touched the shores of Mauritius.

Before his firing, there was the Amsterdam Boys in 1985. Four Mauritian Parliamentarians caught with drugs at the Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. At that time, we never thought Sir Aneerood Jugnauth could be involved – directly or indirectly – in drug trafficking.

The drugs scandal at Amsterdam airport brought an inquiry in 1986 which implicated three members of Legislative Assembly. Six more politicians were subsequently accused in 1987 of involvement in the affair. This brought the SAJ regime to its knees. But they won the elections in that year.

While we (my circle of friends and informants) did not think SAJ and his team was involved in the drug scandal, suspicions were on others. Harish became a virulent orator against Jugnauh whom he clearly pointed as responsible for the MP’s carrying drugs for an Indian Mafia in Europe while they were traveling with diplomatic passports.

During Boodhoo’s reign, a mafia had penetrated the Government House. It was an anti-free-media mafia, a mafia that did not tolerate dissent among the public and a mafia that was working within the corridors of power. The mafia that was gun slinging in Port Louis with machine guns on their shoulders, and that would remind us of the ISIS of today.

They were all gone after Harish was gone for good from holding a ministerial post in the country. I am in no way saying Boodhoo was involved in the drug mafia. I was told he used these gun slinging elements as ‘body guards’ since he was under threat from many places – so said had said to some of my informants at that time.

Yet, however powerful you become in tiny Mauritius if you do not hold the reigns of the Prime Minister’s office you are not the biggest or the most powerful man in the country. Boodhoo learned that with regret, I guess.

This is a series that will explore the past, present, and future of the most powerful figures of our beloved country.

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