New Delhi: A major political controversy has been raging in the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius since June, which has dragged India right into the eye of the storm. While the Indian government has chosen to side with Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, the imbroglio is deepening by the day.
It all started with the June resignation of former Mauritius Telecom (MT) CEO Sherry Singh. While stepping down, Singh, regarded as a key government insider and close confidant of Jugnauth, made a cryptic statement to his employees that said: “I am unable to continue without compromising my values and that is not an option for me.”
In interviews to the media, Singh subsequently made allegations about the Mauritian PM, hinting at India’s hand in a controversy surrounding the SAFE (South Africa Far East) cable, a 13,500-km submarine fibre optic cable connecting South Africa, Mauritius, La Réunion in France, India and Malaysia.
In two interviews given to the Le Défi Media Group and La Sentinelle, which were broadcast live, Singh alleged that PM Jugnauth had forced him to allow an “Indian team” to access a SAFE cable landing station at Baie-du-Jacotet, a prohibited area.
Singh also said that the PM’s main objective was to install a “sniffing” device that would spy on Mauritian internet traffic.
The country’s Central Criminal Investigation Department Special Cell is investigating the matter, on Jugnauth’s orders.
Asked about the issue, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi Thursday sought to downplay it. “I don’t know if I have the full details of that, but my understanding is that the prime minister of Mauritius has already made a statement. I really don’t have anything further to add to that. I think that’s good enough from our perspective,” he said.
Jugnauth responded to Singh’s allegations Thursday, while speaking to mediapersons. “Where is his irrefutable evidence, if he keeps his right to silence?” he asked.
The Mauritian PM also said, “When he accused me of doing something illegal, I expected him to go and give a statement to the police. He didn’t when I gave him time. So it was I who made a statement to the police.”
A new CEO will take over by early August, he added.
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The former Mauritius Telecom CEO, who reportedly also has an interest in joining politics and is negotiating with opposition parties there, told the Le Défi Media Group: “With or without me, there will be a political tsunami.”
In an interview to the local media, Singh ruled out the role of India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in the matter, but did say that “leader of the Indian team of technicians came for the cable”.
Asked why he allowed the cable to be accessed, Singh said, “The prime minister is the supreme leader, I had to obey orders. But I could not accept that a third party has access to private data, because it would be a betrayal.”
Opposition blames India, Mauritian NSA under fire
The opposition parties of Mauritius have latched onto the controversy and resorted to India bashing of sorts, raising questions on why the current NSA of their country, Kumaresan Ilango, is an Indian and not a Mauritian.
A 1982-batch IPS officer, Ilango was the frontrunner for the post of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief in 2018. He was the station commander at the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, where he was allegedly blamed for playing a role in ousting their former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In September 2021, he was appointed by Jugnauth as the NSA of Mauritius. It was he who steered Mauritius to become a member of the Colombo Security Conclave on maritime security cooperation along with India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, at a meeting held in March this year.
Earlier this week, Reza Uteem, a leader of the opposition Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM), sought to link the controversy with Ilango’s appointment.
To this, the PM replied that while the controversy is under investigation, the NSA was appointed following a “request by the Indian government”.
Responding to Uteem, the PM also said, “What have you got against India?…It is regretful that some people in the opposition are indulging themselves in systematic India bashing to pursue their sinister agenda.”
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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