2068: Centenary of Independence

It is a grave mistake to believe that we can instil such passion in the hearts and minds of 1.3m people by just assembling 400 disparate “artists” to perform to a small audience

“A landmark anniversary has to be celebrated with full-blooded passion by the entire nation. However it is a grave mistake to believe that we can instil such passion in the hearts and minds of 1.3m people by just assembling 400 disparate “artists” to perform to a small audience — made up of 10k at most — at Champs de Mars. Live MBC broadcasts notwithstanding!”


On 31-Jan-2018 Government Information Services had announced that Government “will do its utmost to ensure that the celebrations on the occasion of the landmark event of the 50th anniversary of the Independence of Mauritius are carried out with a sense of fervour. To this end a budget of Rs10 Million has been earmarked and some 400 artists will be called upon to participate in the Spectacle Populaire.” On Tuesday 15-May-2018, Arts Minister Roopun informed Parliament that Government had in fact spent Rs 55.5m on the celebrations. An overshoot of 450%! Easily done when it’s not your money but someone else’s, I suppose.

The ambition has to be applauded because a landmark anniversary has to be celebrated with full-blooded passion by the entire nation. However it is a grave mistake to believe that we can instil such passion in the hearts and minds of 1.3m people by just assembling 400 disparate “artists” to perform to a small audience — made up of 10k at most — at Champs de Mars. Live MBC broadcasts notwithstanding! Anyway let’s see what we got for our Rs 55.5m.

12-Mar-2018. Not to outdo its predecessors, the 50th anniversary came and went like a damp squib. Among the highlights, we were treated to a fly-past of four noisy helicopters — and as per the MBC — under the command of a lady squadron leader. Except that it takes 12-24 aircrafts to form a squadron!

The composite song and dance ended up being neither man nor beast. It would have been far more effective to allocate each discipline its own 3-minutes of display time. But in our inane drive to achieve the impossible and unify the rainbow into one single colour, we end up with a hotchpotch of nonsense. When will we understand that Bharata Natyam and ballet are totally different disciplines from Sega?

However just when we thought it could not get any worse, out came a squad of baton-twirling WPCs performing the intricate figure of eight with their… batons! Do the powers realize the sort of image this sort of display projects? We are here talking of Law Enforcement Officers who must command the respect of the public at all times. Imagine the sort of comments from the loutish elements of society every time a WPC tries to caution them. Better to leave this kind of thing to the majorettes!

“When it comes to organizing big events, there are very few to beat the British. One such occasion was Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Celebrations 1977. A flying visit to that year should yield some fruitful ideas that may be useful to us. From the outset the aim was to involve every citizen and give everyone a chance to take part. And what better than a street party! So early in the year preparations began for large parties in every city as well as a thousand smaller ones in villages and at local street level. In London alone there were 4000 of these for individual streets and neighbourhoods…”


2068: The Centenary

Let us all hope that, in 50 years’ time, the Centenary will be celebrated with a real sense of national fervour. Something that would underscore our Freedoms, our common History and our Republican values as one people, one nation!

It is my sincere hope that by 2068 we would have moved on from our ethno-centric, religion and caste-based fragmented society to a truly united Republican nation where freedom, meritocracy and fraternity would have ceased to be hollow words. To prepare for the day, we should begin as from now to use our schools as nurseries to germinate these values in the minds and hearts of today’s young, the citizen of tomorrow.

For the grand event, the organizers will have to think out of the box, although thinking out of the box does not necessarily mean re-inventing the wheel. When it comes to organizing big events, there are very few to beat the British. One such occasion was Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Celebrations 1977. A flying visit to that year should yield some fruitful ideas that may be useful to us.

Preparation. From the outset the aim was to involve every citizen and give everyone a chance to take part. And what better than a street party! So early in the year preparations began for large parties in every city as well as a thousand smaller ones in villages and at local street level. In London alone there were 4000 of these for individual streets and neighbourhoods.

In Mauritius this could be spread over several weekends to allow for dignitaries to attend and sufficient police presence to ensure public order as well as traffic control and management. Apart from official buildings, every household should be encouraged to hang out a Quadricolor flag throughout the celebratory period. Imagine walking down your street and seeing masses of colourful flags fluttering in the breeze.  

Prayer. The anniversary date was itself commemorated in Church services across the UK on 06-Jun-1977, Queen Elizabeth’s birthday. In Mauritius we could organize a morning of prayer in every Church, every Mosque and every Temple — in every place of worship on 12-Mar-2068. Afterwards everyone could meet in the local town-halls for meeting-and-greeting. The hoisting of the Quadricolour can be performed in the afternoon at the Place-d’Armes, with the minimum of fuss.

Goodwill Visits. During 1977 the Queen visited 36 Commonwealth countries as well as many towns in the UK. Following this pattern the Mauritius President could visit major towns and villages as well as the Outer Islands which, hopefully, would include the Chagos by then. For once he should minimize the protocolary hobnobbing with local dignitaries and instead go out to meet the masses, in walks-about à la Queen.

Diaspora. On an occasion like this, no one should be left out. Thus with the help of our embassies, we must find ways to involve the diaspora in the country of their residence.  Air Mauritius could lay out special flights at discounted rates to ferry those who wish to join in the celebrations in Mauritius. As a result, our tourist arrival would see a real boost of thousands. Because expatriates prefer to stay in bungalows, shop at local shops, eat at local restaurants, travel by contract cars, and spend generously on outings and gifts for family, the huge foreign exchange earnings would go straight into the real economy.

Sports/Games/Culture. We could organize competitions of sports, games, song and dance, and the arts per district. The 10 district winners would then proceed to compete for a prestigious national trophy — along with a worthy prize money — in their discipline. To top it all, we should organize a nationwide competition for the most apt poem for the Centenary; and the best 50 published in an anthology.

Souvenir. A special coin of a reasonable value could be minted along the line of the FRF100 coin — which was normally issued in paper form — that was issued in France to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the French Republic in 1989.

Rejoice

It would be presumptuous of me to think that I possess the monopoly on ideas. No, indeed not! I make these suggestions in the hope that they may serve as starting points that can be used to suit the social background of the time. Above all I wish that, by then, every Mauritian citizen would be imbued with the Republican values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. 

Of course I won’t be around in 2068 but, to those who will be, I wish you all a truly Republican Centenary. Rejoice!


* Published in print edition on 8 June 2018

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