Anquetil’s Political Testament

Mauritius Times – 60 years ago

By Doojendranath Napal

Our constitution is in the making. What it will be the Boundary Commission alone can tell. But one thing is clear, the conservatives have again come forward to raise barriers to progress. They did it in 1884-1885 when the question of representative government was envisaged. Again in 1945-1947 in the Consultative Committee they were there at their old posts. But since their ranks have thinned. There remains only a few of the old conservative guards and their hirelings who are still fighting their lone, hopeless battle.

Our top Labour leaders of today also sat in the consultative Committee. Hon Seeneevassen, Dr Ramgoolam, Mr Beejadhur, only to mention these, fought with their utmost vigour for Universal Suffrage. But the man who stood out prominently as the champion of the labouring classes was Jean Emmanuel Anquetil.

When Dr Curé, founder of the Labour Party, for reasons better known to himself, cut himself off from the Labour movement, Anquetil had come to the rescue.

He instilled new vigour into the Labour Party and made of it a political organisation with a programme and followers. Anquetil knew that many of our political battles are fought in the House of Commons and our destiny is often shaped in the Colonial Office. He therefore brought his party within the recognition of the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Labour Party of England and the Fabian Society.

It was above all his character which helped him in his trials and tribulations. Fearless, outspoken, no easy prey to worldly temptations, he was the leader of the down-trodden classes. As Remy Ollier before him, nothing could curb his will. No sacrifice was too much for him. He had been apprentice, mechanic, sailor; he had travelled in many parts of the world, and had been a Hyde Park orator. Since his arrival in the island in 1936 he had worked tirelessly for the labouring classes. He was above all an active trade unionist, one who knew what trade unions were capable of, for he had seen them at work in the U.K.

He had from the very beginning marked himself as a selfless and tireless organiser. He conceived, planned and set on foot the trade union movement in the island.

We can say of Anquetil’s contribution in the Consultative Committee to be his political testament. He spoke vehemently against suffrage for women because it was a system which should give votes to the “ladies” and not to women in general. He could not understand how women could be granted such a right “before men had the full right to vote”.

How could a woman because she had property and could fill her electoral form in English consider herself more important to society than the labourer? Anquetil said:

“It is most unfair to say that the woman who earns Rs 50 is of more useful service to this community than the poor labourer who bends his back to dig holes to plant canes which is the living arteria of the community.”

He believed in government by the people, for the people. He could imagine the gains of the worker under a democratic system of government. He outlined his political career since 1936. He had known “all the creeks and the corners of this island for ten years”. He had fought for male adult suffrage for the past ten years and could not be a “coward to all those who flocked to his meetings” to hear about it. He could say with conviction:

Therefore, we consider that the experience he (the worker) gains by being crushed under the worries of the weight that he is carrying all the time in the economic structure of this country is sure to convince him that nothing can save him but a good, sound government.”

He ably refuted the oft-repeated argument of the conservative that the majority would swamp the other communities. He said: “If we were to believe in this swamping, then I would say that the possessing class has swamped us for 60 years and it is just fair that we should swamp them now.”

It is sad but too true that the founder of the Labour Party, Dr Maurice Curé, did not stand for the ideal which his Party proclaimed. What prompted him to adopt this attitude? The truth is there to condemn him. He said in the Consultative Committee:

“The condition for anybody to be an elector must be that he should fill his form in English instead of Chinese, Urdu, Hindi, Gujrat, Afghan, Arab and so on.”

While supporting the case for the “ladies”, Dr Curé was not kind towards Muslim women. He said: “It is true that the right of women to vote if introduced in Mauritius would not allow every woman in this country to vote, especially if on restricted basis. But, Sir, are we going to wait for the grant of female suffrage in this island till our Muslim sisters have ceased to be cloistered to live in separate compartments?…”

Here then are the historical facts, Dr Cure and his comrade-in-arms Anquetil had parted the ways. One was for progress, for the toiling masses though it meant for him following the rough and thorny road. The other refused to march with time. What is strange is that he was fighting his own doughty lieutenant, Anquetil, whose only fault was that he was true to himself and to the cause he had espoused.

4th Year No 164
Friday 27 September 1957

* Published in print edition on 18 May 2021

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