The country’s incremental development runs parallel with the 50-year public career (1935-1985) of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR), intimately called Kewal, in Mauritius, since his return home from London until his death. The world’s first Prime Minister of Indian origin overseas, he was the founder of modern Mauritius and the first to hold in turn all the country’s constitutional political posts. SSR contributed to the voting of laws and regulations as from 1940, while being associated with government projects from 1948 onwards. His imprint on national affairs became marked as from 1951 when he was made leader of the Mauritius Labour Party (MLP) and, more particularly, after his nomination as minister in 1957.
Despite his moderation, simplicity, courtesy and other qualities, besides being a cultured and capable Western-qualified professional, due to his Indian origin SSR was for long the object of mockery on the part of his political adversaries. Yet he has been generally admired for his avant-gardiste ideas, and he confronted the adverse situations and circumstances stoically and in a spirit of self-sacrifice whilst at the same time adopting a pragmatic strategy for national development. Unlike his former and contemporary fellow-politicians, he had imbibed both Oriental and Western cultures, and had a deep insight into rural and urban life.
Welfare State, Inclusiveness, Women’s Promotion and Liberty
SSR placed education as a priority for development. As he wished, he became Liaison Officer for Education in 1951 in order to grasp all its implications.
SSR favoured an inclusive society. In 1953 Guy Rozemont, an Afro-Christian member of MLP, was elected legislator in the South, a Hindu-dominated rural constituency, while Macolm de Chazal, a White, contended the 1959 general election under his leadership, although he was defeated. Having helped Ms Issac Damoo’s election as the first woman-municipal councillor (in Port-Louis) in 1956, SSR caused Ms Noëlie Chicorée (née Mathieu) to be appointed to the legislature in 1963 and aligned the country’s only female candidate, Ms Radhamanee Poonoosamy, in the legislative election of 1967. He appointed her as minister in 1975.
SSR’s government published the Plan for Social and Economic Development 1971-1975, the first such document in Mauritius which focused on mixed economy. In the 1970s, SSR set up ministries for, among others, Youth, Sports, Co-operatives, Women’s Affairs, Rural Development and Consumer Protection.
With primary education as an already acquired right, he turned his attention to the secondary and tertiary sectors which needed reform. The number of secondary schools increased. In 1976, secondary education became free in both government and private institutions. In a memorandum published in the press in December 1997, Raymond Rivet, a renowned educationist who was formerly a PMSD parliamentarian, laudably referred to the functioning, thanks to SSR, of the Private Secondary Schools Authority, the Mauritius Institute of Education, the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate, the Mauritius College of the Air and the University of Mauritius.
In an interview with Le Mauricien published on 18 September 1985 marking his 85th birthday, SSR declared that “la liberté de l’individu est l’héritage le plus précieux que je lègue à mon pays” (freedom of the individual is the most precious heritage I bequeathe to my country). This was the last of his innumerable press statements. He cautioned that no constitutional amendment should at any cost be brought to the relevant stipulation.
Television, the St Jean-Port-Louis highway and the modern hospital bearing his name at Pamplemousses, as well as other major capital or infrastructural works meant for national development were also SSR’s deeds. Various important national projects conceptualised in his time were, or would be executed, after his demise.
The entire Mauritian press paid tribute to SSR. On 16 December 1985, l’Express appeared in a special 20-page edition highlighting the major political stages of the country’s political evolution during which SSR played a pivotal role. Such an obituary in the media in Mauritius remains unprecedented. Condolences were received from across the world. The BBC devoted 15 minutes to the departed who was internationally respected. India observed two days of national mourning. Parliament met in extraordinary session on 24 December 1985 to present its homage to the Father of Nation. Prime Minister Jugnauth and others speaking after him qualified SSR as an outstanding humanist, patriot, democrat, parliamentarian and statesman. Jayen Cuttaree of the opposition (MMM), emphasising SSR’s socio-economic contribution, enumerated his achievements regarding health, education, pensions and other social security benefits. He praised the respect SSR had for political adversaries, as well as his magnanimity, generosity, tolerance and wisdom. For him, SSR surpassed all politicians of his time.
Wise and Respected Statesman
Although not assisted by professional or other advisers and speech writers, and without the support of the new technology now available, SSR achieved a marvellous patriotic feat for the overall development of Mauritius. Befriending several contemporary eminent leaders in the five continents, he helped put his almost unknown country on the world map. His house was the venue for the most important private political meetings. It was at his place that crucial decisions for the country’s progress were taken before and even after Independence. . During the period 1940-1983, not only politicians of all hues and other Mauritians in public life but also foreign personalities regularly visited his residence where he had a collections of countless publications. . SSR’s house remained a beehive all the time, with people of all walks of life from across the country calling on him day and night. It is thanks to the foundation laid down by SSR and his colleagues that successive governments after 1982 have made the headway that the country has since witnessed.
Chit Dukhira, a native of Long Mountain, was involved there and in the north of Mauritius generally in active politics. He organised a huge rally in Long Mountain in honour of Dr Seeewoosagur Ramgoolam in 1961 upon the latter’s return home from London as Chief Minister, and later in 1965 when he had been promoted Premier and knighted before becoming Prime Minister in 1967. For some time in the mid-1960s he was chosen by SSR to serve on the MLP’s executive committee as its PRO for the North.
* Published in print edition on 20 September 2013