114th Birth Anniversary of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam

SSR’s public career (1935-1985) reflects socio-political development of Mauritius. The country’s incremental development runs parallel with that of his 50 years since his return from London until his death. He was the founder of modern Mauritius, and the first PIO Prime Minister in the world, as well as, the first to hold in turn all the country’s constitutional political posts.

He contributed to the voting of laws and regulations as from 1940, and was associated with government projects as from 1948. 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, SSR was for long the object of mockery on the part of his political adversaries because of his Indian origin. Yet, he has been generally admired for his avant-gardist ideas. His democratic struggle during the particularly difficult periods the country went through is recognised. He confronted the adverse situations and circumstances stoically and with self-sacrifice. He persevered in his task by adopting a pragmatic strategy for national development. Unlike his former and contemporary fellow-politicians, he steeped in both Oriental and Western cultures, besides having an insight of rural and urban life.

Appreciation and Gratitude

SSR’s political opponent since long, Sookdeo Bissoondoyal, thus wrote in Le Mauricien of 31 August 1961, even before allying with him for the independence election (1967): “Dr Ramgoolam is a well-read politician. He is not of that class of Indo-Mauritian intellectuals who gradually develop unforgivable arrogance when they come across an ill-dressed person. He hates affectation. Although his knowledge of English is vast, still he clings to the Mauritian accent and in this he differs from the shallow but arrogant so- called intellectuals. Dr Ramgoolam unmistakably is a blend of many mysteries, of many contradictions and of many conflicting loyalties. He is at home anywhere, among the rich of any complexion and among officials however ruthless these may turn out. He knows how and what to speak in moments of crisis.”

Addressing the nation, as published in the press on 16 December 1985, following the death of the Father of Nation, Chief-Justice and acting Governor-General Sir Cassam Moollan qualified him as “one of the most illustrious sons, if not the most illustrious son, this country has produced.” He underlined that SSR “traced for us the path of freedom and independence with a vision and certainty which many thought unrealistic at the time. He was copiously railed and abused day in day out in certain quarters for his stand for equal rights of all citizens of the lovely country we were born in. He advocated throughout the battle for Independence that this country belongs to us all by right, to the exclusion of foreign rulers, and that we should be the masters of our destiny.” SSR insisted, when the Constitution of Mauritius was being outlined, that human liberties “should be specifically safeguarded and spelt out,” Sir Cassam recalled. His “passing away marks the end of an era, and also the closing chapter of a glorious struggle towards Independence and Nationhood.” SSR made Mauritius a sovereignty and enabled Mauritians to live, as he pointed out, “in harmony and understanding.”

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 in SSR played a pivotal role. Such an obituary in the media in Mauritius remains unprecedented. Condolences were received from around the world, with BBC devoting 15 minutes to SSR and India observing 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 other parliamentarians qualified him as an outstanding humanist, patriot, democrat, parliamentarian and statesman. Jayen Cuttaree of the opposition (MMM), emphasising SSR’s socio-economic contribution, enumerated his achievements in the fields of 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 revealed himself to be ahead of his generation, surpassing all politicians of his time.

Wise and Respected Statesman

Although not assisted by professional or other advisers and speech writers, without the benefit the technology now available, SSR achieved a marvellous patriotic feat for the overall development of Mauritius. Befriending the eminent leaders of his time in the five continents, he helped put his unknown country on the world map. SSR’s house was the venue for the most important private political meetings. It was at his place that crucial decisions were taken before, and even after, Independence for the country’s progress. During the period 1940-1983, not only politicians of all hues and other Mauritians in public life but also foreign personalities regularly visited this residence where countless publications were to be found. SSR’s house remained a bee-hive 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 by SSR and his colleagues that successive governments after 1982 have made the headway that the country has witnessed.

[A native of Long Mountain, the author was involved there, and in the rest of the North of Mauritius, in active politics. He organised in his village a huge rally in honour of SSR (1900-1985), at first in 1961 upon the latter’s return home from London as Chief Minister, and later in 1965 when he had been promoted Premier and made Sir before becoming Prime Minister in 1967. For some time in the mid-1960s he was chosen by SSR to sit on the MLP’s executive committee and served as its PRO for the North. He contributed to the victory of Independence Party led by SSR in the marginal constituency of Long Mountain/Port-Louis North. As suggested by SSR,in 1962 he initiated the Labour Party’s Constituency Committee for Long Mountain/Port-Louis North, the country’s first such organisation.]

* Published in print edition on 26 September 2014

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