Independence Day Celebrations
Moscow, 12 March 1968
Following the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, many countries under colonial rule started fighting for their liberation; these included Ghana, Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and countries of Asia and Latin America. The post Second World War period was a time of deep consciousness of the leaders and people to claim the independence of their countries. The dream of Britain ruling the waves was shattered down with the uprising of the British colonies.
Colonial rule kept the colonial territories and their people in a stagnant state, with limited schooling, rampant unemployment, degrading health system and low per capita income. The then Soviet Union took the lead in instigating those countries to break away from the shackles of bondage from their masters and to free their people. A new era of liberation arrived. We witnessed the independence of countries one after another, year by year.
It was the turn of Mauritius with a long history of French and British administrative rule to liberate its people from colonial domination. At the time, although the Legislative Council had a majority of elected members, the nominees and officials would often cause opposition to proposed democratic and social changes.
With the wide experience gained during his medical studies and personal contacts with the members of the London Branch of the Indian Congress Party and leaders of other countries and, moreover, imbued with the principles of Socialism through the Fabian Society, Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam had acquired a solid knowledge of negotiation principles that was to serve him in later years as a staunch politician.
Following his return to Mauritius as a Medical Practitioner in 1935, he slowly built up a good reputation as someone caring for the poor and the oppressed. He vowed to improve the living conditions of the working class in line with the activities of Manilal Doctor and Mahatma Gandhi. He personally overcame preliminary hurdles in getting himself nominated as Mayor of the Municipality of Port Louis.
His popular political activities gained him the recognition of the British administration. His designation as Liaison Officer for Education, Premier and Chief Minister opened up avenues for staunch constitutional negotiations with the British Government. The referendum of the general elections of 1967 clearly expressed the wish of the majority of the population claiming independence. Thanks to the allies of the Labour Party led by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, joining hands with Sookdeo Bissoondoyal of the Independent Forward Block and Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed of the Comité d’Action Musulman, Mauritius gained its independence on 12 March 1968, with the hoisting of the national quadricolor flag at the Champ de Mars in Port Louis.
Such an auspicious event was also celebrated in Russia. As the senior most student, studying medicine at the Moscow State Pirogov Medical Institute, I took the initiative of writing and requesting the Ministries of Health and Higher Education of the USSR for permission to invite and assemble all the Mauritian students studying in Moscow, Kalinin, Kiev, Leningrad, Rostov and other cities. All the 60 Mauritian friends gathered at the grand banquet given on 12 March 1968 to celebrate the Independence Day of Mauritius at the sumptuous Pekin Hotel in the surrounding atmosphere of a Tsar’s palace. Our distinguished guests comprised Rectors of Universities, Deans of Faculties and Representatives of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee, Friendship House and the Peace Council, organisations of which I have been a close collaborator.
After Independence, we were the first qualified university graduates from the Soviet Union to return home to serve our fellow citizens and participate in the active building of the country.
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the first Prime Minister, a man of vision, embarked in changing the heavy colonial heritage into a democratic and welfare state with free education, health services and social security support to the vulnerable class. His magic wand would bring successful changes in improving the condition of the fellow countrymen. As a remarkable statesman, he made Mauritius known to the outside world. He has left his mark in all walks of life, where economic and technological development, peace, harmony and cultural understanding through “Unity in Diversity” make us feel Mauritius, on this 42nd Independence Day, as a “Paradise Island” in the Indian Ocean.
Dr Indraduth Chunnoo