Dr S. Ramgoolam

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By THUMB MARK III

On the afternoon of Monday last about half past five we went to the Municipality of Port Louis. In the Committee Room were gathered the councillors; the public gallery was packed to capacity so much so that people coming late had to stand on tip toes by the door side and stretch their necks to have a glimpse of what was going on inside. The councillors, all with solemn looks, sat silently listening to the quavering voice of the chairman, Dr E. Millien, who was speaking in French. In the meantime, the audience was holding its breath; it was so silent that you could almost hear it.

By the side of the chairman, sat a short, dapper little man in a light blue suit wearing a red neck tie. He too was listening to the chairman, but he had his eyes fixed to the ceiling and betrayed a sense of absent-mindedness. We could not possibly make out what the chairman was saying, but we heard him concluding by proposing Dr Ramgoolam to be the Mayor for 1958. The proposal was seconded by a young councillor, Eddy Chankye; after putting the proposal to the vote, the chairman proclaimed Dr Ramgoolam Mayor of Port Louis for 1958 — and the audience broke into roaring applause; they applauded a landmark in the history of the Indo-Mauritian community.

Dr Ramgoolam is the first Indo-Mauritian to become Mayor of Port Louis. His election to such a high office is an event in which one can read the progress made by the Indo-Mauritian community so far; it is more striking when it is considered against a historical background. The other side to this event is that it brings out the personality and career of the greatest parliamentarian ever produced by the Indo-Mauritian community, a community which some people had come to think were composed of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Ramgoolam is now 56; he has already spent over 20 years in public life. He was born of very humble parents on a sugar estate in Flacq district and, during his early years, the period of his primary education, he had to attend to many a menial job; he even tilled the land. Gradually, he made his way up to Royal College and in his early twenties he left for London for medical studies.

His student days in London were not very rosy and at a certain time he had to interrupt his studies owing to lack of funds. But being a courageous and a go-ahead young chap, he was not to be daunted by adverse circumstances and fought his way up. He had to work and study at the same time and he did it.

Altogether, he spent over 10 years in London to complete his studies. Quite often there is an ill wind that blows nobody good but, in his case, his rather long stay in London was not purposeless. It was an opportunity for him to study the British mind at the same time keeping an eye on the political developments around him. He took to writing and established quite a number of contacts in political and journalistic circles. He returned to Mauritius in 1936.

Soon after his arrival he was drawn into politics. He founded the daily Advance, which has the largest circulation today and tried to make of it the mouthpiece of socialism. He joined the Union Mauricienne in the early forties and was elected to the Municipality of Port Louis but later had to leave owing to an ideological conflict. Later he was nominated to the Legislative Council where he is still serving but not as a nominee. When it came to revise the constitution in 1947, he was appointed on the Constitutional Consultative Committee. It was a crucial period when the vested interests were really threatened, when the hoi polloi began mustering its strength and when faint cries of Indian domination were heard. At that time the Mauritius Labour Party, founded a few years earlier under the inspiring leadership of Dr Cure, was in a helpless state; it was moribund and after the elections of 1948 under the then new Constitution when he was elected from Pamplemousses-Rivière du Rempart, Ramgoolam joined the party. Ramgoolam had realised that it was idle for the workers to fight their way individually.

Since then, a new chapter was opened in his life and he had held a prominent place on the political stage of this country. He was nominated on the Executive Council and together with his colleagues of the Labour Party began clamouring for a more liberal constitution: in fact, he thought that nothing short of Responsible Government with ministerial powers coupled with adult suffrage would satisfy the party and the idea was launched.

It is difficult to speak of Ramgoolam without mentioning N.M.U. (Noel Marrier d’Unienville) and at this juncture we are compelled to do it. Long before the Labour Party published its manifesto which sought Responsible Government for Mauritius. N.M.U., who had returned from Paris and taken charge of Le Cernéen, had started hitting Ramgoolam. For over 8 years, hardly an issue of Le Cernéen was printed without an article — very often there were more than one — abusing or vilifying Ramgoolam.

At first, we had thought that it was just a political struggle but the ruthless hatred which was being poured on the doctor from the columns of Le Cernéen was just shocking. It was a well-designed plan to identify Ramgoolam with the resurgent Indo-Mauritian community, to confuse the Indo-Mauritians themselves and finally to drive a wedge between the two main ethnic groups composing the Labour Party. Apart from a few casual articles, Ramgoolam neither in his own name nor on behalf of the Labour Party raised a little finger to counter the anti-Labour propaganda and there lies what this correspondent considers to be the only blunder of his career and it is a blunder which has changed the direction of the destiny of Mauritius.

The Hindu hegemony myth hammered upon by NMU and others gained much ground not only in Mauritius but in London too, and when Ramgoolam and his colleagues went to the Colonial Office for negotiations about our constitution they had to face a British government who had swallowed the Hindu domination bogey, lock, stock and even barrel. And instead of having a really responsible government with a fully-fledged ministerial system we had to accept a hotch-potch kind of ministry and what followed needs no retelling. When the ministry was constituted this year, he was appointed (by the Governor) Ministerial Secretary to the Treasury and now he has been elected Mayor of Port Louis.

It is by no means possible to give a complete picture of such an impressive and controversial personality as Ramgoolam within the compass of a short chronicle. What we have said is confessedly of a schematic nature. Lest we forget, let it be said that besides being an adroit diplomat, a great parliamentarian and a suitable politician he is a writer whose pen many will covet. The few articles he had written on the class conflicts of this island constitute the best pages of socialist writings of Mauritius and betray an analytical mind so far unmatched. Ramgoolam is to his people what Rivet has been to his community and on this great occasion we cannot but wish him all the best.

Mauritius Times – Friday 27 December 1957
4th year – No 177


* Published in print edition on 9 November 2021

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