On the occasion of India’s 77nd Independence anniversary celebration, this week, and the holding of the World Hindi Conference as from tomorrow, it’s opportune to revisit the special relationship that binds our two countries. Although, sadly, this exercise is tinged with the tragic news of the demise of a giant of India’s contemporary history, former Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
India has come a long way from where she was in 1947, a country that had just been torn apart by the outgoing colonial power. The subcontinent was coming out of a chequered and prolonged history of strife and domination that could be traced back to several centuries. Yet, India was able to hold it together despite the worst vicissitudes visiting upon her population and the fissiparous tendencies which threatened to disrupt her social fabric. She is recognized today as one of the best performing economies of the world, not only in terms of what she has been able to achieve as she gradually ascended the international ladder of recognition but more so with regard to the potential she holds to do even better in time to come.
It was out of the prevailing desperation of India’s colonial administration by the British that many came as indentured labourers and traders to Mauritius mainly as from the early 19th Century. Whatever the economic and social conditions migrant Indians faced in Mauritius while it was a British colony and thereafter, once we had we gained our independence, Mauritians of Indian descent have always had an unflinching attachment and affinity towards India and the essential values she stands for. This has caused a lasting socio-economic relationship to be crafted despite the geographical distance created by the separation, in bad times as in good. Leaders of society from across the ocean have oftentimes proclaimed the special ties which bind us together in an evolving world.
Over the past decades, the proximity of Mauritius with India in the social, cultural, and economic spheres has gone on increasing. Many came from India to Mauritius from time to time, to lift up our drooping spirits when social well-being was at a low and the political outlook was grim, in the face of local leaders ever keen to marginalize the population of Indian descent by either pushing them down the economic ladder or by exploiting the inherent linguistic and provincial diversity of the community for personal gains. When India made progress on the international front, it struck a chord within us as something worth emulating, and keeping up the hope that we could do just as well.
From the simple import of goods and services from India in the beginning to becoming an effective conduit for channelling significant amounts of investments into India from all over the world thanks to the India-Mauritius Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTA), we have kept consolidating the economic relationship between the two countries. Had we gone a step further to signing and implementing the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement between the two countries, economic relations would not have stalled at disputes over the misuse of the DTA by a few shrewd tax avoiders hailing from India. Indeed, the wider horizons so opened between the two countries would have abstracted from bureaucratic focus on the abuse by certain individuals of the DTA; policy-makers would have empowered the two countries rather to roll out the larger canvas for mutual economic cooperation, looking beyond narrow horizons of tax evasion and the like. This does not mean we should not be helping India track those indulging in malpractices to her detriment. As well as doing that we could also concurrently work together at unfolding higher opportunities for both countries.
There is little doubt that, given where India was at the time of her independence and where she stands today in the league of world nations, a lot of ground has been covered that was unthinkable when she made the leap to her ‘tryst with destiny’. This is the fruit of the farsightedness of a few Indian political leaders. Despite the severe handicaps and social constraints standing in the way of social and economic progress, India took up the challenge to operate within the framework of democratic institutions.
This has not been altogether helpful at all times. But India has succeeded in creating envy for what she has been able to achieve nevertheless. Even the Western media does not spare the least false step – in their perception — her leaders make today. That’s because she has gradually but assertively enough become a global force to reckon with. In our case, our relationship with India has not changed with the circumstances. There has been an abiding conviction that India would go on progressing. We may have unwittingly allowed some unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of the DTA, or some boisterous politicians over here to mess up whatever had been achieved in that sector. And anything of the sort which takes the undesirable trajectory can be set back on course without repudiating the very basis of mutually beneficial relationships.
Not only these special ties, but the physical proximity of Mauritius per se and the people to people contacts that modern means of communication has multiplied manifold, will ensure that Mauritius remains the ‘little India beyond the seas’ of Indira Gandhi as a significant outpost of the Indian diaspora.
* Published in print edition on 17 August 2018