Essence of Democracy

Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago — 1st YEAR NO. 21 – Friday 31st December 1954

(After the war the Labour government inspired by its socialist principles made India an independent state. Instead of breaking from the Commonwealth as Burma did, India chose voluntarily to remain within the Commonwealth. Besides gaining a staunch friend the British got a good and able partner. It is recognized that some important problems of the Far East could not have been solved without India’s active participation. The Korean truce and the supervising of repatriation of prisoners, and the fathering of the Indo-China peace treaty have earned India worldwide esteem.

What makes the strength of India? It is her high sense of democratic values. India is the greatest country in the world where universal adult suffrage has been introduced. There were fears that the electors, the majority of whom were illiterates and who were going to the polls for the first time, would misuse their votes. But they voted with a good judgment and showed a high sense of responsibility.

Peaceful revolutions as opposed to bloody revolutions taught and practised by Gandhi has become the accepted creed of Indians. Those who hold the reign of the Government of India have shown their administrative abilities and their acceptance of democratic values and respect for constitutional practices. Due respect is paid to opposition in its constitutional right to express its opinion. In Mauritius despite the bogey of Hindu menace, Labour-Communist peril, annexation of Mauritius to India danger as brandished by the capitalist and reactionary groups, there is a widespread hope that a change for the better will result in our Constitutional proposals. The Government may handle part of its responsibility to the members of the Legislature.

At this juncture of our history it is the duty of Mauritians to get prepared to handle greater responsibilities. We should create in us an acceptance of democratic values.

Democracy, according to Bertrand Russell, requires a rather difficult combination of individual initiative with submission to the majority. It requires that a man who has strong political convictions should argue for them and do what he can to make them the convictions of the majority, but that if that majority proves adverse, he should submit with a good grace. Tolerance is absolutely essential to the success of democracy. If people hold their principles so strongly that they feel they ought to die or kill for them, every difference of opinion will lead to Civil War or a COUP d’ETAT.

We think that the following directives and advice of Mr Nehru given to the Provincial Congress Committee presidents will serve us as a guidance. Editor.)

For some time past, I have been deeply concerned at the growing tendency to indulge in some kind of violent activity in our public life. The very essence of a democratic state is its functioning in an atmosphere of peace. Problems, however difficult, are solved by peaceful methods, by discussion, negotiation, conciliation and persuasion. A decision once taken is accepted even by those who may not agree with it, who maintain the right to get the decision changed by peaceful methods. Till it is changed, they accept it. If this basic conception of democracy is not accepted, then democracy itself cannot function.

1.     I recognise the right of any group to agitate for a cause, provided that agitation is completely peaceful. I can even conceive of peaceful satyagraha, although the occasions for this should be rare in a democratic society. But in no event should violent action be conceived or encouraged.

2.     If we were against violence when we were carrying on our struggle for freedom, how much more so must we be now when we have attained that freedom and have the normal democratic apparatus for solving our problems. And yet, the fact remains that frequent outbursts of violence take place over domestic problems. In the name of satyagraha, activities are indulged in which almost invariably lead to violent demonstrations. There have been many instances of this kind of thing happening among students as well as others.

3.     I am not discussing any special incident or apportioning any blame. I am merely pointing out this tendency to try to attain some objective, however petty it might be, or to bring about a change through methods which are either violent in themselves or which inevitably lead to violence. I think that this is a very dangerous tendency. It is the business of every citizen to discourage it. It is more especially the business of Congressmen to do so.

4.     What has troubled me very much have been occasional communal conflicts and violence. Some recent incidents, as at Aligarh, Pilibhit and Nizamabad, have been very painful. Again, I am not analysing any particular incident or apportioning blame. But certain factors stand out. Some rumour is spread or some petty incident takes place which has no importance. This lead to excitement and conflict. Take the Nizamabad case. Some miscreant put up a Pakistani flag on a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at night. No one knew who had done it. It might have been an Indian or a foreigner, a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian. Whoever he was, he was a mischief-maker, and the matter should have been dealt with on that level. But people get excited or are encouraged to become excited and arson and conflict follow.

5.     This means that we are at the mercy of any mischief-maker who wants to create trouble. This is a very dangerous state of affairs. A foreign spy can excite our people and create trouble, or some goonda or other may do so, hoping to profit by the upset caused.

6.     I want you and others to appreciate how ridiculous all this is, apart from its being rather shameful, and how it is discrediting us. In an organized State, people do not function in this way. If somebody misbehaves, the State deals with this matter and not the public.

7.     I am writing to you briefly on this subject, but I feel strongly about it because this is bringing disgrace to our country and encouraging disruptive forces, whether Hindu or Muslim or any other. In the modern world, people do not quarrel because they belong to different religions. Unfortunately, they quarrel about other matters and even go to war, but they do not so on the basis of religion. To do so is a sign of backwardness and exhibits a lack of that toleration of spirit for which India has prided herself.

8.     I should like you to give consideration to this matter and to make all Congressmen feel that it is their duty to fight this tendency.

* * *

Between the Editor and the Reader

Dear Reader,

Joseph Addison, the famous essayist, once wrote: “I remember when one whole island was shaken with an earthquake some years ago, there was an impudent mountebank who sold pills (which as he told the country people) were very good against an earthquake”. We do not pretend that the Mauritius Times is a pill which is good against the political and social earthquakes of our country. But the paper, which is the enterprise of a group of young men, is determined to contribute its humble best to the efforts of other papers, institutions and individuals for the making of a happier Mauritius.

Mauritius Times is a paper with a purpose. As most papers of opinion – and also because it is printed in English – its readership is limited. Notwithstanding its various failings, of which we are fully conscious, we have so far received much encouragement from our readers. So, we will be failing in our duty if we do not express to you our heartfelt thanks for the interest you have shown in the Mauritius Times. In fact the enthusiasm with which the paper was welcomed is a source of great encouragement to us.

This is our twenty first issue. Though it hardly represents anything in the life of a paper yet we are pleased to note that we have been held in esteem by our readers. We have created a certain sphere of influence in Mauritius as well as in London. It is with a deep sense of gratification that we note that our paper is being read in England – especially by the Labour people. We have received some very encouraging letters from Labour MPs and from editors of influential publications. Our articles on the rice policy of the Government of Mauritius, the change in Primary School course, the adoption in our schools and colleges of A Short History of Mauritius by Barnwell & Toussaint, our polemics with Le Cernéen have attracted the attention of some responsible persons and papers in London.

An influential Labour MP has sent us a very encouraging letter. He writes: “… Perhaps you will let me have any point that you fell need raising and ventilating – for you are quite correct when you say that there is indeed lamentable ignorance here about your affairs in Mauritius. I think it is fair comment to say that there are few in the HOUSE who have any idea of your critical future. I have time and again tried to impress upon our people that things are going to be difficult, — in many ways your Labour members face conditions like B. Guinea, and B. Honduras! You would see that the official Labour Party magazine here Fact – a monthly, gave Mauritius a special article recently…, so things are improving … I think Le Cernéen’s idea of your annexation to India to be dangerous nonsense and the future of our viable territories like yours needs careful thoughts…”

It is recomforting that our problems are being studied in the Metropolis. We should like to make special mention of three persons who are doing their best to push Mauritius in the forefront of Colonial politics. We shall be ever indebted to Mr James Johnson, MP, to Mr Peter Ibbotson, and to Dr Kumria, editor The African and Colonial World for this fine work. The Commonwealth Officer of the Labour Party, Mr John Hatch, too, deserves our praise for popularizing our problems among the Labour MP’s.

During its short existence the Mauritius Times has done what was within the limits of its abilities. We cannot predict what the future has in store for us, but we can unhesitatingly say that we depend in a large measure on your support.

Above other considerations we are interested in the paper being read and discussed, so we shall feel much obliged if after reading it you will kindly pass it over to your friends and request them to become its subscribers.

We are shortly appearing in a larger size. In the meantime we are making some ameliorations. As from the coming issue we will be appearing on Fridays and we will devote some space for important letters or extracts of letters from our readers: we will renew writing for our column of News And Views which was neglected for lack of space; and lastly our staff writer, Jesse, will devote about a column in French entitled Bribes for hot news.

Yours Sincerely,

The Editor

* * *

Telephone Dept. Appoints A Sixth Standard Certificate Holder in a High Post

Concerning the appointment of a Commercial Inspector Grade II at the Telephone Dept, we wrote in our issue of the 30.10.54.

“… Sceptics maintain that the Selection Board which sat on Monday last to interview candidates was the usual MISE-EN-SCENE sometimes staged by Government Departments and that the favourite candidate for the post is a holder of the Sixth Standard certificate. Can this be true? Let us wait and see.”

“The nomination was withheld for two months for no apparent reason. It is now known that the same candidate, the 6th Standard certificate holder, has been nominated. Two considerations puzzle the public. 1. What are the reasons that prompt the Govt. to prefer a 6th Std certificate holder, when there were candidates holding Matriculation certificates. 2. How is it that the favourite candidate was known before the selection itself? Can’t the Hon. Colonial Secretary give some attention to such matters?

By Jawaharlal Nehru


* Published in print edition on 30 December 2014

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