Mauritius Times – 60 Years
By Satcam Boolell
Satcam Boolell meets with Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi, 1958
The Prime Minister of India is without contest the foremost statesman of the world today. Kings and emperors feel a proud privilege to meet him, to talk to him and be photographed with him. The young nations of the East look up to him for guidance. The oppressed people of the world see in him their most willing champion. In his own country he is practically worshipped as a god. Next to the Mahatma he is the man who will leave after his death the most undying heritage to his country and the world.
People will travel hundreds of miles just to catch a glimpse of him. When he is a foreign land, the enthusiasm he evokes in the ordinary folks who turn up in thousands to cheer him is such as to leave the big wigs of the host country almost stunned. Everywhere his passage leaves a trail of hope behind.
The impact of his towering personality is so strong on world opinion that neither the East nor the West can reckon without him. His voice penetrates with the force of magic deep into the farthest corners of the world. He talks a language such goes straight to the heart because it rings with sincerity. In a world shattered with wild talks about nuclear warfare his is the only voice which brings hope to mankind. He moves on the world stage with a poise and self-confidence which makes the envy of others.
While other statesmen about him are losing their balance and fumbling with their fingers on the trigger he keeps calm and composed and points the way which leads away from disaster. Faithful to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi he invariably castigates the use of force to settle disputes even at the risk of incurring the odium of his own people who look upon the Portuguese enclaves in Goa and Daman as an insult to their national pride. He is outspoken in his criticism of both the East and the West for their suicidal race in armaments. His outspokenness sometimes irritates foreign statesmen. Yet they listen to him with respect and admire his courage and vision.
To my generation who read his autobiography in our early teens, the man was already a legend even then. Mahatma Gandhi, who was a Saint, seemed too remote to evoke more than a distant respect. His saintliness with its emphasis on non-violence and self-immolation by frequent fastings seemed too complicated to have any appeal to us. Jawaharlal Nehru answered in every respect our ideal. His life and sacrifice still bear a fascination to young people. I remember once in 1950 or 1951 I met a young R.A.F. officer, who waited for two hours at the India House in London, just to have a glimpse of Mr Nehru. When I was in India, a Pakistani friend told me that once a group of young Pakistani scouts who had stopped in New Delhi on their way to Karachi delayed their plane by one hour simply because they insisted on seeing the Prime Minister before flying back home. They had their way.
Such is the man I was to meet and even enjoy the privilege of a private conversation at his official residence in New Delhi. I had already seen him in London on two occasions but had never met him before I went to Delhi in December last. I still remember the rousing reception he was given by a packed house when he made his way into Kingsway Hall in London in 1948 accompanied by Lord Pethick Lawrance, Kingsley Martin, editor of New Statesman, and the late Professor Laski. The whole house rose to cheer him.
At the official functions in New Delhi, I have seen Commonwealth Ministers elbowing their way through the crowd to shake hands with him and be photographed with him. Cameras would flash only for him and the Vice President, Dr S. Radhakrishnan. In the presence of these two giants of Indian politics everybody else seemed to dwindle into insignificance.
During my interview with the Prime Minister, we talked about Mauritius and its problems. As he knew something about our island, I was relieved of the task of placing Mauritius on the map. Jawaharlal Nehru inquired about Major General Chatterjee, our Indian Commissioner. He was glad to learn that his Commissioner was a popular figure in this country and was held in high esteem in every community. He criticized our one-crop economy and suggested that we should develop cottage industries as India was doing. He also suggested that every effort should be made to weld together the different elements to build up a Mauritian nation otherwise the attainment of political self-expression would become difficult.
My conversation with Mr Nehru was a unique experience. Unique not so much because of the subject matter of our discussion but because of the cordial atmosphere in which it took place. While I was sitting in front of him, I could not help thinking of how privileged I was to be in presence of a man whom I had learnt to worship from afar. It seemed as if I was in a dream.
Although I was much enthusiastic about the interview I wavered at the last moment when I thought how stupid I would look if I would not tell him something intelligent. But great men have a singular way of stepping down to the level of a small fry like myself. From the very start he put me at my ease and, a moment later, in the heat of the conversation I forgot that I was in presence of the world’s foremost statesman. It was only when I left him that I realised that I had dared to contradict him on three points.
The next day after my meeting with the Prime Minister, I had an interview with Dr S. Radhakrishnan, the Vice-President of India and one of the best orators I have ever heard. I had the occasion to listen to him three times in New Delhi and each time he was head and shoulder above the other speakers among whom include such refined and accomplished orators like Heathcoat-Amory, leader of the British delegation, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr S. Bandaranaike, the Ceylonese Prime Minister. When Gordon Walker addressed the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference on ‘The Role of the English Language on the Commonwealth’, he confessed that he was ashamed he could not speak his own language with the same mastery and fluency as Dr S. Radhakrishnan.
The Vice-President came out to meet me under his verandah as soon as I was announced. He took me into his sitting room and after I settled down in a comfortable sofa he fired his first question: “How do you find India?” It was not an easy question to answer especially when it came from such a great scholar and philosopher. I mumbled a few words just to tell him that I was very much impressed by her achievements in such a short space of time after her Independence and in the teeth of so many difficulties. He also inquired about General Chatterjee and asked to convey his greetings to him.
When he talked about the Commissioner, he gave me the impression that he was more interested in him as a friend rather than otherwise. As a matter of fact, he referred to him as “my friend General Chatterjee”. I hope the Commissioner would not mind any mentioning his name in this article. I might perhaps add that in practically every city where I stopped, I met people who asked me to remember them to him, I am sure he will pardon me if I have not so far mentioned to him all the people to whom I have promised to convey their greetings.
Dr S. Radhakrishnan informed me that he regularly gets the Mauritius Times. We talked about India and after listening to my impressions he suggested that I should come back and stay at least three months in order to get a fairly correct picture of the country. He was of opinion that an officially conducted tour could not help very much. In the course of our conversation, he told me that Mr K. Hazareesingh writes to him regularly very lengthy letters.
I took leave of the Vice President not without regret. It was so interesting to talk to him I was sorry not to have the same privilege with the President (Dr Rajendra Prasad) as I had with the Vice-President and the Prime Minister. The only occasion I met him I could not talk to him for more than a few minutes. As he was not feeling well, I did not think it proper to ask for an interview. I was however glad that I met him and paid my salutations to that glorious son of Bihar.
I am most grateful to the local Branch of the Parliamentary Association for having provided me with the opportunity of visiting India, Pakistan and Ceylon as a representative of Mauritius. My contribution to the Conference when I spoke on “Social services in the Commonwealth countries” and “Future of the smaller States in the Commonwealth” may not have been of great value. But if I have succeeded in however small a measure to bring closer the tie that binds our small country to the other parts of the Commonwealth, I shall consider that I have done my duty.
To those who believe in parliamentary democracy, the Conference was indeed of high importance. People holding different views, having different problems with different traditions and background but bound together by the invisible bond of a belief in and acceptance of parliamentary democracy as the best form of government, met together and talked freely for ten days in an atmosphere of cordiality. We were a small family who spent six weeks travelling together on the same plane, same bus, sleeping in the same hotel and eating at the same restaurant; South Africans felt no inhibition in mixing with the Nigerians. British were at home among Indians and Pakistanis. Hostility had given place to friendliness, inequality to equality.
No decision was taken at the Conference. No resolution was passed. But each of us spoke out our mind freely, without fear or bitterness. There was a genuine feeling that each and every member of the Commonwealth was anxious to see the standard living of the people of the areas raised. The wealthier members felt that the less fortunate ones should be helped.
I made many friends among the delegates. We understood one another’s problems and felt that we could take up the challenge of solving those problems as we were a large family with vast resources.
I shall treasure a happy memory of the large number of friendly people I met during my visit and always feel that although we are a small island, we are nevertheless not an unimportant member of the great family which is the Commonwealth.
5th Year – No 197
Friday 16th May, 1958
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