P. Soobarah

State subsidies to religious organisations:

Setting the records straight about our debt to SSR

I recently had the good fortune of watching part of a live MBC broadcast celebrating Andhra Day. All the participants of that festival need to be congratulated on the excellent presentation; I was pleasantly struck by the lady-presenter’s mastery of languages. However, I still wish to draw attention to one small point.

The Chairman of the Andhra Maha Sabha (this I believe was his title, I am sorry if it is not correct) implied by his statement that the country owes the present system of government subsidies to religions to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. It is true that we owe a good many good things to SSR and he is rightly called the Father of the Nation. But I often hear people now in their forties and fifties and in positions of leadership saying things that are not altogether accurate – because they usually speak from hearsay. I notice them because I am old enough to speak from memory about many of the significant events during our post-war constitutional development. Memory can be fallible, but it does at least provide a guide that can be counterchecked by interested people from printed archives and proved one way or the other.

On the matter of subsidy to religions I recall that it was Hon. Sookdeo Bissoondoyal who, in the mid-fifties, raised the issue by motion at the then Legislative Council, following which a committee was set up to study the matter, resulting in the government action granting the subsidies.

I do not think that the recognition of this truth will in any way lessen the value for SSR’s contribution to the development of this country. It is to be hoped that we never ever get into the sort of situation that prevailed in China during the 60s, and which can still be felt to this day in that country, when everybody had to begin whatever he had to say with the words “Thanks to Chairman Mao” or words to that effect, even though millions died of famine because of his policies during the Great Leap Forward. Just Google the words “China Mao Famine” and have a peep into the websites.

But I will still go on to say that the greatest legacy of SSR is the direction that he has set for this nation regarding its respect for the rule of law which he initiated after Independence and enforced throughout his time in office; he did not engage in the power grabbing activities and the corruption that other contemporary Prime Ministers of our region indulged in immediately after their election to office. That has set the tone for succeeding generations in this country. We could very easily have followed the path of Haiti, for instance, but we didn’t. If there has been a time when this country seemed to be ruled by hooligans, it was short lived. To those who favour stability of government through large majorities in the Assembly, I would urge that any amendments that may be made to our Constitution should ensure that we never again have a 60/0 parliament.

P. Soobarah

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