By Paramanund Soobarah
Mr Pahlad Ramsurrun gave a short talk in Hindi on MBC radio, on our National Day, extolling the achievements of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the Father of the Nation. That was indeed a highly appropriate subject for the day. None must ever be allowed to forget that it was SSR who led the struggle for Independence which brought dignity to all Mauritians, a complete departure from what prevailed earlier, when dignity was reserved to only the fair-skinned and that of just one community.
We must not at the same time forget that in his endeavour SSR was supported by Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed and long-time arch-rival Sookdeo Bissoondoyal who, when it came to a crunch, resolved that Independence and the dignity that goes with was much more important than victory over his rival.
The Bissoodoyal/Ramgoolam rivalry started way back in the late thirties after the return of Pandit Basdeo Bissoondoyal from India. They both wanted the uplift of the masses, particularly the Indian-origin masses, but had different ideas of how to go about it. Dr Ramgoolam had a softly-softly approach stemming from his being steeped in British, particularly Fabian Society, culture in England, whereas Pandit Basdeo wanted to have nothing to do with British culture. His anger at the attitude held by the Britishers towards Indianness and Hindu culture stayed with him all his life; he launched his Jan Andolan movement shortly after his return from India. His brother Sookdeo, who was then a primary school Head Teacher, also shared his ideas on matters cultural and educational, and was also, like younger brother Lakshman of the Ramayan fame, an ebullient person quite prepared to use direct words and even direct action. When newly appointed Director of Education Mr Ward questioned the relevance of teaching Asian languages in schools, he led a movement against him, culminating in a walk-out by all teachers in his wake at a conference in Port Louis which was to be addressed by Mr Ward. (Responsibility for this action has been erroneously assigned to Dr Ramgoolam by Patrick Eisenlohr in his book ‘Little India’.). Sookdeo shortly afterwards resigned to join active politics. The rest is history.
Or is it? In his talk on that Saturday morning Mr Pahlad Ramsurrun assigned responsibility for the Jan Andolan movement to SSR. This is history being re-written. When the few hundreds of people still alive who experienced the forties and fifties are all gone, untruths like those of Messrs Ramsurrun and Eisenlohr may well become history. Does anybody in the country have a responsibility to ensure that historical texts that are spread around do indeed represent facts? Do the MBC and the outfits that print factually false texts have any responsibility in the matter?
* Published in print edition on 25 March 2011