Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
We are on the eve of the municipal elections. Two days more and the battle will have been fought. Today, when everybody is thinking of the elections in terms of parties — Parti Mauricien or Parti Travailliste, a few thoughts cross our mind.
What is the Parti Mauricien? It is a party formed of the same type of men who, since the elective principle has been introduced, have come before the public, have used honeyed words but in the end only to rob it of its rights. There was a time when it was called the Parti de L’ordre, the Union Mauricienne or assumed some other name. Quite recently it presented itself before the electorate as the Ralliement Mauricien. However much it will change its colour, we mean its name, it will not change its nature which remains the same. History tells us one thing — its courtship of Muslims is comparatively recent. When Dr Sakir, Goolam Issac and Piperdy wanted to join politics at the turn of our century and during the decade that followed, the oligarchs had but contempt to offer to them. The Parti de L’ordre, the prototype of our Parti Mauricien did everything in its power to bar their progress. Today the Parti Mauricien cries form house tops that it stands against Hindu hegemony but there was a time when the same type of party proclaimed as loudly that it stood against the infiltration of coloured men in politics. Be it as it may, the Parti Mauricien is not the party of the people.
And the Parti Travailliste, the ideals for which it stands – were they born with it? Definitely no, the ideals have been there for more than two thousand years. But in our island they could not find expression till quite recently, comparatively speaking. About fifty years ago there lived in this island a band of brothers who were inspired by liberal ideas. They stood for democracy and styled themselves as the members of L’Action Liberale. It was under its banner that came to rally Sakir, Issac and Piperdy. The ideologies of the Action Liberale strikingly resemble those of the Parti Travailliste. The newspapers of the time are full of the war of ideas; the papers supporting the Action Liberale speaking in eloquent terms of the nature and need of democracy and condemning the oligarchs for their grappling selfishness. The Cernéen which has always since its foundation been relentlessly attacking those with advanced ideas, “démocrates” or “progressistes” did not fail to direct its battery against the Action Liberale. It was at this time that J.A. Duclos coined his famous phrase, “les hordes aux noms barbares”, enraged as he was on seeing Indians — Hindus and Muslims — flocking to the meetings of the democrats.
The Action Liberate could count among its leaders such men as history will not forget — Merandon, one of the founders of the Party who in his coach nick-named the “Roulotte” went all over the island educating the people on the necessity of such a party to defend the rights of the people and to work for its welfare; Anatole de Boucherville, in whose mind there was but one idea which had become to him a sort of religion — self-government.
But the man whose personality dominated the party was Eugene Laurent, a man whom the people still remember and of whom they still talk.
Of the manifold works of Laurent what interests us most on the eve of the elections is that he was Mayor in 1905, 1907, 1909 and 1911. He was elevated to the mayorial chair by the Action Liberale, a party which stood for the same ideologies for which the Labour Party stands. We ask to ourselves what type of man Eugene Laurent was to have had such a hold upon the minds of the people and his own party.
Fifty years have rolled on since. The Action Liberate after a brilliant career died. It is no matter. Its ideals live in the Parti Travailliste. The Labour Party of our own day has had also among its founders and leaders such men as history will rank among the men who are the pride of Mauritians in general and the coloured men in particular. Emmanuel Anquetil and Guy Rozemont have already taken their place in history by the side of Merandon and Eugene Laurent as the fighters for the working classes. Maurice Curé still lives but his name has already become historical.
The prototype of the Action Liberale has registered signal victories in the contests for seats in the Legislative Council. But it is a regret that hitherto it has not had a clear majority in the municipal elections to enable it to have a mayor of its choice. In the elections of 1953 it seemed that it had won its first victory. But at the last hour, power eluded from its grasp.
Today it is not only the wish but also the firm belief of every Labourite that his party will come out victorious in the contest soon to be decided. A Labourite Mayor, it is high time for it — that is what every one hopes.
* Published in print edition on 19 October 2018