Apropos P. Soobarah’s ‘Jan Andolan’s History Re-written’


Let me thank Mr Paramanand Soobarah and the Mauritius Times (25 to 31 March 2011) for raising doubts on my attribution of “Jan Andolan” movement to Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Father of the nation.

Mr Soobarah has also stated that by doing so I have indulged in the re-writing of the history of Mauritius, like Patrick Elsenlohr, who has also erred by attributing to Dr Ramgoolam what appertained to the Bissoondoyal brothers.

Yes, Mr Soobarah, I have been and am still re-writing the history of Mauritius with a new perspective whose base rests on truth. Let me explain. After having gone through the archival documents of the 20th century, I have found and discovered a mine of information that has led me to the true spirit of history, and this has given me a new and dynamic insight with which I can discern what is true and what is false in the history of this country.

And as such, Mr Soobarah, is it not my prime duty at this time to evoke authentic history by presenting the historical facts judiciously and put an end to the Machiavellian writings of fake and pseudo-historians for more than half a century?

SSR, the father of Jan Andolan in Mauritius

“It is the crying need of the times that the two great bodies that compose the Indo-Mauritian community should walk hand and hand for the advancement of the people. For that, however, we must organize ourselves to the pitch of our ability. There must be a great mass movement, but in this mass movement we must not be cheated into giving fictitious importance to what is false, dead and well buried.”

This is an extract from an article ‘Sons of Immigrants’ written by Dr S. Ramgoolam, which was published in February/March 1936, in the Indian Centenary Book, meant to mark the Centenary of Indian Immigration, held on 29 December 1935 when an obelisk was unveiled by TK Swaminatthen, the Indian delegate to the Centenary celebration.

Now, let us translate in Hindi the “mass movement” evoked in the article of Dr Ramgoolam. “Mass” in Hindi means “Jan” and “movement” means “Andolan”. Hence, “mass movement“ mean “Jan Andolan”. As such, who has the temerity to deny that Dr S. Ramgoolam was and is the first Indo-Mauritian to evoke “the Jan Andolan Movement” in his political manifesto, published in 1936, when Basdeo Bissoondoyal was still a BA degree holder in Lahore in India.

Another instance of this: Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam had given his last interview to Sydney Selvon, the editor-in-chief of Le Mauricien, on his 85th birthday. To the question – “Parlons maintenant de l’avenir. Etes vous optimiste, Sir Seewoosagur?”, SSR replied:

“Je suis tres optimiste en ce qu’il s’agit de l’avenir de notre pays. J’ai une grand foi dans la jeune génération qui grandit en ce moment… Nous sommes fier d’avoir procuré au pays un système d’éducation, un “Welfare State” qui suscite l’envie de nombreux pays en voie de dévelopment. Nous avons initié un grand mass movement de masse avec l’accent sur l’épanouissement social, un sens de fierté aux réalisations nationales.”

No comment is necessary. The document speaks for itself.

B.Bissoondoyal’s Jan Andolan is a misnomer

Now, Mr Soobarah, may I ask you to give me a few documents published in the 40s or in earlier 50s ; but not in the 60s or onwards, in which Basdeo Bissoondoyal has said in clear cut words that he is starting or initiating a “mass movement” (Jan Aadolan) with the precise object of achieving this or that? Why do I need such a document? Because, every big movement has a date on which it was either initiated or established. The Arya Samaj movement, whether in India or in Mauritius has a date, so have the Indian National Congress, the Labour Party of Mauritius, and even the Independent Forward Bloc of Sookdeo Bissoondoyal. Then, why should B. Bissoondoyal’s “Jan Andolan” have none? In such a circumstance what will the authentic writer of Mauritian history do?

Besides, if there is no specific date of initiation of B. Bissoondoyal’s “Jan Andolan,” then the younger generation must know, who was the writer, who had for the first time attributed the “Jan Andolan” movement to Basdeo Bissoondoyal, and what has been the reason behind it?

As we all know, B. Bissoondoyal disembarked from the ship on 23 December 1939 with an MA degree. His first sermon was delivered at Cassis, Port Louis on 13 January 1940. He went on delivering sermons and held the first Hindi conference on 7 December 1941; and on 12 December 1943, not the ‘Mahayaj’ — another misnomer utilised by a dozens of pseudo-historians — but the ‘Hindu Mahayaj’(strange as it may seem, no such ceremony exists in the Hindu or Vedic scriptures) was held, according to several published communiqués in different newspapers.

Now, let us analyse B. Bissoondoyal’s cultural movement. Can the sermons of B. Bissoondoyal delivered in Hindi and attended by 30, 40, 50 people, or can the Hindi Literary conference meant for Hindi Intellectuals, or can the “Hindu Maha Yaj” whose audience was composed exclusively of the Indian community be termed a “mass movement” in the Mauritian context?

Because in Mauritius we live in a plural society, consisting of several communities i.e. the Indians, the Muslims, the Chinese, the whites, the coloured community, the Creoles and the sermons delivered by B. Bissoondoyal were out of reach of most of the components of the Mauritian society. In such circumstances how one can say that B. Bissoondoyal was the initiator of a “mass movement” in Mauritius?

Before concluding, it is good to ponder on the question as to when for the first time, the appellation of “Jan Andolan” was attributed to Basdeo Bissoondoyal, because up till now no documentary proof has been made available, even in the columns of Zamana, a paper of the Bissoondoyals. Moreover, in this regard, why was the attribution effected after the sixties of the 20th century, and what was the motive behind it?

If Mr Soobarah can give a satisfactory answer to the issues raised in this rejoinder, backed by documentary evidence, I shall be only too pleased to change my stance.

Pahlad Ramsurrun

* * *

P. Soobarah’s comments:

In my letter referred to by Mr Ramsurrun, I relied on my personal knowledge of events that my family (in the Indian sense of the word) were involved in since my early childhood. I am not an academic, still less am I a historian. But none can deny me the right to rely on my own memory of the events that I have lived through. I do not even feel the need to call upon others to corroborate what I say. They can take it or leave it. They have their own experiences. Some may find it profitable to alter their “memories” to suit the political climate of the day. I have never found that to be necessary, useful or honest.

Ever since I can remember, that is from way back in the very early forties, my father, a close associate of the Bissoondoyal brothers, who were also our relatives, always referred to “Basu’s” movement as the Andolan. The thought of ascertaining the birth certificate of the movement never crossed my childish mind. I was still in primary school when I used to join children from other like-minded families in the chorus “Eka dina yahaan para Hindu ka zamaanaa hoga, Hindu ka zamaanaa…Swaraaja ka jhandaa lekar, jaga me ouraanaa hogaa” that Pandit Basdeo taught us.

As I understood it from my earliest childhood, the main goal of the movement was the recovery of dignity by the ordinary Hindu person, then regarded by the political and religious powers that were as no better than animals. This they set out to do by introducing to the Hindu community aspects of their own religion and culture. Respect for and adherence to the principles and tenets of Hinduism were the guiding principles of the movement, which was a mass movement within the Hindu community.

Dr S. Ramgoolam, on the other hand, seemed to be more concerned with economic condition of all workers including Hindus, and with the advantage of the experience gained by him during his “apprenticeship” in the British labour movement in England in his student days, found it more important to join the national movement of Pandit Sahadeo, Pandit Kishto, Emanuel Anquetil and Guy Rozement, and eventually to lead it, and from there to take the country, with the support of the CAM and the IFB, to Independence. Nobody is denying his vital contribution to the political actions that have made Mauritius what it is today: this country has never felt the need for a Reconciliation Committee: SSR single-handedly did all the reconciling. He is indeed the Father of the Nation as even the people and the media who brought him down in 1982 acknowledge.

But from there to ascribe the paternity of the Jan Andolan movement to him – because he used the term “mass movement” in an article in 1936 – is in my layman’s view an outright contortion of History. Under such interpretations one may as well assign it to any other of the thousands of persons who might have used the term in their several languages since the days of Danton, Marat and Robespierre. Were we to apply the same logic to Pandit Bissoondoyal’s activities, we would be forced to acknowledge him as the Father of Independence… because he taught about waving the flag of Independence (swaraaja ka jhandaa).

I am quite content to leave this matter to the appreciation of the readers of Mauritius Times. Every one of them is entitled to his own view. It is to be hoped though that all our enlightened compatriots can distinguish between facts and deductions from them. The facts in any field should be indisputable, but in social matters the deductions can allow room for debate.

* Published in print edition on 1 April 2011

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