He came. He saw. He conquered. But was also conquered. If E.M. Forster’s most famous novel A Passage to India (1924) reiterated the concept of “God is love” as a solution to a united and free India and by extension a united and free world, Modi’s passage to Mauritius spoke of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam: the whole world is my family. He has been projecting this ancient scriptural message throughout his Indian Oceanic trip, stepping from Seychelles to Marich Desh – Mauritius – and thereafter to Sri Lanka. Connecting with another psyche was not difficult for him. Love and sincerity oozed from every pore of his being and each and every word.
30 Hours of Modi
The 30 hours that Narendra Modi spent in Mauritius was simply mesmerizing, inspiring and mystical. He left no one indifferent, even those apprehensive of his aid for Agalega. He could have said “Aa Gale Lagja” for that matter! From the very moment he alighted from the aircraft, he impressed one and all. His humility, his charisma, his very persona cast a spell over politicians, diplomats, businessmen, professionals, journalists, students, men, women and children alike.
If one remembers for good that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, when not Mahatma yet, had set foot on the island once in October 1901 and had given two memorable lessons to Indo-Mauritians: a) to educate their children, and b) to join politics, Modi’s visit will equally be remembered and endearing, even though his earlier visit in October 1998 is little remembered. His astuteness and sharp acumen as a great statesman and politician as well as his words of ancient wisdom and ability to link with the realities of the present-day world and his “tweets” touched the psyche of all.
He was also conquered
But he was also conquered. By the overwhelming hospitality of the Mauritian government and its people, across the board. The warm welcome showered by the people was irresistible to a man who respects protocol. Even though a complete teetotaller, he did raise a glass… of water to toast his hosts, in line with the code of international diplomacy. But he also broke protocol. He sat in the front seat next to the driver. He got down from the official car to shake hands with his cheering and enthusiastic admirers at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, to the uneasiness of his baffled and perplexed security men.
He was most respectful of his host Sir Anerood Jugnauth and slowed down his pace to match the aged host’s pace and signalled him to take his seat when it should have been the other way round. Simply because he respects values and elders. He was visibly touched and moved by affection when a little girl placed a “mouchoir” pagri on his head at the Aapravasi Ghat in memory of the symbol of dignity of the battered girmitias whose headdress, the flowered design kerchief, came to represent.
At the Parliament, he did not forget to highlight the enormous contribution of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Father of the Nation, as the architect of Independence as well as his choice of 12th March for the celebration, a symbolical date to coincide with Gandhiji’s Dandi or Salt March that changed the face of India and the world.
Language is no barrier
But when Narendra Modi addressed a few words in Kreol at the Civic Reception at prestigious Mahatma Gandhi Institute in a huge pavilion packed beyond capacity to say “mo bane frères, mo bane soeurs Mauriciens… mo content mo ici, mo senti moi lacaz,” he broke all resisting barriers of language – he spoke the language of love. If Mrs Indira Gandhi, the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Mauritius had captivated the hearts of those still resistant towards India’s generosity and magnanimity by addressing a few words in French, Modi’s Kreol words reflected his capacity to understand present-day realities of diplomacy: Learn their language and win their hearts!
I always knew that sugar is also known as Moras in India. I didn’t know its origin. But it was Narendra Modi who shed light on the origin of the word Moras. He said that in the period of scarcity of sugar in India, Gujarati traders imported sugar from Mauritius and named it Moras from Maurice! If Modi was an astute politician, he could also be playful and teasing with the youth and children. For example, at the MGI: his amused playful affectionate teasing tapping on the head of a zealous youth who did not find one selfie with Modi enough! He stopped on his way, despite the rain, to sign under official umbrellas the autograph books of excited schoolgirls!
He was also overwhelmed by the serenity and sanctity pervading the Ganga Talao, as he poured a lota of gangajal, in a mystical offering of water-to-water – element to element – amidst the reverberating Sanskrit slokas from ancient Vedic scriptures. He was amazed that Mauritius has the greatest number of Hindi writers outside India, which justifies the concretisation of the World Hindi Secretariat as a stepping-stone to Hindi’s way to the UN.
Acute sense of Geopolitics
Besides his generosity of signing of five instruments of cooperation to cement our bilateral relationships including geostrategic agreements at the Vaghjee Hall, he amazed everybody by the fluidity of his verbal address without notes. He signified his guarantee in no uncertain terms that he would do nothing to jeopardise the critical offshore sector of the Chota Bharat.
He did not overlook the fact that 2/3 of Global Business Mauritius has with India has given over 10,000 young professionals, bankers and technocrats employment. But Modi does not forget also that Mauritius is the biggest source of FDI for India accounting for 50% in 2014. In the last fourteen years between April 2000 and January 2014 Mauritius has invested an amount of US $ 77.8 billion in India (Dept of Industrial Policy and Promotion of India).
If Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee had given the first Cyber City of Ebene, Narendra Modi assured Mauritius of a second Cyber City. Modi also showed appreciation that “Mauritius is one of the strongest strategic partners of India.” After all, India has exported to Mauritius nearly Rs 37 billion worth of goods. He also emphasized on more people to people relationship. He appreciated with gratitude the fact that tiny Mauritius has always been supportive of assuring Mother India a permanent seat at the Security Council. Narendra Modi was magnanimous and advanced a credit of US $ 500 million as well as realigned the US $ 100 million initially advanced for Light Railway Project. After all, has not the International Monetary Fund (IMF) termed Indian economy a “Bright Spot” on the global economic landscape and assessed that India has emerged as one of the fastest-growing big emerging market economies of the world accelerating to 7.5% in the next fiscal 2015-16?
If Mauritius is but a tiny island lost in the vastness of the Indian Ocean, Modi reminds it of its leadership role in the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) by offering to house its Secretariat. Modi is grateful also for the role played by Mauritius in supporting his proposal to UN to observe the International Yoga day, which has been concretised for June 21st in record time! India does not forget also that Mauritius is a huge Ocean State now in 2.3 millions of km2 of Indian Ocean and can share through the Intra-Indian Ocean Co-Operation the new area of Blue Economy, for whose safety and security he commissioned the GGS Barracuda.
In simple words, he reminded Mauritians of the precarious position of small island countries (SIDS) if one does not keep an eye on Environment and Climate Change. Who will come to help “jab chote tapu” will suffer from the rising sea level, if not our close and near and dear ones? Modi thus echoed the love and support of 1.2 billion to 1.2 million souls of Mauritius.
For all these reasons, Modi has lifted us out of the doldrums where we were stuck, to bring to us the freshness of a dream. Modi has brought a feeling of tremendous assurance and confidence during his passage to Mauritius.
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What Place for Culture, Art and Languages in the Budget?
As the hours of the Budget approach, the people of Mauritius are apprehensive about what place has the Minister of Finance has reserved for our linguistic, cultural and artistic aspirations and considerations. In a globalized and outrageously consumer minded society where the claustrophobia of living in a small “nombrilist” society is turning brother against brother, friend denouncing friend, where the fragility of relationships leads to more violence, domestic or domesticated, one fears for the future without culture.
We do not hear much about the guarantee of the safeguarding measures that UNESCO enjoins all mandatory states, signatories of the Vienna Convention, to respect. How much of the Budget will be devoted to these safeguarding measures? How many libraries will be built? How are children being encouraged to read? We can see the drop in standard of our students in English and even French and Oriental languages year by year!
What will happen to the overburdened National Library constrained and suffocated in a commercial-shopping complex? What about the disappearing treasures of our tattered fragile old newspapers and manuscripts of the Archives? No one talks of their preservation. What about the various mechanisms set up by government to promote, preserve and protect languages and their attendant intangible cultural heritages? How much funds will be allocated for artists, musical as well as painters or sculptors, and writers to develop their potentialities? What about the cinematographic industry?
One hears echoes of the closing down of the Bhojpuri and Kreol Channels in a bid to make way for greedy politico-businessmen? Is it not a story of being penny-wise pound-foolish? Are we not behaving like the greedy octopus eating its own tentacles?