Seeneevassen’s impact on our Constitution

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By D. Napal

Renganaden Seeneevassen has already taken his place among the great names of Mauritian history, Remy Ollier, Manilal M. Doctor, Eugene Laurent, old Anquetil and comrade Rozemont. His contribution to the different aspects of our political life for the past fifteen years is obvious. However, I believe that History will remember him mostly for his contribution to the constitutional changes which have so radically changed our Legislative Council.

Nominated as member of the Legislative Council early in 1947, he said while thanking the House for having warmly welcomed him:

“My ardent desire is to work for the welfare of my countrymen and, in particular, for the welfare of the multitude of men and women who have not full political rights in the country and who in their moments of distress look up to us for comfort.”

He considered these words, uttered while he was still on the stepping stone of his political career, to be his guiding star. The work of the parliamentarian to him did not mean glory and glamour but service for suffering humanity. And to alleviate this suffering, it was necessary to have full political rights.

As Remy Ollier, as Eugene Laurent, as Anatole de Boucherville and others who militated for responsible government, he believed that institutions which produced good results in England, could be successfully planted in this island. Hear him in the Legislative Council:

“Every honest thinking man in this country should know by this time, that for Mauritius there is only one future for its political development, it can only be in the way of the United Kingdom.”

Are not these words strongly reminiscent of the best that Remy Ollier ever wrote in his Sentinelle?

But long before becoming member of the Legislature he had formed his views on the constitution of our colony. He expressed these views before the Consultative Committee on 20th April 1945 in the lucid, clear and emphatic style of which he so well knew the secret. At the outset he said that though comparatively new in the political field he had always been politically-minded, had been “much interested in politics since a comparatively early age and bad keenly watched the various contests in this country.” Moreover, before coming before the Consultative Committee he had come in contact with various classes of people and had tried to understand the ways of thinking of various people as to the future of the Colony.

He denied the allegations of the conservatives that the Indians were communal-minded as a pretext to deny them their political rights. He had the courage to tell them openly.

“I have listened to several speeches here and I have enough contact with other classes of the people who do not come to sit here. I shall say with due respect to all those who hold a different view from mine, that I have found more communalism propounded by some gentlemen sitting here than I have found among the working or among the middle classes.

The workers could no longer be denied their fundamental rights, as they were people with a sense of discrimination perfectly capable of selecting the proper persons to represent them.

Here was a man who, as he himself confessed, had as barrister clients for the most part dwelling in Port Louis, who in the circumstances could for the elections be a candidate in Port Louis and his future political career was to justify this contention. Yet he put up a manly fight for the political rights of the 250,000 Indians who had made of this colony their home and had as much right as anybody else to be called Mauritians. What eloquence, what a sincere outburst in the following words:

“Every sort of impediment will be put forward in order to prevent the Indian masses to get the right to vote just because some communities are afraid that they will make use of that right to vote communally. That fear is a vastly exaggerated fear and does not warrant us from not giving satisfaction to so many citizens. Now, I am not embracing the cause of the working classes because I myself am of Indian origin. I sometimes wish that I were not, so that I might prove my good faith.”

Again before the Consultative Committee on 5th February 1947, we hear him championing the oppressed classes. Speaking of the fears of certain communities about the future hegemony of the Indian in this Colony, he said :

“And, therefore, I can only ask myself whether these fears are in fact fears or whether they are a pretext in order to find ways and means to restrict part of His Majesty’s subjects in this Country of the right to vote.”

To him it did not matter whether the capitalist was an Englishman, a Frenchman or an Indian. As Disraeli, he thought that there were only two nations in the world, the rich and the poor, the haves and have-nots. And there were only one way to better their lot: to give them their right to vote. He spoke of the injustice of making it compulsory for the would-be elector to fill his form in English or French. Why not allow him to do so in his own language? Ultimately that is what was done.

There is one thing which strikes me as it is bound to strike every honest thinking man who cares to study the parliamentarian Seeneevassen in Council and in the debates around the changes of our Constitution. There is a strangely prophetic ring in his concluding words before the Consultative Committee:

There will be a social evolution in the world and there will be big waves of it. Sir, I think these waves will reach Mauritius be it in the shape of ripples and these people will progress as fast politically that if now we have in the country any Constitution that would not embrace them we shall very quickly find that our Constitution has become antiquated, and we may have trouble and great dissatisfaction.”

He seemed to look quite into the seeds of time. The Seeneevassen of 1945 was, so to say, a prophet pointing to the not too distant future

5th Year No 202
Friday 20th June, 1958

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