Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Jay Narain Roy
In its issue of the 18th of July, The Times Weekly Review has published an editorial on what it calls The Mauritian Tangle. I have the unshakable impression that while trying to make an objective approach, the great London paper has, consciously or unconsciously, only expressed those reactionary opinions which have been repeated ad nauseam.
Some time ago, when a similar, prejudiced opinion was expressed about Mauritius, I had written to The Times to correct the wrong impression but my letter was not inserted. It is necessary to tell The Times that its editorial does not reflect the true situation in this colony.
Lennox-Boyd succeeded to the post of Colonial Secretary at the end of July 1954. Photo – National Portrait Gallery
The Times has referred to the London Agreement. It says that during the discussions, Mr Lennox-Boyd and the other Mauritian delegates were not convinced that the single-member constituencies could offer adequate representation to the minorities. The delegates of the Labour Party had maintained that this was quite possible.
The paper takes an oblique view when it thinks that our primary need is to find a system of franchise that can allay the fears of the racial minorities that the Hindus will, one day, ask for the annexation of Mauritius to India. The minorities have now begun to realise that this is only a Tory stunt to rope in the minorities so that the Tories can gradually appropriate all their rights of representation and use them as its cat’s-paw. In fact, the Tories wishing to maintain their economic might have tried to invent a slogan to get the minorities to back their domination. But the minorities have no fears. They are simply desirous of being represented in the political ordering of the common land.
To continue to parade the bogey of Hindu domination is wilfully to circumvent the real issue. To try to make the minorities believe that their interests are fully safeguarded under the Party List system in three-member constituencies is to dupe them. The three-member system will only elbow out the financially weak minorities and give more than predominance to the Tories. All this is a clever, subtle manoeuvre by those who have an economic stranglehold on the country to throttle it politically also.
I have a feeling that at least the Muslims have begun to see through this game. Mr Mohamed has openly accused the Tory leaders of dictating policy and leadership to the Muslim community. This fact is not without its lesson. That community is becoming politically assertive and its amour-propre can only be satisfied if they can devise a system by which adequate representation is unmistakably guaranteed to them in the new Constitution. It will no doubt be suicidal for that community to continue to be dragged about as a rear-wagon of the Tories. I hope that enough political sagacity will be engendered for it to take a courageous line of policy at this crucial juncture.
I quite agree with The Times that it is important at this stage to get the right basis of political representation. It is rather unfortunate for the formation of Mauritian nationhood that the London discussions have recognized the need for the separate representation of racial groups. That being so, it is the bounden duty of all right-thinking Mauritians to see that the system we adopt give effective representation to the important sections.
Personally, I like to dabble in facts and figures. And as such, I feel strongly persuaded that the single-member constituencies cannot be established on the three impossible conditions. There is probably no place in the whole island (unless we were to cunningly gerrymander our constituencies) where we can group 5000 Muslim electors in a single-member constituency. And if we can find one in Port Louis, it will be impossible to find another. People who refer to areas like Medine, Chemin Grenier or Phoenix are only talking through their hat.
But as it is impossible to give effect to the provisos of the system of single-member constituencies, it is no less impossible to safeguard minority representation through the other system. The editorial of The Times appears to think that the Eve Commission will succeed in “clearing up the one outstanding point on which Mr Lennox-Boyd and the Mauritian delegates had failed to reach agreement in the London talks last March.”
If the Boundary Commission has been appointed to give effective safeguard to the representations of minorities, it is only bound to be a colossal waste of public money. If the Commission finally decides to demarcate eleven three-member constituencies, as it is most likely to do, it will do three things. It will strengthen the hands of the Tories whose might is already overbearing. It will throw an apple of discord in the country and a permanent cause of friction and strife. Finally, it will gag and muzzle democracy in the colony in the guise of constitutional progress.
But the Commission will lay the foundations of real democracy and progress if it can demarcate forty single-member constituencies. Whatever we do today, I am more than certain that, latest by 1970, we shall have to have recourse to the only satisfactory system known to real democracies, namely the single-member constituencies. I shall be too willing to present the case of single-member constituencies before the Commission but not under the conditions attached to the system. If those conditions are going to be insisted upon within the meaning of the clauses, the single-member constituency system in Mauritius is as dead as the Dodo. The Boundary Commission, tethered with its provisos, constitutes, in my humble opinion, a resounding triumph for the Tories. Those who feel unduly stung by my remarks should have the pluck to come and prove the contrary before the Commission. In any case, I shall accept my discomfiture with good grace if by December 1957 events come to disprove my contention.
According to the experience in multi-racial societies, the only salvation for democracy is the Party system which superimposes political idealism on narrow, artificial allegiances. It is preposterous to imagine that Mauritius is in any way different from the rest of the world. Strings and influences might retard the even march of democratic progress but more insistent economic urges will invariably propel Mauritian society to that end. So that the great problem facing the country today is to make workable arrangements to tickle sectional vanities and to tide over the transitional period.
Whatever these arrangements may be, safeguards must be made without any possible ambiguity. I do not foresee that the Eve Commission can settle the only outstanding point of difference. The impression in London that the commission will be a panacea for all our troubles will be rudely shaken when, during the next few years, the economic problems which have temporarily been scotched by political manoeuvres, will tend to raise their fearsome heads. Then both Whitehall and The Times will have reason to be disenchanted. But it is most probable that Mr Lennox Boyd, the subtle dialectician, will not be there to face the music.
* Published in print edition on 12 January 2021