The Price of Silence

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Somduth Bhuckory

That’s news indeed! The Labour Party is holding a meeting at the Champ de Mars and it has invited the public “pour entendre les principaux orateurs du Parti traiter de la question constitutionnelle”.

So the oppressive silence all around us is going to be broken at long last. We were wondering if there existed another British colony where silence was at such a premium.

We have been expecting eagerly the Labour delegates to the London Conference to give the people an account of their mission. Only this week we saw the Singapore delegation going back home and telling the people immediately about their talks and achievements.

The silence of the Labour delegates and of the Labour Party was driving us to think that politics here was assuming the nature of freemasonry. The headquarters of the Labour Party were getting so much shrouded in silence and mystery that one would soon have started looking upon them as a masonic lodge.

‘No public meetings and no statements in the press? Is that the way to deal with people who until yesterday had high hopes in Labour? Do Labourites deserve such a shabby treatment?’ people had started to ask themselves when the Labour Party communique appeared.

* * *

More reaction will follow the day the Legislative Council will be silent for want of an Opposition. This is bound to happen when we get the proposed Executive Council. The members elected on the Labour ticket will be silent or sing the praise of their Ministers. And the Ministers will be silent or sing the praise of Government. Ministers will always support Government because of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility and members will always support ministers because of Party discipline. There will be harmony in the Executive Council and silence in the Legislative Council.

At what price silence? At what price silvery speech is making room for golden silence?

And the platform will cease resounding with the fiery speeches of leaders. There will not be speeches then but friendly fireside chats. Politics will cease to be an element of popular mass movement. It will become a pipe-and-armchair business.

By seeking too much harmony we are heading for chaos. By trying to appease and satisfy all shades of opinion we are running counter to established rules of parliamentary democracy. And by remaining silent we will leave the future of Mauritius to drift on the waves of uncertainty.

* * *

It is as a result of our silence that the British press ignores us so much. The name of Mauritius does not mean much because how long would you expect the dodo and the blue penny stamp to be on the stage? Our silence is leading us into oblivion. Here is a fresh example.

In the March number of the Socialist Commentary there is a study of contemporary England entitled ‘The Future of John Bull’. The article is divided into eight parts and one of them is ‘The End of Imperalism in which the socialist approach to British colonialism has been outlined. That part is illustrated by a map showing the Commonwealth and the British Colonies and Protectorates. That map contains even Seychelles but not Mauritius. At least the temporary exile to the Seychelles Islands of Archbishop Makarios has focussed the attention of the world on our neighbours. We are doing next to nothing to bring Mauritius in the news. Is it odd then that we don’t exist practically on the map of the British colonial empire?

We are glad to find a passage in ‘The End of Imperalism which echoes our contention of last week that everywhere colonialism is under fire. This is the passage: “The old imperialism is everywhere under attack, and everywhere on the retreat. Everywhere there is a drive towards self-government, a status of equality and a rising standard of living. Wherever the imperialist powers have clung on, there has been trouble.” Had the Socialist Commentary  known of the quiet haven of colonialism that Mauritius is, it would naturally have qualified the sweeping statement.

* * *

At this crucial stage of our history when the political future of the island looks so dark, we cannot help quoting another passage from ‘The Future of John Bull’. It is the opening paragraph and it runs thus: “It is in times of crisis that nations choose their destiny, for better or for worse. Much of the time politics run their course with the politicians in charge. No more, perhaps, than a small minority of people take an active interest in their decisions. Then suddenly there comes a crisis; the nation finds itself split and confused. A choice must be made in which everyone is involved, and the whole future may depend on the outcome.”

Such a crisis is at our door. The people must think and speak their mind. And the people must break their silence to tell whomsoever it may concern: ‘Down with the London Agreement!’

A serious question arises when we have to consider the fate of the London Agreement: Can the Labour Party reject it? It is certain that the Labour delegates are bound by the Agreement. Now, there is a general feeling that the delegates have gone beyond the mandate given to them. If such really is the case, the Labour Party can surely repudiate the Agreement. But will the delegates be frank enough to admit their mistake?

We don’t know what the principal orators of the Labour Party are going to tell us but we suppose that the meeting is not intended to reveal the presence of any Bevan in the Party. We hope, however, that the meeting will reveal what part, if any, the offer of ministries has had to play.

Let the leaders speak and let the people speak. We want to know what has happened and how it has happened. The leaders must surely like to know the opinion of the people.

Silence, either now or in future, will do us harm by breeding doubts and hypocrisy. Its price can only be political suicide.

* Published in print edition on 5 May 2020

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