Struggle for Independence
The persistence with which attempts continue to be made to deny that there was a struggle for Independence as well as to diminish the role of SSR and those who fought by his side in this endeavour is, to say the least, dishonest. Anyone who objectively considers the arguments developed by historian Sada Reddi in his interview given to this paper two week back cannot fail to agree that there was indeed a struggle for Independence that was carried out on two fronts. One was external, vis-à-vis if not against the British or, if one prefers, the UK government; the other had to be, by the nature of things, squarely against the local forces led by Gaetan Duval, the front man of the sugar oligarchy through their party, the Parti Mauricien which favoured an ‘association’ with Britain based on the French model.
Although, as has been pointed out, the principle of Independence had been agreed towards the end of the London Constitutional Conference of 1965, whether or not it would actually materialize depended on the result of the elections of 1967. It is known that 44% of the population, supporters of the Parti Mauricien by then morphed into PMSD, had voted against Independence, and that it is the coalition led by the Labour Party headed by Dr Seewoosagur Ramgolam that won the elections.
But what if the PMSD of Gaetan Duval had won these elections?
This point is touched upon briefly in the interview, concluding that ‘Maurice serait restée une colonie britannique pour une durée, somme toute, difficile à déterminer.’
That was one possibility. But could there have been others? This genuine query has more than simple academic or theoretical interest, and in fact the ‘What-if’ scenario has been used an approach – if not a formal tool or methodology – by many historians to think out the alternative courses that the historical trajectory of different countries or regions could have taken, with several books having been written along these lines. As an example, it has been asked: What if the Nazis had won? In other words, if Hitler the dictator had defeated the Allies? Scary scene, to say the least!
These accounts of ‘What-if?’ scenarios have come to be known as ‘counterfactual history’, ‘alternative history’ or ‘allohistory’. They are based on a combination of known facts about the then events and main political/social actors concerned, their ideas and tendencies, the context of the time, and conjecture. As such, therefore, they provide plausible scenarios that, even retrospectively, have both educational value as well as be an eye-opener to the populations concerned about what their fate could otherwise have been.
In this perspective, it is instructive to ponder the ‘What-if’ scenario for Mauritius in 1967, premised on certain known realities of that period:
· Gaetan Duval (henceforth: Duval) is the uncontested leader of PMSD, and the self-proclaimed ‘King Creole’, an image which is now strengthened and which he must maintain at all costs.
· Duval has the full backing, in terms of logistics and finance, of the sugar oligarchy.
· Duval is a devout Catholic, and is supported by the Catholic Church.
· The bogey of bateau langoutis from India and the war-cry of enveloppé nous pas oulé are still fresh in people’s mind.
· His political model is ‘association’, not autonomy and of course, no question of Independence. The British, according to one view, have already decided to do away with the colonies.
· Mauritius is in difficulty, not having recovered from the two devastating cyclones Alix and Carol of 1960, and has been written off as a basket case in the Titmuss-Meade report.
· The same report predicts a scenario of overpopulation: Action Familiale favours the ‘natural method’ of population control, still in its nascent stage, and is against contraception (still is) on religious grounds.
The ‘What-if’ scenario that follows is about a few key sectors only:
1. Politics: Duval assumes office as Prime Minister. On the advice of France, he concurs with the British that Diego Garcia is ‘necessary for the defence of the West’. The British walk away with Diego Garcia, hand it over to America, and move out of Mauritius, the basket-case altogether. France, still struggling with the Algerian aftermath, is not keen for association with this impoverished country. It agrees to give some economic support but the country must rule itself. Duval makes himself President for life and moves to Le Reduit. French is made the official language.
2. Dismantling of the social welfare model: Schools are made paying, like the few existing colleges, and therefore a large portion of the population that cannot afford the fees are excluded. They can only perform low-skilled jobs and are relegated to work as labourers and domestics, etc. Poor Law Assistance is abolished. Opposition from the medical profession against the construction of a hospital in the north is accepted, and therefore no new hospital is built. Health services become paying. Family planning is to be done only by the Action Familiale. As the natural method is not easy to follow by the mostly illiterate, uneducated people, the population soars but is malnourished.
3. Law and order: The police force comes under the President, and is ‘reinforced’ by the ‘proto-Tonton macoutes’ recruited from the ranks of the famed ‘tapeurs’ who played a key role in the rigging of the elections. Dissenting voices are severely dealt with. Gradually, the country witnesses constant gang warfare as the ‘Club des Etudiants’ of Berenger, who is as hot-blooded as Duval, contests the latter and want to take over political control.
4. Economy: The monocrop sugar economy is privileged. Tourism is about receiving and being at the service of erstwhile kings, princes and princesses from Europe, all contacts and friends of the flamboyant President who personally goes to receive them at the airport or at the harbour as they alight from their paquebots. Many get the chance of spending nights at Le Reduit, and their photographs in the company of the one and only King Creole are regularly splashed in Le Cerneen and papers in Europe, especially France. Inequalities are rampant, beggars roam the streets, and are chased by the proto-tonton-macoutes.
5. Foreign policy: Only relations with the west are to be maintained and developed. The Indian High Commission is ordered out. No more scholarships from India or the subcontinent. Those who want to study abroad must go to France or England. Only the elite can afford to. Scholarships from or studies in Russia are not acceptable, as it is a communist country and the West is dead against communism.
6. Culture: Teaching of oriental languages does not arise. The registers of immigrants at the Vagrant Depot, having been decried by a famous historian as being of no historical value, are destroyed. Of course, there is no question about developing a Mahatma Gandhi Institute to house phantom registers or create a museum of Indian immigrants. And no Aapravasi ghat ever in sight. The saree is banned as a dress by Indian ladies, who have to wear only skirts and European style dresses. No Indian films to be shown in cinema houses.
And so on…
And we still dare say that there was no struggle for Independence!!
* Published in print edition on 22 March 2013