Year in, year out, especially to celebrate the birth of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam or during the electoral campaign, politicians and historians never miss the opportunity to give homage to SSR as the father of Free Secondary Education.
This year again the Ministry of Arts and Culture is organizing a talk on Free Secondary Education to commemorate the 111th birthday of SSR. The theme selected to mark that event is “SSR et l’éducation gratuite.” As usual homage will be paid to SSR as the man who was behind the Free Secondary Education.
If history had been written and taught in Secondary Schools, our young would know the history of their country instead of swallowing the tailored speeches of some politicians regarding the past for political mileage. Very often dishonest politicians tend to distort history to square their political agendas. And those who do not know anything about these past events just swallow what they are told. History also would have warned these politicians to be careful when talking about the Free Secondary Education. But knowing that our young do not know under what circumstances SSR granted Free Secondary Education in January, 1977, now and then they capitalize upon that event for political gains to serve their own selfish ends and those of the party.
The birth of free secondary education
Free Secondary Schooling saw the light in January, 1977 because of the mighty force of the MMM in the General Elections of December, 1976. Seeing the MMM opposition was steadily gaining ground and in a desperate attempt to contain the massive wave of support in favour of the opposition party, the then P.M SSR made the fantastic vote-catching declaration on TV that in case of victory, his party pledged to grant Free Secondary Education to the nation. And this, mind you! Just one week before the electorate went to the polls on the 20th December, 1976.
If SSR had really at heart the introduction of Free Secondary Education, it would have appeared prominently in the party electoral manifesto. The Labour Party would have made it their “cheval de bataille" during the election campaign of 1976. But it was not! The naked truth is that Free Secondary Education was used as a desperate electoral plank, as a vote-catching device, as a life-jacket to save the Labour Party from being submerged by the rising tide of the MMM Opposition Party.
But in spite of that enticing electoral bribery, the electorate voted the MMM and they won the elections with a narrow margin. It was thanks to the backing of the PMSD that the Labour Party succeeded in snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat and stayed in office with a slim majority of two votes at the Legislative Assembly.
We have been witnessing a similar scenario these days with the departure of the MSM from the government. The PMSD of Xavier Duval is helping the Labour Party to stay in power with a slim majority as in 1976 when the PMSD of Sir Gaetan Duval helped SSR to remain in office with a majority of two votes. History repeats itself.
So in January, 1977 SSR back to office with his majority of two votes had no alternative than to honour his electoral promise in spite of the economic strains of the country and the sharp disapproval of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Free Secondary Education would be an economic suicide to the country’s struggling economy. But SSR was a man of his word, unlike his son. Despite the country’s precarious economy, he honored his commitment to the nation and he held the baby which was fathered by the MMM in the General Elections of December 1976. In this case: “Peut-on dire que l’éducation gratuite est le bâtard du MMM, mais c’est le Parti Travailliste qui s’en est approprié la paternité!”
Because it is crystal clear that if there were not that mounting force of the MMM in the General Elections of December, 1976, and if SSR knew that his Party was heading headlong towards a clear-cut victory, SSR would have NEVER given Free Secondary Education in January, 1977. This is History! Closing our eyes to it will amount to distorting history and twisting the truth.
So, I make an appeal to the Ministry of Arts and Culture, to the Labour Party, and to the Historians, for pity’s sake, stop giving the entire credit to SSR for Free Secondary Schooling, do acknowledge the contribution of the MMM to it. Let us give the devil his due!
“A nou arèt deklar piti ki pa pou nou!”