Mauritius is celebrating the 45th anniversary of its independence on coming 12th March. Narainduth Sookhoo, our contributor, has as usual gone through recently declassified British official records. In the second part of his article published in our previous edition, Narainduth Sookhoo goes on shedding new light on some long surviving myths about Mauritian decolonisation...
In this elite group, Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam would emerge as the most capable, far-sighted leader, adaptable to changing circumstances, yet collaborative with the colonial government, with a defined sense of political purpose and personal ambition. He returned to Mauritius in 1935, an Anglicised oriental, an ideal state babu, but instead choosing a political career. A Macaulayan par excellence. He will dominate Mauritian politics for nearly half a century, serving as a member of the Mauritian Legislature for a record 42 years, including eight years as a nominated member (1940-1982). But the record for a continuously elected member goes to legendary Sir Henry Leclezio, member for Moka for 35 years (1886-1921). Dr Ramgoolam will work like Sir Henry Leclezio under six Colonial Governors without any serious clashes, each sticking to his gun, defending specific interests.
On his return to Mauritius, Dr Ramgoolam decided to « jouer la carte britannique », as his most widely-read biographer, Sydney Selvon, writes in his book Ramgoolam. He and his ilk formed the Indian Cultural Association to organize the centennial of the arrival of Indian indentured labourers from India. The group led by Dr Ramgoolam founded a newspaper for Indian intellectuals, Advance, which refrained the attacking of the colonial administration and was reluctant to defend rights of labourers and small planters, whose plight was deteriorating further. Not only the western-educated Indians ignored them, but also their own people who were sirdars, job contractors and even middlemen, exploited and cheated them. The Franco-Mauritian planters and millers, obsessed by their increasing deficits as a result of worldwide depression, were also oblivious to their plight. Mounting discontents would lead to demonstrations resulting in the August 1937 shooting at Gajadhur's Union Flacq Estate and later to the riots of 1943 at Belle-Vue. The ensuing enquiries into these two sad events – the Hooper Report and the Moody Report – will force a radical change in Colonial Office administration of Mauritius. One can argue that this was the beginning of a new era in Mauritian politics, culminating into the decolonization of Mauritius in 1968. A period in which Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam would have a major role by his political actions, whether collaborative or counteractive.
In October 1937, Sir Bede Clifford, a catholic and aristocrat, took over the administration of a Mauritius already plagued by industrial strikes. He believed in industrial reorganizations rather than in political changes. In November 1940, he wrote a confidential letter to Lord Lloyd, Secretary of State for the Colonies, saying : « l have appointed provisionally Dr S. Ramgoolam to be a member of the Council of Government. Dr Ramgoolam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Mauritius Institute and of the Minimum Wage Board and has generally shown keen interest in the Labour Policy of the Government. » The appointment of Dr S. Ramgoolam as nominated member on 13th November 1940 will become definitive and will last till August 1948. In July 1942, Sir Charles Donald Cleveland Mackenzie Kennedy (better known as DMK), will take over the administration of Mauritius. He will bring political change, culminating in the grant of the December 1947 Constitution leading to the general elections of August 1948, which will completely change the political scenario of Mauritius. In a secret letter to Arthur Creech-Jones, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated 2nd August 1948, Governor DMK will write this prophetic note on Dr S. Ramgoolam : « A bitter, dangerous man, determined to break the whites and oust the British, who has considerable influence amongst the Hindus, and of their self-appointed leaders, is the one most likely to obtain ultimate control. I have hopes Dr Ramgoolam will become more moderate with increasing responsibility. » Despite getting the official sponsorship of the Mauritius Labour Party (MLP) together with Donald Francis and Rampartab Allgoo, Dr Ramgoolam will ignore the Party directives and, instead, successfully campaign against Francis and Allgoo, together with his western-educated friends, Vaghjee and Beejadhur, and win the three seats of Pamplemousses/Rivière-du-Rempart in the August 1948 elections, Ramgoolam himself coming out first.
Governor DMK's successor, Sir Hillary Blood, took office on 26 September 1949. Sir Hillary openly sided with the conservatives and Ralliement Mauricien, much to the irritation of Dr Ramgoolam. In a confidential letter he wrote on 27 November 1952 to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Right Honorable Oliver Lyttelton (later Viscount Chandos), he said this on Dr Ramgoolam : « (...) this baffling character – Jekyll and Hyde like so many other Mauritian politicians... On the one hand the blameless Liaison Officer content to support fully the policy of the Government... the cooing appraiser of Government measures when they are under attack from his political enemies. On the other, the reckless and historical critic of Government when some issues, generally personal, have excited his venom, and the wild speaker at public meetings under the shadow of coming elections... »
After Governors Clifford, DMK and Blood, the fourth Governor under whom Dr Ramgoolam will work is Sir Robert Scott, who administered Mauritius from March 1954 to July 1959. The fifth will be Sir Colville Deverell (November 1959-July 1962) and the last, of course, Sir John Shaw Rennie (September 1962-12 March 1968). Two important London Conferences (July 1955 and February 1957) will be held during the Governorship of Sir Scott. In June 1955, Sir Scott will write a confidential and pertinent personality profile on Dr S. Ramgoolam to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, O. Lyttelton for his (and for his top brass) use in preparation for the July 1955 Conference. Extracts read as follows : « (...) perhaps the ablest politician in the Council. In social life, a gentle figure with a taste for literature, but frequently bitter and unreasonable even with his political friends. Has a background of humble origins in Mauritius and of Labour politics England pre-war... Still appears to cling to the belief that Russia is the "Workers' Paradise"... but this does not necessarily represent Communist influence... Lost some influence in the Party last autumn as he was not enthusiastic about the boycott of the Executive Council elections. He has since regained some influence... he will not resort to extremism. A very emotional type whose ideas derive primarily from books rather than original thinking : on international affairs, he is strongly influenced by Indian neutralism and on domestic affairs, his resentment against the post treatment of Indo-Mauritian Community has no political sense, and his leadership of Labour Party owes much to the publicity given to him by long continued personal attacks in Cernéen. »
In fact, the editor of Le Cernéen, Noel Marrier d'Unienville, an avowed racist bitterly anti-Indian, virulently attacked Dr Ramgoolam and unwittingly made him emerge as a leader in the eyes of the Indians, and as cool, responsible and reliable in the eyes of the Colonial Administration. By 1953, Dr Ramgoolam became the undisputed leader of the Mauritius Labour Party in the Legislative Council, despite the fact that since 1935, he had kept aloof from the Party, at best showing guarded and cautious interest in it.
Though standing as an independent in the Port-Louis municipal elections in 1940 and 1943, he was Union Mauricienne (forerunner of Parti Mauricien) candidate, along with Jules Koenig, Raymond Hein, Maurice Poupard, Maxime De Sornay (all elected), but against Renganaden Seeneevassen and E. Millien, independents, both defeated, and Guy Rozemont, Labour, also defeated in the 1946 election. With the death of Guy Rozemont in March 1956 and of Renganaden Seeneevassen in June 1958, the electoral defeats of Vaghjee in 1959, Beejadhur in 1963, the marginalisations of Millien, Curé (he never got a MLP ticket) and R. Rault (the only person to make a serious but unsuccessful challenge), Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam will emerge as an undisputed leader fully in control of MLP in 1959.
It was in England that Dr Ramgoolam will have the final edge on his rivals. The disastrous Parti Mauricien inspired vendetta of Noel Marrier d'Unienville, paradoxically propelled a rather dull Ramgoolam in the Mauritian political firmament with the final blessing of London. The equally disastrous, if not catastrophic, PMSD ill-inspired anti-independence alternative, integration with UK, will give Ramgoolam another occasion to be on his mettle. With the help of the British, he will discredit the idiotic « integration » thesis.
From May 1940 to July 1945, there was a National Government in the UK with W. Churchill (Conservative), as Prime Minister (PM) and Clement Atlee (Labour) as Deputy PM. All the four Colonial Secretaries (M. Mac Donald, Lord Lloyd, Lord Mayne and O. Stanley) were Conservatives. Dr Ramgoolam, though, maintained correspondences with Rita Hinden of the Fabian Society. In July 1945, and again in the February 1950 general elections, Labour under Clement Atlee will win and he will be PM until his defeat in 1951. Three successive Colonial Secretaries (G.H. Hall, Arthur Creech-Jones and James Griffiths) will bring radical changes in colonial administration. Ramgoolam will monitor events carefully. He even corresponded with Creech-Jones and personally met him. In the October 1951 general elections, the Conservatives under W. Churchill will win and will be in power for thirteen years, with wins at the May 1955 and at the October 1959 general elections. Conservatives will have four successive PMs (Churchill, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Alex Douglas-Home). At the Colonial Office, there will be five successive Colonial Secretaries (Oliver Lyttleton, Lennox-Boyd, Ian Macleod, Reginald Maudling and Duncan Sandys), all maintaining radical, if not drastic changes under Macmillan's « wind of Change » rhetoric leading to decolonization of many African and Asian Colonies.
Dr S. Ramgoolam, political strategist, will again carefully monitor events, maintaining important contacts not only with Colonial Secretaries, but also with top officials at the Colonial Office (like Sidebothan, Martin, Rogers and Thomas), and even with the two Permanent Secretaries, Sir John MacPherson and Sir Hilton Poynton. Dr Ramgoolam even cultivated a long standing friendship with Ian Macleod, who visited Mauritius after cyclone Carol in 1960, also with the later disgraced parliamentary under Secretary of State J.D. Profumo, another visitor. When Profumo was at the Ministry of Defence, he had intimate relationship with a high-class prostitute, Christine Keeler, who also shared her charm in a bizarre menage-à-trois with a Soviet Defence Attaché, possibly compromising defence secrets. The incident will rock the Conservative Macmillan Government to the core. Another Conservative with whom Dr Ramgoolam had a deep-rooted friendship was Sir Nigel Fisher, serving as Parliamentary Secretary of State at CO from July 1962 to October 1964. Sir Nigel would once describe Dr Ramgoolam as « Britain's favourite Prime Minister ».
In April 1964, Dr Ramgoolam will appoint Dr Leckraz Teelock as Mauritius Commissioner in London. Teelock (later Sir) will be his confidant and would behave as a full-fledge diplomat of High Commissioner's rank, much to the irritation of the CO and the FCO. In the October 1964 general elections, Labour under Harold Wilson will come to power « after thirteen lost years in the opposition ». Anthony Greenwood will be the Colonial Secretary (Oct 1964 to Dec 1965), he will be succeeded by Earl Longford (1965-1966) and by Frederic Lee, the last Colonial Secretary (1966-1968) in British History. Mrs Irene White will be the Parliamentary Secretary of State at CO, followed by John Stonehouse, who was disgraced later for faking his death on an Australian beach and serve jail sentence. Both Greenwood and Stonehouse were personal friends of Dr Ramgoolam. The key-man at the CO was A. J. Fairclough, Permanent Assistant Secretary and Head of the Department of Pacific and Indian Ocean. He was the man who knew everything on Mauritius and was in command of the Mauritius File. He visited Mauritius several times but kept himself to himself.
Despite all his contacts, his wits and cunningness, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR), knighted on 12th June 1965, spurred by his ambition to become the first Prime Minister of an independent Mauritius, will finally be outwitted by Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister, at a historic meeting at 10, Downing Street on Thursday 23rd September 1965. He will compromise on Chagos, saying that « it is a matter of detail ».
On 12th March 1968, a divided Mauritius, half of its people sulking, the other half rejoicing, a Nation in the making, will become an independent sovereign State. A year later, SSR, the labour Prime Minister, joined by his erstwhile rival, Gaetan Duval, King Creole with kingdom lost, will inaugurate a new repressive era. SSR, the gentle Macaulayan, will become Machiavellian. Post Colonial Mauritius will emerge with all the ugliness of the Colonial...