TRIBUNE : Communalism, minorities and Independence

This article may be considered an addenda or a continuity to our article 'Mauritius independence 1961-1968' published on 9th March 2014. 46 years after, we can remember with a paradoxical mixed-feeling of apprehension, discomfort and delectation at what our colonial masters and colonial political legatees left us. There were mistakes made by both the colonizers and the colonized, the actors and thinkers of the time. Today with the wisdom of hindsight we can look back.
Communalism, casteism and safeguards of minority rights have been the most sensitive and central issues dominating the debates of our constitutional evolution. We can argue today that Britain left honourably after skilfully accommodating minority rights within majority rule in a context where ethno-pluralism (or communalism) still remains the dominant characteristic of our British inherited democratic model. And by force of habit of a home — grown political culture, we still cling to this communal — caste politics instead of moving to a decent multi-cultural one.
The December 1947 constitution led to the general elections of January 1948 which completely changed the political scenario of Mauritius. Of the 19 elected 11 were Hindus and 8 were of the General Population group. The victims were the Muslims. They could not elect even a single co-religionist. This created the fright of minority non-representation in Mauritian electoral politics. The only two  Muslim contestants in the Port Louis (PL) district, where they could have elected one, A.R. Mohamed and Ajum Dahal were defeated coming respectively 6th and 10th among the 12 candidates vying the 4 seats. The other three Muslims defeated were R.B. Nooraya in Plaines Wilhems/Black River (PW/BR), M.I. Ghanty in Grand Pot/Savanne (GP/Sav) and Ismael Peeroo in Moka-Flaca (M/F). However one Muslim, A.M. Osman was nominated. No Chinese contested, but Jean Ah Chuen was nominated. It must be said of the 11Hindus elected, seven (over half) were high-caste (Baboojee Maraz).
In the September 1953 general elections again on district basis, of the 19 elected 10 were Hindus, 8 General Population, one (and only) Muslim, A. Razack Mohamed became the first Muslim to be elected in Mauritius and that in P.L. under the banner of Parti Mauricien (PM). The other PM elected was J. Koenig in PW/BR. Four muslim contestants in rural districts were defeated. However two Muslims, A.M Osman and Hassan A. Bahemia were nominated bringing three Muslims in the Legislative Council. The Chinese did not contest and again Ah Chuen was nominated.
At the end of 1953, Guy Rozemont, President of the Mauritius Labour Party (MLP) presented a motion in the Legislative Council asking the Colonial Secretary to receive a delegation in London to discuss constitutional issues. In July 1955 (1st London Conference) a representative political delegation accompanied Governor Robert Scott to London for discussion with conservative Colonial Secretary Allan Lennox-Boyd. Agreement was reached for the appointment of a Speaker from outside Mauritius. But the main outstanding issue was the extent to which safeguards were required to ensure adequate representation of communities or minority group in the Legislature if universal adult suffrage were introduced. In February 1957 (2nd London Conference) another representative delegation accompanied Governor Scott to London for discussion with Lennox-Boyd. In what is known as the 'London Agreement' the Executive Council members were styled Ministers as from 5 July 1957 and the Trustram-Eve Electoral Boundary Commission eventually divided the island into 40 single-member constituencies of equal voting strength while giving each main section of the population adequate opportunity to secure representation in the Legislature. This opened the floodgate to communal politics. The 'London Agreement' also provided for nomination to represent those who had no opportunity to obtain representation through election: the best-losers i.e. candidates who failed to get elected but who had a reasonable following.
Politics extremely communal, centred on personality-cult of party leaders
There were some unexpected development in Mauritius from late 1950's to 1963. On 22nd March 1956, Guy Rozemont died. Creoles kept away from the MLP which they viewed as a Hindu-dominated party. The Muslims formed the 'Comité d'Action Musulman' (CAM) in 1957 and in 1958 an official alliance between the purely communal CAM and MLP was made. In June 1958, Seeneevassen died at the young age of 48  and Hindus of the Tamil/Telegu linguistic group felt alienated from MLP. In April 1958, S. Bissoondoyal a vehement critic of MLP formed his Independent Forward Bloc (IFB) openly challenging the western-education Hindu intellectuals of MLP led by Drs Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. In 1959 Gaetan Duval entered politics. After his defeat by MLP candidate Romriky Ramsamy in the Curepipe single-member constituency in the general election of 9 March 1959, he was elected soon afterwards in a bye-election after the disqualification of Ramsamy. Duval quickly became the rising star in Parti Mauricien (PM). Creoles and the general population by and large identified themselves with the PM. Muslims were equally divided between CAM and PM. As were the Hindus between MLP and IFB. Politics extremely communal, centred on personality-cult of party leaders.
After the 21st October 1963 general election the Douglas-Home Government wanted an All-Party Government in Mauritius. But MPL hawks did not like sharing power with Parti Mauricien (PM). An apparent deal with PM where Duval would be Deputy-Speaker and J. Koenig a Minister was sabotaged after Parti Mauricien issued a press statement published in 'Le Mauricien' of 13 November 1963. The statement unequivocally condemned high caste scheming in Mauritian politics. Dr S. Ramgoolam toed his party's high caste dictate and PM supporters reacted by a demonstration in front of the Legislature, the famous 19 November 1963 incident, when Police used tear gas for the first time to dispel demonstrators in Mauritius.
Low caste leaders became vociferous
In February 1964 the Douglas Home Government convened all Mauritian party leaders to an impromptu conference in London. Agreement was reached, at British behest, on an All-Party Government. On 12th March 1964 the Mauritius (Constitution) Order came into force (the same date will be retained by London afterwards for Mauritius Independence). The Chief Minister was now styled Premier, but Dr Ramgoolam preferred to call himself Prime Minister. The Council of Minister was still presided by the Governor and had 14 Ministers including the only ex-office, Chief Secretary Tom D. Vickers, holding a Ministerial portfolio that included external affairs, defence, internal security and the Police Force. The judicial office of Attorney General was now filled by a Minister, Jules Koenig of the Parti Mauricien (PM). Two others PM members, Duval and Raymond Devienne were Ministers, as were two CAM, Mohamed and Osman and three IFB, Bissoondoyal, Tirvengadum and Anerood Jugnauth. MLP of Dr Ramgoolam held the majority of Ministries. It was a peaceful political accomodation of foes at daggers-drawn. But a decideratum to most. Soon after April 1964 Dr S. Ramgoolam will embark on a lobbying exercise for Mauritius Independence. He had in earlier years advocate the integration of Mauitius with Great Britain and later for a sort of trusteeship status for Mauritius with links to UK. Now with British tip-off he figured out that Mauritius was so constitutionally advanced that integration with UK (as proposed by PMSD) would be a step backward involving the surrender of powers being exercised by Mauritian elected authorities. But D. S. Ramgoolam was confused and elusive about the nature and form of independence.
Caste as a decisive factor in Mauritian electoral politics is very understood and analysed by political strategists of all our main parties. Caste was a social criterion for matrimonial partner choice by Hindus. Soon after the publication in 1961 of a Colonial Office Commissioned Study 'Indians in a Plural Society' by American Social anthropologist Dr Burton Benedict it ironically came apenly in the political arena. Low caste leaders became vociferous and demanded participation in politics on equal terms with high caste Hindus. Both Bissoondoyal and Drs Ramgoolam accommodated some of them in the October 1963 general elections. R. Jaypal, R.M. Daby in IFB; Ramsoondar Modun, L. Gungah and Rabin Ghurburrun in MLP. Jaypal had earlier defeated Vaghjee in Grand Baie in 1959. RM Daby narrowly lost to Jomadar in Flacq. Modun got comfortably elected in Pamplemousses. But high caste scheming led to the narrow defeat of notable planteur Leckrajmanee Gungah by the independent Franco-Mauritian Robert Rey in Moka and to the defeat of high-flyer advocate but low-caste Rabindrah Ghurburrun in Bon Accueil in a three cornered contest. In Bon Accueil The independent high caste R.J. Ramdour got an unusually high 1581 votes, with Ghurburrun 2034 votes thus ensuring the election of the IFB only Muslim candidate Wahab Foondun with 2 135 votes. Earlier in 1948, 1953 and in 1959 a low caste intellectual journalist at 'Advance' and author of «Ambedkarisme à l'île Maurice», Satyadeo Salabee was successively defeated. In 1953 Satcam Boolell, then an IFB candidate, bitterly criticized Salabee in a series of tirade in 'Le Cernéen' under the pseudonym 'cactus'. These information are well-documented in political intelligence reports to the Colonial Office.


Commentaires

The publication of the book "Indians in a Plural Society" in 1961 did cause a stir in the Hindu community in the country. Copies of the book were burnt at a meeting in Rose-Hill. The absence/lack of fair-play/ equal consideration for all components of the Mauritian Society led to the "vociferous" attitude of the leaders of the low caste who were supported by sympathizers from other religion too. Agree that from 1961 to 2014 the intercaste/ intercommunal relationship has greatly improved but when it comes to recruitment/ nominations/promotions etc the difference is exploited....

Comment peut-on parler de casteisme en 2014? ce monsieur cite meme des noms des personnes aujourd'hui decedees. Ah ben, un article comme ca, ca crache sur le visage du mauricianisme………

respected Sir ,

Can you confirm if you are the same N Sookhoo who stood at the 1967 Independence General Election for the PMSD in No. 4 and was defeated by Fooghoa, Bundhun and Rault.

You actually came 6th after Rima and Rossenkhan.

Would be grateful if you could give the PRO references as I have used same and some of your statements run opposite to my reading?

Just a matter of putting your analysis ( un-biased of course!) on contexte!

Much oblige!

'PP',

We must either be reading the same things or, share the same line of thinking! Just yesterday evening, whilst perusing through the 1967 Mauritius General Election results, I came across the authors name and was thinking the SAME thing!

Quite eery I must say!

Indeed, Sieur Aziz.

eerie , may be, but we must put a stop to this "ad Infinitum" Re-writing of our history to settle old score !

I have a lot more to say but the moderator do not accept my articles under PLOUM PLOUM. I can only express views by replying to other's article !!

"and three IFB, Bissoondoyal, Tirvengadum and Anerood Jugnauth."

...May you confirm that it was in fact Aneerood Jugnauth who was one of the IFB'ers and not his cousin; Lall Jugnauth.

@Anonyme :

I can attest that it was indeed Aneerood Jugnauth. The decision by the Colonial Office was to create a Government of Collective Responsibility inviting members from all parties. The idea was to empower Mauritian Politicians in the intricacies of a functioning government . This was also in line with the agreed self-government road map that was to lead to Independence.

However Responsible Govt is NOT the same as a Coalition Govt as we know it in today's context of coalition Govts ( Navin's Labour is in coalition with The PMSD and with MSM before the latter jumped board owing to the Medpoint crisis. In coalition Govts, the world over , it is the leader of the largest partner that become the PM AND REMAIN BOSS THROUGHOUT. He has the prerogative of appointing and sacking his partners as he deem fit ( subject to managing his majority in parliament).

In the pre-independence arrangement, it was the Governor who was the Head of the Government NOT THE LEADER OF THE MAJORITY PARTY . THIS WAS THE LABOUR PARTY and as majority party it's leader was given the fanciful title of PREMIER (but no real power).

Each Party leader nominates their own Ministers who are appointed by the Governor. According to the then latest Constitution, the Governor is NOT BINDED to accept Leader's choice of ministers. Generally There was rarely if not never a case , of the Governor refusing to appoint a nominated Minister.

Aneerood was nominated by the IFB LEADER, Bissoondoyal. So when he resigned from REDUITSTAN as President and claimed that he left the then SSR pre-independence because he could NOT stand and work with SSR, he was being ECONOMICAL WITH THE TRUTH. Because first he was not in SSR govt, it was the Colonial govt headed by the Governor. None of the 4 Parties ministers were working in concert and/or in cooperation with each other . they were simply running their various individual Ministers.

Rather than supporting the Governor and his policies and supporting the Mauritan Government , the various leaders and their Ministers very often were the fiercest critics of the Governor. he complained bitterly about this situation. On appointing them, the least he could expect was support from them!

Now notice how our self-proclaimed historians would distort the facts at their whims in order to RAMGOOLAMISE POLITICS.

SO ACCORDING to JCDL For example , SSR was the head of the Mauritian Govt or the Head of the Mauritian delegation going to London in 1965 to SELL DIEGO FOR INDEPENDENCE. EVERYTHING WRONG THAT TOOK PLACE AT LANCASTER HOUSE IN 1965, was the fault of the Head of the Mauritian Govt and the head of the Mauritian delegation , that is SSR.

MORE MYTHS DEBUNKING LATER.