It was during Guy Rozemont’s tenure of the Labour party leadership that dissenting voices within the party began to be raised. Even during his lifetime, it seemed, at some point, Anquetil kept a distance from Rozemont, for, according to Dr Maurice Curé, Rozemont was forbidden by an ailing Anquetil on his deathbed, to come at his home to see him. Riven by factionalism and clashes of personalities, the party descended into infighting to the point that Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, a new adherent, considered “the situation as grave”.
He wrote in Advance newspaper in 1952 that “it is clear that there must be a reorganization of the Labour party…..”. Yet, in a large measure, the very appearance of Ramgoolam on the Labour scene, though seen in a sheep’s clothing was detected as a “loup dans la bergerie” by some who cried wolf. That presence was decried in harsh terms most notably by Dr Maurice Curé and Dr Edgar Millien.
A “reorganization” of the Labour party wished by Ramgoolam who, it seemed, nurtured lofty ambitions with an eye cast on the unfolding political landscape with the advent of a more liberal Constitution awarded in 1947 was to better serve Ramgoolam’s intentions as well as those of the new breed of intelligentsia that had flocked around. Indeed, the pasture looked much greener on this side, as also the mass appeal the party commanded, for reaping electoral dividends. It was therefore inevitable that clashes between the old guard which had stayed loyal to the Labour party through thick and thin and the ambitious new elitist group described as “faux travaillistes” by Curé erupted.
So, when Renganaden Seeneevassen and Edgar Millien in 1948 openly criticised members of the executive committee of the Labour party calling them “manieurs de marteaux”, it was all hell let loose. Rozemont took offence because he felt the executive committee members were “insulted” by these derogatory remarks. He wanted to show that he was the one calling the shots in the Labour party. He convened a meeting on 25 July 1948 of the 30-member executive committee which found out that both Seeneevaseen and Millien had committed a breach of the party’s code of conduct. Hence, the decision to expel Seeneevassen and Millien from the party was voted (28 for and 2 abstentions).
Ramgoolam conceded in an article in Advance in 1952 that “In the meantime all is not well in the Labour party. Dr E.Millien and Mr R. Seeneevassen despite their close association and cooperation with its executive on all issues are outside the party. It is a thousand pities that in such a difficult situation, there are clashes of personalities within the party”. That was a clear indication that Seeneevassen and Millien had not yet reconciled with the party.
But more troubles were in store for Rozemont. First, he was severely taken to task by Curé; then Millien lashed out at him and was up in arms against Ramgoolam.
The influx by those who had kept aloof from the party and colluded with the Colonial administration to engineer splits and even the destruction of the Labour party, was according to Curé, made easier because of Rozemont’s naiveté. Curé blamed Rozemont for allowing the “faux travaillistes”, in particular, Ramgoolam, to gravitate towards the party. “Rozemont était tombé dans leur panneau”, wrote Curé and “s’était rallié à Ramgoolam. Ramgoolam avait un programme politique nettement communaliste…”. A close associate of Curé, Pandit Sahadeo, in a press interview in 1975 said that Rozemont fell in the company of “move bann”.
It was no denying that Ramgoolam after flirting with “L’Union Mauricienne” of Raoul Rivet and Edgar Laurent in the 1940s and securing two Municipal elections in Port Louis, even becoming Deputy Mayor, with their blessings, was drawing closer to Rozemont. By 1951, Ramgoolam had become a huge fan of Rozemont. As, for example, on 20 March, 1951 when Rozemont was released from the Beau Bassin prison, Ramgoolam joined Rozemont’s supporters in taking out a procession with shouts of “Sote, pile, Rozemont !”.
The Ramgoolam-Rozemont rapprochement was definitely going to drive a wedge between Rozemont and his mentor Curé. Both were vociferous in the attacks at each other. Curé became an isolated man in the Labour party and was never allowed to contest any election under the banner of the Labour party. It was Sookdeo Bissoondoyal who gave the founding father of the Labour party a ticket to stand for election as an IFB candidate in the Grand Port by-election in 1957 opposite J.N Roy and again at Curepipe in the general election of 1959 opposite Romriky Ramsamy (Labour) and Gaëtan Duval (Parti Mauricien).
Then came Millien’s frontal two-pronged attack, first against Rozemont alleging that the leader of the Labour party was a person of “low morale” and “unfit to sit in the Legislative Council”.
Millien poured his vitriol on Ramgoolam accusing him of playing to the Hindu communal gallery.
“Je considère avec méfiance”, wrote Millien, the firebrand politician and Editor of L’Oeuvre, “la politique du Dr Ramgoolam”, adding that the latter “veut faire triompher un nationalisme hindou à Maurice” and as such he could foresee “une période troublée bien dangereuse…”
“Je ne peux accepter le nationalisme étroit et anti-mauricien de Ramgoolam….pour satisfaire des aspirations ridicules”, warned Millien.
Ramgoolam would not retort to Millien’s acrimonious outburst but it was left to the versatile Guy Forget who would become President of the Labour party in 1957, to measure up with the Editor of L’Oeuvre, launching scathing rejoinders and defending Ramgoolam to the hilt.
Many Labourites, as an example, B.Ramlallah, Editor of the Mauritius Times, wondered why was the Labour party so tolerant of Millien who, because of his fulminations against the party leadership became an outcast. Millien’s close ally, Seeneevassen, found Millien was going too far in his assaults and said he was in disagreement with Millien. “Seeneevassen se trompe”, Millien wrote. “Je le remercie de la constance de son estime. Elle me console des coups de griffe et des coups de mâchoire des politiciens….”. Millien (born in 1882) having no clutches of the calibre of Seeneevassen to rely upon in the Labour party, walked away of his own accord, not without firing a last shot that was replete with his own assessment of Ramgoolam: “Je ne le saurai pas si je suis considéré comme étant un opportuniste fourbe et un bateleur de la politique.”
While Ramgoolam found it deplorable there were “clashes of personalities within the party” and hinted upon a reorganization of the party, the Colonial Secretary, Newton, observed in 1952 that “fissures” were creeping in the Labour party.
In fact, the Colonial administration was watching with keen interest the twists and turns in the Labour party.
Rozemont did not carry much weight in the view of the Colonial administration. He was described as a “rabble rouser”, a “troublemaker” and a Communist agent. Whereas Ramgoolam and Seeneevassen were held in high esteem and seen by the British officials as two influential persons upon whom they could “rely heavily during difficult times”, especially when time was to come to contain and discipline overzealous trade unionists and extremists and give responses to politicians like the fiery Bissoondoyal who, for instance, announced that he was “a lion in the Council and the other members are dogs”. To which Seeneevassen responded that “the Council is no place for lions to roar and pigs to grunt…”
An overhauling of Labour party took place in March 1959. Under the leadership of Dr Ramgoolam and Guy Forget as Deputy leader, it was set on a new footing gaining stability and cohesion.