MOOMTAZ EMRITH

I’ll call him S.A.S. He was my neighbour. We grew up together. He loved politics and talked politics and always got good laughs at their expense. However, he was progressive in his views yet he did not like the then current bunch of politicians who, led by a crafty and shrewd and aging socialist, had been assiduously pushing for self-rule and eventually total independence. The conservative forces did everything — if not to stop him at least– to delay his agenda for Mauritius.
My friend SAS., unfortunately, felt that Mauritius was not ready to stand on its own feet. The economic and social problems that faced the country were enormous and staggering. Indeed, a growing population and rising unemployment were onerous headaches for the Government. And, to add insult to injury, the Government had recently introduced a “Family Allowance Programme (FAP), that paid an allowance to the three youngest children in a family under fifteen. The programme proved popular with the masses. But my friend SAS felt that the authorities were handling the problem the wrong way. The FAP would encourage population growth, he said, and defeat the whole purpose. Yes, he was convinced Mauritius as a country was not ready to stand on its own feet. Independence would mean disaster for the country. The writings were on the wall. Every year thousands of college graduates flooded job market and were unable to find jobs.
So much so, SAS was resolved. He would vote for Opposition forces who were clamouring for some kind of ‘Association’ with Great Britain.’ “Mauritius we’ll have Britain’s protective umbrella over us,” he stressed. The progressive forces, on the other hand talked of things getting better after ‘Independence’. Mauritius, they claimed, would be free to negotiate help from friendly countries. Things would get better.
SAS called such reasoning puerile. And then I pointed out to him that it would be wrong to vote against ‘Independence’. “Freedom is our birth right!” I added. “Sure, things may be a little tough at the beginning but I believe, things will work out all right! The government will have a free hand to negotiate for aid with whichever country it wants. That’s power! And an advantage!”
A few months later, the day of the historic vote came. It was in July, 1967. It generated a vigorous and tough campaign. The battle ground was clear: the progressive forces wanted total ‘Independence’ for Mauritius, while the conservative side sought some kind of ‘Association’ with Britain. When the ballots were counted the ‘Independence Party’ narrowly won the contest and saw the country split into two camps and the leaders of both Parties did not feel quite happy with the outcome. And the old shrewd leader went ahead with his dream of Independence for Mauritius. And, within a less than a year, he moved for complete Independence for Mauritius. And before, we knew it, March 12, 1968, became the historic day when Mauritius took its place among the ‘Comity of free Nations of the world. ‘
My friend SAS, who was sorely disappointed with the way things had turned out, suddenly began to reflect on what ‘Independence’ would mean for Mauritius and its future.
He realized nothing could truly stop the march of progress. The country had accepted the verdict of the people and the Chief Minister resolutely moved in the National Assembly for the approval of the Independence vote in the House – which was done. And the country moved to celebrate its freedom from colonial rule on March 12, 1968. A historic day, indeed! The whole country slowly got geared to celebrate the momentous occasion! So was … my buddy SAS!
As a matter of fact, on “March 12, 1968”, I was surprised to see a large the new quadri-coloured national banner of Mauritius: Red, Blue,Yellow and Green proudly fluttering on the roof of his house. That kind of pleased me.
“So you changed your mind about freedom!” I asked him
“Yes,” he said. “I realized we cannot be against Independence. It’s our birth right! If I didn’t raise our national colours, I wouldn’t be able to look my son in the eyes comes March 12 in the coming years. One cannot be against ‘Freedom’. Like you said: “Things may well turn out all right for our little country! We need to give our country a chance!”