Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam–Father of the Nation
Towards National Unity
Men of vision feel the pulse of the future and project themselves
Into an era, which does not exist in palpable time
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (1900-1985), 1st Prime Minister of Mauritius
Those who are endowed with the faculty of peering through the grooves of time are, at first, misunderstood, ridiculed, reviled and contemned by those who only live for and with the present.
Those were the days when Mauritius, yesterday a British colony and today a Republic, was like a feudal, backward country. The labouring class, constituting the vast majority of people were kept in fear and awe of the power, wealth, influence and authority of the rich planters of the time.
The Island was divided into two nations, the small minority of rich White planters and traders buttressed by the British colonial government and their untaught, ignorant workers. The coloured bourgeoisie exerted great terror and domination on the majority population through a system of race prejudices which was reflected in the conservative press of the day.
This was the challenge which faced Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (later Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam or SSR) who, since childhood, was filled with love and sympathy for the underdogs and dreamt of ending the regime of injustice.
While studying medicine in London (1920-35) Dr Ramgoolam was deeply fascinated by British politics, particularly of the British Labour Party. He studied about the workings of democracy, about how power could be exercised by people through the right to vote and about their ability to send their representative to parliament to defend their rights. Ramgoolam was deeply influenced by the ideology of Fabian Socialism, then current amidst the progressive class of workers. He found out how politics could change the lives of the working class, how it could help in redistributing wealth, in bringing education, health, housing, roads and other amenities of life to improve the standards of living of the downtrodden. The London student was making his apprenticeship in politics and he dreamt of going back home and transforming the backward colony of Mauritius into a free, united country, engaged on the path of freedom, democracy and development.
In 1935, fully equipped to fight for the freedom and the national unity of his country, Ramgoolam returned home and engaged himself in the uphill task of uplifting the country from the bottom of poverty and exploitation and placing it into the road of freedom and development.
He wanted a strong political party which could represent the will of the masses and militate for their rights. His prediction came to fruition in the formation of the Mauritius Labour Party which he saw as the promising instrument to bring about the much needed changes.
As a practising doctor, he went about meeting the needy and the helpless and learning about their aspirations towards a better life of freedom, dignity, self- respect, and progress for themselves and their children.
The country was then writhing under the progressive ideology of the Labour Party, resulting in general labour strikes which resulted in the shooting of innocent labourers in 1943. There followed the Royal Commissions of Inquiry, chaired by Hooper in 1937 and by Moody in 1943.
Government began to recognize the grievances of the labouring classes and began to yield to their demands for trade union representations. At the same time, the people were slowly becoming aware of the importance of political power as an instrument to improve their lives.
Dr Ramgoolam soon founded his newspaper, got elected as a municipality Councillor and nominated to the Legislative Council. He now had the long awaited forum to deliver his series of talks and press articles to reveal his agenda for the acquisition of the rights of vote for the workers.
Dr Ramgoolam had to fight long and hard battle, for he still had no political power in the Legislative Council which was dominated by nominated members who had only the interests of the oligarchy.
By 1951, Local government councils were constituted beginning the local representative with opportunities of administration of local affairs. It was a major step forward in preparing grass roots leaders.
Dr Ramgoolam fought for Universal Suffrage.
The country went through different elections in the subsequent years culminating in the election that was to lead to independence in 1967.
It had been an uphill struggle. Dr Ramgoolam had to face fierce opposition of white planters who utilised all the forces at their disposal to put the clock of political progress back. But independence was won and celebrated on 12 March 1968.
The years which followed saw the dawn of another battle -- the real battle for national unity and uplift under Prime Minister Ramgoolam and under the new Mauritius flag. The country needed to be united. Labour and capital had to join hands to create employment, to set the economy moving, to improve the social conditions of the people.
But Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was a man of peace, a patient builder and a visionary who saw the importance of establishing a strong democratic constitution which guaranteed the people their freedoms and their rights. This was the instrument which saved Mauritius from chaos and which guaranteed its democratic liberties. SSR also had a far-reaching vision in the efficacy of international affairs and he progressively established a network of international friendly countries.
Sir John Shaw Rennie, last Governor of colonial Mauritius, under Queen Elizabeth II, congratulates Prime Minister Ramgoolam.
SSR finally succeeded in making Mauritius the unique Rainbow Island that it has become today, moving forward in peace, justice, liberty. He was a builder, not an anarchist; and basically, he was a reformer, a humanist. He ended up winning the deep respect of every one, irrespective of race, class and creed.
The fire that Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the Father of the Nation ignited upon the land of Mauritius is still burning bright, guiding the steps of the leader who came after him. His vision remains the creed of the people of this country.
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