Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam: Architect of Independence

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam: Architect of Independence

To mark the 115th Birth Anniversary

Homage to the Father of the Nation


On October 22, 1959 Reuters had reported Dr Ramgoolam saying that his party wanted independence for Mauritius. No political leader had until then talked of independence. Given the socio-politico context, hardly anyone could think of it as a reality. Ramgoolam himself had not publicly said anything about it in Mauritius. The first time that he spoke of independence was in the United Kingdom. That was a fall of thunder-storm on the opposition, then constituted by big sugar and financial magnates with a large population under their grip. However, most people had received the news as an oracle, signifying social justice, economic redress and political freedom.


Earlier, on March 9,  general elections had been held under a new Constitution with universal adult suffrage and 40 single-member constituencies. The Mauritius Labour Party had won the 1953 elections on this issue.  Thereafter, Guy Rozemont had presented a motion asking Lennox-Boyd, then Secretary of State, to convene a constitutional conference. This was held in 1955 and was followed by another one in 1957. It was evident that with adult suffrage the Labour Party along with its ally, the Comité d’Action Musulman, would win with an overwhelming majority. This is what happened and the Parti Mauricien of Jules Koenig foundered in ashes and the Independent Forward Bloc of Sookdeo Bissoondoyal found itself relegated in the background.


Photo –delegation London conference


The 1959 general elections were held on the issue of responsible government and Dr Ramgoolam received a clear mandate. He went to Great Britain and established contacts with the British government then run by the Conservative Party. A committed Labour leader, he won the confidence of high-profile Conservative politicians, including Secretary of State Ian Macleod, who was to play a decisive role as far as constitutional reforms were concerned.


Macleod had appreciated Ramgoolam’s humanism, political sagacity and non-communal commitment. That the Secretary of State came to Mauritius in April 1960 to assess our legitimate aspirations, indicated his appreciation for Ramgoolam. Macleod saw what needed to be seen. Most people had political will and Labour leaders had determination to forge ahead. The Secretary of State could not remain insensible. He outlined responsible government as his policy and did not think much of integration which Parti Mauricien had wished.


Two cyclones named, Alix and Carol, had badly hit Mauritius at the beginning of 1960. Much damage had been caused and a sizable assistance was needed to construct houses and finance agricultural projects. In June Ramgoolam left for London accompanied by V. Ringadoo, H.Walter and A. R. Mohamed. He made a strong plea and obtained both a loan and a grant. That was a sufficient proof that the British government had accepted him as the spokesman of its colonial administration of Mauritius. While in England, he broached the subject of independence as a prelude to the conference believed to be scheduled soon. A correspondent of the Yorkshire Evening Press  of July 14, 1960 wrote “Another one of Britain’s colonies wants independence. This time it is the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius. The demand has not been made public yet, but I am assured by the Island’s senior elected politician, now in London, that it is coming” That was preparing the British mind to accept the idea of independence.

Ramgoolam had done good marketing. In Mauritius, the Conservatives reacted with vehemence. Le Cernéen, then the mouthpiece of the capitalists and arch opponent of Ramgoolam, which afterwards disappeared as the Dodo, took side of the Parti Mauricien which was against political freedom and the Independent Forward Bloc was against any constitutional conference, believing it would saddle Ramgoolam with greater power. In fact, a constitutional conference was due in 1961 and the leader of the Mauritius Labour Party was going to ask complete independence for 1964. In the meantime, the Governor of Mauritius had appointed Dr Ramgoolam as Minister of Finance and Leader of the House. That was an indication that the British government would be agreeable to his demands for Constitutional reforms.

The Conservatives decided to wreck the plan of Ramgoolam and created splits in the Labour Party. Dr Maurice Curé, founder of the party, turned against Ramgoolam.  M. Rault, E. David. O. Lacaze and A. Moignac , prominent Labourites, founded what they called “Parti Travalliste des Travailleurs , meaning they represented the authentic Labour Party.  A Dahal, co- founder of Comité d’Action Musulman, defected and set up the Mauritius Muslim Party. Several mushroom parties emerged like: The Muslim Democratic League, Tamil United Party, Hindu Democratic League and Union Sino-Mauricienne  were floated to oppose Ramgoolam’s proposal of independence.

Photo SSR 2



Macleod convened a conference in 1961. Labour was going to ask complete independence while Parti Mauricien wanted integration with Great Britain. The Conservatives among whom had sprung many reactionaries mounted a large scale campaign.  They spread rumours that independence would mean Hindu rule and Indianisation, lawlessness and chaos, poverty and starvation. To stop the march of liberation, they fabricated some leaders whom they flew to London, certifying the latter as the true leaders of the masses. They wanted the British government to deal with them and not Dr Ramgoolam and his colleagues. Anyway, the issue of independence was debated, but in view of protests lodged and confusion created, Macleod agreed to grant full autonomy after general elections to be held in 1963 on condition that positive results were obtained. There was wisdom in what the Secretary of State had decided.  Anyway, Ramgoolam was appointed Chief Minister with immediate effect to be followed by Premiership. Thinking people understood that independence was only a matter of time while the thoughtless ones believed it could be prevented.

The 1963 general elections were to decide the issue of responsible government, as an indication of the last phase in the independence process. Die-hards as the Conservatives were and hard cores as their followers had become, it became obvious they would move heaven and earth to prevent Ramgoolam from winning. André Masson with his paper ‘Le Mauricien’ took the lead as N.M.U had earlier done with Le Cernéen’.  The latter had conceived and propagated a monstrous type of scientific communalism to divide the people into watertight compartments on the basis of caste, colour, culture and religion. He had written hundreds of articles with headings like”La politique raciale devient une nécessité”; Appel aux Musulmans, ‘Reproches ā la population Chrétiènne’, Chinois de Maurice: Refléchissez”  to inject the virus of communalism .

For his part, Dr Edgar Millien, a close colleague of Ramgoolam, influenced and briefed by Andre Masson started ‘The United Minorities Party’ to strengthen the Conservatives and alienate certain sections of the population from Ramgoolam. They did all this to disredit                  him in the eyes of British politicians , officials and government.

Any Labour’s electoral victory, was like giving more power to Ramgoolam .  The country being divided into 40 small sinple member constituencies, the Conservatives only required some more efforts to overthrow the Labour Party.  Intrigues, manoeuvres, influence-peddling and power-brokering could do the job. The Parti Mauricien roped in ‘the Tamil United Party ‘ whereas the Independent Forward Bloc :  ‘Le Parti Travalliste des Travailleurs’.  Anyway , Ramgoolam in alliance with A.R.Mohamed won the elections, inspite of the slogan “Nou pale l’independence’ echoed by the opposition that excluded the Independent Forward Bloc.

Independence is the birthright of everyone. It is a matter of great pride for the people of a country to ask or struggle for it and obtain it. Ramgoolam did not want any compatriot of his to be deprived of this right. He therefore prepared the way by forming an all-party government with Parti Mauricien and the Independent Forward BlocJules Koenig, Gaetan Duval and Sookdeo Bissoondoyal among a few others were appointed Ministers while Ramgoolam himself was Premier. Anticipating a constitutional conference to decide the question of independence, he took a delegation composed inter-alia of Gaetan Duval,  Maurice Paturau, Abdool Razack Mohamed and Sookdeo Bissoondoyal to India where he solicited support and was reported as having stated “delay in settling this question (Independence) would have the country divided and into chaos”.  Thereafter, as Leader of an all-party government, he visited several countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Arab World to explain the need for Mauritius to be independent. The impression he created was that all the parties representing the whole population of the country wanted independence. That was a great example of wisdom and diplomacy. On a certain occasion, he also said that in case of unnecessary delay, he would put Mauritius under the care of the United Nations Organisation. That determination was a show of strength necessary in a process of deconolisation.

Photo: SSR addressing national rally



Anthony Greenwood, Secretary of State, a great friend of Mauritius came in 1965 to assess the urgency of independence. The Conservatives organised big shows to impress him as to the need for integration, although Nigel Fisher and Tom Driberg, distinguished Labour  and Conservative parliamentarians, had earlier ruled it out.

Greenwood convened a conference in London. As in previous years, the Conservatives spared no efforts to mobilize public opinion in Mauritius and in Great Britain against the idea of independence. They were fighting their last battle and it was obvious they would not leave any stone unturned. Once again, they misrepresented facts and created a lot of misunderstanding. Anyway, the Secretary of State saw things very clearly and approved independence, but he made it optional on the results of  general elections. A statesman could not do otherwise in that particular context. However, it was obvious Ramgoolam would win as in the past. The Conservatives objected to the recommendations of Greenwood.  Instead, they wanted a referendum which he had rejected but which they believed would work in their favour. Their press published many articles with headings like “L’independene de Maurice ou la Deuxième conquête des Anglo-Saxons “L’independence est imposée par l’Angleterre.

The adage that a cat has seven lives was applicable to the Conservatives. The general elections to decide independence were fixed for 1967. Prior to that the British government sent                                                                         Sir Harold Banwell to propose electoral changes. One of the reforms he recommended and which was accepted, despite the Labour Party’s protest, was a disguised form of proportional representation, something similar proposed in 1955 but withdrawn in 1957 following Ramgoolam’s walk-out from  the then Legislative Council.

Banwell’s proposal had pleased the Conservative leaders and their innocent followers. That was like winning a war after losing many battles. They started celebrating their so called would be victory. As far as Ramgoolam was concerned, as in 1956, he along with his colleagues boycotted the Legislative Assembly, and asked the British government to withdraw the recommendations of Banwell. He exploded in anger and flew to London where he lodged a strong protest. Moreover, he toured several countries drawing attention to injustice done to Mauritus and mobilized support for independence.

Ramgoolam came back overwhelmed and said emphatically “Le monde veut que l’ile Maurice soit indépendente.” Following that, the British government despatched John Stonehouse, under Secretary of State, who scraped Banwell’s recommendation. General elections were thereafter held on August 7, 1967. The Independent Forward Bloc had in the meantime joined the Labour/CAM coalition and the alliance of the three parties was named The Independence Party which came out victorious. On August 22, Ramgoolam moved a motion asking the British government to take necessary steps to grant independence.

The Bristish Parliament debated and approved the issue of independence. Dr Ramgoolam chose March 12, 1968 for the British government to declare Mauritius independent. Participating in the debates and referring to him, James Griffiths, exSecretary of State, observed: “I think of no one more fitted in temperament and character to lead into independence a country of that size with its many problems”. In his turn, George Thompson, Commonwealth Secretary said: “I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, better known to his many friends on both sides of the House by his nickname of “Ram” for the vision and statesmanship over the years, he has shown in leading his country to the goal of independence”.

Photos (1) SSR & John Shaw Renie, (2) Mauritian flag being hoisted



12th March 1968, the greatest date in the history of Mauritius, was approaching yet independence could be prevented even on that day.  44% of the electors had voted against it.                                                                      Certain interested parties involved large numbers of innocent people to create confusion. Disorder and violence broke out at several places. British troops flew in to restore peace. Princess Alexandra, who had gracefully accepted to represent Her Majesty the Queen, cancelled her visit at the last minute. It naturally had bad repercussions that somewhat tarnished the image of Mauritius in the world and signified that the country was perhaps not prepared for independence. Anyway, Anthony Greenwood , leader of the British delegation handed over the instrument of independence to Dr Ramgoolam with these words: “you Prime Minister, have during more than 20 years been the principal architect of the new nation that comes into being tonight”.


Photo: SSR taking the oath as Prime Minister



Dr Ramgoolam was indeed the architect of the independence of Mauritius which he obtained in the teeth of strong opposition and organized stiff conspiracy. He had steered clear and weathered the storms all through. What made all this possible was his clear vision for the country, unsurpassed love for its people and unflagging determination to forge ahead despite hindrances. He had skills to make himself understood by British politicians whose cooperation and trust he had obtained. Appointed to the Legislative Council in 1940, this great son of Mauritius had a long political career. To stop his march to independence, his detractors had wrongly accused him of being a communist,a protagonist for the annexation of Mauritius with India, an enemy of Western culture.

Saddled with full power after independence, Dr Ramgoolam did nothing to cause prejudice to any community on account of birth, language and religion. Rather, he showed unbounded appreciation for the beliefs and interests of each ethnic group. 44% of the people had voted against independence. He integrated them in the mainstream of nationhood. That was a rare example of friendship, tolerance and compromise to share whatsoever wealth was available for the building of a nation.

In his struggle for constitutional reforms leading to independence, Dr Ramgoolam had the support of fellow workers like: Guy Rozemont, Emmanuel Anquetil, Renganaden  Seeneevassen, Guy Forget, Régis Chapéron, Aunath Beejadhur, Heeralal Vaghjee, Harold Walter, Kher Jagatsingh, Satcam Boolell and Veerasamy Ringadoo  whom he all the time remembered with gratitude.

Ramgoolam was indeed great, yet he was a man of the masses. Sookdeo Bissoondoyal a long time opponent, had in his wisdom observed: Dr Ramgoolam is a well- read politician. He is at home anywhere, among the rich of any complexion and among officials however ruthless these way turn out. He knows how and what to speak in moments of crisis, and above all, he always takes good care never to get involved in any mass agitation.” Malcolm de Chazal had said “Le Dr Ramgoolam est le plus grand homme d’Ėtat que nous ayons eu”and to Gaetan Duval Ramgoolam had been the Father of the Nation.

For his part, Anerood Jugnauth later remarked: “His name is so closely and imtimately associated with the emancipation of Mauritius that it will be for ever written “in diamond” letters …… He was one of the giants of the world and could have successfully taken the destiny of any country into his hands.” This sums up what most Mauritians think of Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam who has gone down in history as the architect of independence and is remembered as the Father of the Nation.


September 2015.

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