The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred with their bones
William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar
Touching on SAJ’s public life doesn’t imply shying away from other aspects of his life. It simply means that nothing in his private life sticks out like a sore thumb, as is the case with many of those holding or having held power, here as elsewhere. There is nothing to learn from Anerood Jugnauth’s private life since it is an open book with, to the best of everybody’s knowledge, no murky episodes. Actually, SAJ has been the absolute epitome of the family man – a most loving husband, caring father and doting grandfather. I remember how, on certain occasions, during the early morning political bureau meetings of the MMM that used to be held at Paul Bérenger’s residence in Quatre-Bornes, in the late seventies, he would sometimes apologetically slip away right in the middle of our heated discussions, however important their subject matter, simply to go back home and drive his son on time for college. Few political leaders provide such a model to be emulated by the rising generations of Mauritians as SAJ has done, at a time when it is common knowledge that basic family values were being rapidly & steadily eroded.
I do not pretend to know SAJ, the man & the politician thoroughly, but by any standard the man behind the politician commanded admiration and respect. I have had him both as a political friend, for a long time, and a political foe, for a relatively short time – foe in the sense of opponent, never an enemy. I haven’t seen eye to eye with him on quite a number of issues. I have even, at a certain point in time, vehemently criticized him on some of his decisions, yet I recognize in him great qualities of leadership – he is a man of decision, with a strong character, committed in whatever he undertakes and a high sense of duty. It is a known fact that as Prime Minister, he used to run the affairs of the country in a thrifty manner and looked after the public coffers as he did his own personal estate, insisting on Government spending within the limit of the budgetary provisions and on the need for savings and avoiding waste. Public funds for him were sacred. He refused to condone the squandering of public funds and was known to be against his ministers’ undertaking unnecessary trips at the expense of the exchequer when Mauritian diplomats based in our missions abroad could do the job equally well. He considered himself the people’s trustee of the Treasury and he was, of course, right. Unless absolutely necessary, he would not, at least during his first years in Office, go on mission overseas. I even remember how, on one occasion, his minister of Foreign Affairs had to persuade and literally implore him before he finally accepted an invitation to participate in an international meeting considered crucial for our future relations with the host country.
I had the privilege of serving in SAJ’s Cabinet of ministers during the period he was Prime Minister of Mauritius in 1982-83 and 1990-91, for two relatively short spans of nine months and 18 months respectively. I recall how as Prime Minister, he would place his unreserved trust in all his ministers, always encouraging them to be creative and to come up with new ideas to help the country forge ahead. He would make himself available and invariably make time for them whenever his ministers needed urgent advice or go-aheads from him on certain important issues. He respected his ministers as much as his ministers respected him. He didn’t bully them and never ever used any foul language while addressing them either in private or in public. He was not then known to have a foul mouth. It came much later!
It was during his tenure as Prime Minister that Mauritius progressed by leaps and bounds and within a few short years, the country came out of its state of underdevelopment to rank among the middle-income countries. He is rightly considered as the father of the economic development of Mauritius and thanks to him and to a few of his ministerial team-players, people around the world have come, until lately, to refer to Mauritius as the economic miracle of Africa and they would come from far and wide to study more closely the miraculous transformation, within such a short period of time, of a small country with no mineral or other natural resources and no assets except human resources. This remarkable achievement of the country bears the stamp of SAJ, the pragmatic leader.
SAJ has also left his indelible mark on the political history of the country. His involvement in politics covers a span of more than half a century. He was the chairman of the Palma Village Council when in 1963 he was approached by the Independent Forward Block political party to be its candidate in the constituency of Rivière-du-Rempart for the general elections scheduled for the 21st October of that year. He was to stand against one of the Labour Party’s stalwarts: Aunuth Beejadhur, who had been an elected member for that very constituency and the country’s Minister of Education for a number of years. Against all odds and giving a lie to all forecasts, Anerood Jugnauth, then a young barrister, won the seat with 55 % of the votes cast. Later, as member of the IFB, under the leadership of Sookdeo Bissoondoyal, he participated in the September 1965 Constitutional Conference in London that was to usher Mauritius, after the general elections of 1967, into the Independence era. He played a key role in that Conference in as much as he succeeded in persuading Sookdeo Bissoondoyal to join his erstwhile political opponent Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam in claiming Independence for Mauritius, laying, by the same token, the foundation for the formation of the Independence Party with as partners, the Labour Party, the IFB and the Comité d’Action Musulman (CAM) which was to win the 1967 general elections and independence for Mauritius.
It is on the sideline of that conference that the decision to excise the Chagos archipelago from the Mauritian territory to create the infamous British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was taken. The ‘deal’ that took place between SSR & the then British Prime Minister on the excision of the Chagos archipelago in return for the promise of independence, was, some contend, rammed down the throat of SSR while others condemned the secret deal as one of the biggest political sell-outs to the then colonial masters. Nobody else from the Mauritius delegation was privy to that deal, once confirmed to me by SAJ himself. SSR didn’t trust any of his colleagues, who were all kept in the dark throughout the negotiation process that was to result in the forcible removal of the whole population of the Chagos archipelago to make room for the setting up of a US nuclear base on the main island of Diego Garcia. However, SSR was, soon after, to bring SAJ as one of his cabinet Ministers to serve first as Minister of State for Development and then as Minister of Labour. It was a short-lived experience and relationship. As a result of serious differences and diverging views, between SAJ and Prime Minister SSR, on government policies and actions to be initiated in order to solve the chronic unemployment problem that prevailed, SAJ resigned and left politics. That was only temporary for, bitten by the political bug he was a couple of years later to come back ….with a vengeance. He became, alongside Paul Bérenger, the leader of the emerging MMM party, was elected once more to Parliament, became Leader of the Opposition, then Prime Minister, as leader of the MMM and again Prime Minister as leader of the MSM and to crown it all President of the Republic – a Republic that is of his making.
It is he who actually made of Mauritius a Republic and he fully deserves the title of the Architect of the Republic that has been bestowed upon him not only by his well-wishers but by the Mauritian population at large. He brought the legislation – a constitutional amendment - that was to convert a constitutional monarchy that Mauritius was into a Republic, thus removing the last vestiges of colonialism and bringing dignity and prestige to our country and our people. Ever since, a son of the soil has been the Head of State of Mauritius. When he believed something was good and necessary for the country, SAJ never gave up before achieving his goal. The accession of Mauritius to the status of Republic is a case in point. It was after he was twice thwarted in his aim, in December 1983, incidentally by the MMM who chose to abstain on his motion, and in August 1990, due to a cabal inspired by a few anti-MSM politicians that finally, in December 1991, the National Assembly had the required MSM/MMM majority to amend the Constitution, to make of Mauritius a Republic, a Republic within the Commonwealth, with the Labour Party voting against the motion.
SAJ waged his last political battle in the international arena bringing up the Chagos archipelago issue once again to the forefront at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Both the ICJ and the UNGA vindicated SAJ’s claims as they ruled that the decolonisation of Mauritius was not yet complete and that the British was under the obligation of bringing its administration of the Chagos archipelago to an end. The UNGA even set a deadline of the 22nd November 2019 for the implementation of its resolution, which has up to this day been shamelessly ignored by the UK.
The passing of SAJ, the last of the mohicans, marks the end of an era. He was of the generation that was brought up during the colonial days, living most of the time in dire poverty growing up in a modest rural family, and had a successful career as a barrister through dint of hard work and sacrifice. This had an abiding influence on him, his relations with people around him and his public engagement. He joined and stayed in public life for over half a century and proved all the way to be a man of decision, committed to the welfare of his fellow citizens. In the process he must surely have committed mistakes, most often than not in good faith but he leaves behind a rich record of achievements. Political leader of great charisma, leader of the Opposition in Parliament, minister, Prime Minister, President of the Republic, SAJ remained till the end a political animal which won him, a decade ago, the epithet of ‘a living legend’.
Mauritius owes him a debt of gratitude!