Neither saint nor sinner

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Lionisation on the one side and vilification on the other. In between, a middle Mauritius that paid a serene and sober tribute to a political giant – Sir Anerood Jugnauth.

How does one make sense of all this now that the dust has settled a little? Why is there so much anger when someone’s death normally makes way for forgiveness to allow the family to mourn in peace? Why did negative emotions run so high?

I am not springing to SAJ’s defence. His long political history and his unique journey from a poor and miserable childhood to the summit of power where he remained for decades speak for themselves. I concede that his reign was peppered with abuse, culminating in the Rs20 note and the Sun Trust with all it stands for. Yes, there is the unforgettable and unforgivable drug problem that continues to haunt us to this day. I am not trying to wipe any of that out.

Was he a democrat? Not judging by the laws he legislated or his acts within and without parliament. No one has forgotten the ‘colourable device’ he used to try and throw his opponent out of parliament or the resignation of Late Justice Ahnee following SAJ’s heartless deportation of a pregnant foreign worker in a clear violation of the independence of the Judiciary. 

However, you must concede that the man had it in him. He was confident, bold and – more importantly perhaps – he surrounded himself with competent and able people who built on what had already been achieved and used the Hong Kong unique opportunity to create what came to be called – wrongly in my opinion – ‘the economic miracle’ and was – wrongly again – attributed to one man. Years of hard work by his predecessor, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, and citizens like Edouard Lim Fat, José Poncini, Jean Ah Chuen and others, who started the foundations of what was later marketed as the ‘economic miracle’ were ignored by the new writers of History. (Please see an excellent Facebook post by Mauritian biographer Joseph Tsang Man Kin).

In spite of all this, SAJ can be credited with having picked the men who worked to take it from there and gave them free hand to do so. We did not see the kind of nepotism and favouritism we see today with inept people being given positions of power just to reward them for their misplaced loyalty. For that, he must be remembered by all of us.

What saddens me is that the wrath directed at SAJ was the result of the recent years only. He is being blamed for the political rut we are in. Had he left politics before 2014 and savoured his last years in the company of his wife and away from politics, he would have left this world as an uncontested hero. I agree that he didn’t. I also agree that we can’t idolise the man. No one is a saint and he certainly wasn’t one. But he wasn’t a villain either. He cannot be judged by his last few years. He cannot be blamed for the mafia-like dictatorship we have sunk into. The man is much larger than that.

When SAJ returned to power in 2014, he was 84. He was an institution but he was a diminished man. A far cry from the man I met in the 1990s. Lakwizin had taken control of the whole country and SAJ was used and abused as were other institutions. As far back as 2015, many people close to him knew that decisions were not taken at La Caverne. Those who resigned from the MSM confirmed that he had been side-lined and put in a closet to be taken out as and when his support was badly needed. The last and saddest show was the orchestrated MBC ‘interview’ where he was made to read carefully prepared notes lionising his own son! It was a sad moment. My eyes welled up when I saw what had become of a giant who once stood so tall.

I am not asking you to canonise the man or forget his abuses. What I am suggesting is that you consider the possibility that he may have suffered as much as we all did from the decisions taken in his name in the last few years and which he had little to do with. With that, may his soul rest in peace.

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