Gujadhur and Lallah: Shock waves (1926)

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«Rule Britannia!, Britannia rules the waves, Indians shall no more be slaves!» So run the inscriptions on banners after the election result was declared for the Grand Port constituency. It was out of the realm of imagination but Dunputh Lallah at Grand Port and Rajcoomar Gujadhur at Flacq made it happen. Lallah won over Fernand Louis Morel and Gaston Gebert; Gujadhur standing for the first time beat Pierre Montocchio in a tough fight. They became the first two Indo-Mauritians to be elected for the Legislative Council in 1926. The excitement was electric as Indians greeted their triumph amidst rejoicing and looked forward to seeing better days in the future. Another Indian, Ibrahim Beebeejaun, who had young Aunauth Beejadhur as one of his sponsors, dared challenge in 1926 the towering leader of the White community, Maurice Martin, at Riviere du Rempart. The writing on the wall gave indication that with the Indians starting to take a keen interest in politics, the political landscape was bound to undergo changes in the years ahead. This prompted an anguished wail from the press owned by the Conservatives. Lallah and Gujadhur, it was said, would be promoting a «Hindu nationalist» line. To which, the two new elected members would retort that «it is a legitimate right for Indo-Mauritians to have a proper share in the administration of the country.» Gujadhur stated that he was standing for election, inspired by the report of the Royal Commission of enquiry of 1909. One of the observations made in the report was that the Legislative Council could not claim to be fairly representative of the population without the presence of the Asiatic elements. Hence, his move to go for election. Yet, Gujadhur in his letter to the people of Flacq claimed he was a «son of the soil» and a «good Mauritian» who was going to the Council to defend the cause of the people «irrespective of class, colour or creed.» The sponsorship for his candidature came not only from the Indian elements but also from some prominent members of the White community like Maxime de Sornay and Maxime Boullé. As Edgar Laurent and Arthur Rohan, the elected members for Port Louis pointed out, the one who instigated Gujadhur to run for the election at Flacq was none other than Ernest Leclezio. The sitting member since 1901, Adolphe Duclos having retired from politics for family reasons, it was Pierre Montocchio who was fielded to contest the seat of Flacq. For the «dhoti» clad and turban wearing Gujadhur who usually spoke hindustani, his chances of getting elected seemed written off. When counting started at Flacq, Gujadhur took the lead and held on till the end, touching the finishing line ahead of Montocchio by a neck, a mere 38 votes, in the traditional horse racing style! As the dust of the electoral debacle for the Conservatives settled, the oligarch press immediately saw a Hindu nationalist tendency unfolding. The newspaper, Le Cerneen, raised the spectre of the «Indian peril» which the Conservatives would re-discover in the 1950s to frighten the population. «l?election de Lallah», wrote Le Cerneen, «est un crime de lèse-patrie et celle de M.Gujadhur sa néfaste conséquence? » The rising of the Indians? Who to blame if not the Whites themselves, argued one Franco-Mauritian journalist, for the whites in order to secure their own selfish interest since 1886 were selling lands, giving work to a large number of Indians and improving their economic conditions. Commenting on the election of Lallah and Gujadhur, Léoville L?homme, a poet and controversial journalist in the 1880s wrote in the newspaper Le Mauricien of 29 January 1926 that he had been in several press articles sounding a warning- «si nous n?y prenions garde, les Indiens nous mangeraient.» Another significant event which raised eyebrows was the brilliant achievement of Hassenbee Joomye who won the British scholarship at the Royal college in 1922. The success of Joomye stunned many and caused L?homme to react rather harshly when he wrote that only the «imbéciles» could not see the Indians making successful leaps. The Indians were forsaking the soil and were having high aspirations, wrote L?homme who could not help reminding that «les Indiens de chez nous ont monté». When Sir Celicourt Antelme raised the alarm about the impending Indian domination years back, L?homme said, he was being laughed at... But moderates in the Conservative camp held a distinct view. The «Indian peril» was but a figment of the extremists? imagination, argued Roger Pezzani, member for Plaines Wilhems. Pezzani stated that those who were adopting the hard line should come to terms with the ground realities and accept to evolve in a modern outlook. The new outlook he termed as the «New Era», where the elites of all the communities could come under one umbrella in order to foster a l?Union Mauricienne. Pezzani became famous for the slogan he coined, «L?élite, d?ou qu?elle vienne.» As the shock waves subsided and life returned to normalcy, the electors of Flacq decided not to give Gujadhur a return trip by voting him out in favour of Pierre Montocchio in the 1931 election. Montocchio fought hard to detract the Indian voters from the «khoonism» memory, whipped up in 1926, and was able to convince the people of Flacq that he could offer a much better service than Gujadhur did. Lallah for his part abandoned active politics and the newly elected member for Grand Port in 1931 was Andre Raffray who won quite easily over Dheerajlall Seetulsingh, a lawyer, who started politics in an obscure political outfit called L?Entente Mauricienne floated by Jerôme Tranquille. Anand MOHEEPUTH
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