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Sir Anerood Jugnauth

(1930 – 2021)
A Tribute

Sir Anerood Jugnauth has been one of the towering figure of Mauritian politics for the last six decades. His engagement in politics pre-dates independence. He passed away the 03 June 2021 at the age of 91. He was one of the last surviving politicians who had participated in the Lancaster House discussions in 1965 towards the independence of Mauritius from Great Britain. Sir Anerood Jugnauth was born 29 March 1930. He was known in the common parlance in Mauritius as “SAJ” or “Rambo”. There is nothing new to uncover from Anerood Jugnauth’s private life since it is an open book, nevertheless, there is a lot to learn from him. SAJ has been the absolute embodiment of the family man – a most loving husband, caring father and affectionate grandfather. Maybe through these roles, he had the determination to make the lives of his close ones different from his own extremely sad and difficult childhood and adolescence. SAJ was a man who did not leave anyone indifferent. During his lifetime, he had his unconditional admirers, but also some passionate opponents. His passing away and funeral saw the whole nation and even the diaspora, united in a common homage. The country has lost, one of its greatest son.

Under his helm and stewardship both as prime minister and president, Mauritius witnessed full employment, unprecedented economic growth and the setting up of new economic pillars, such as the offshore sector and knowledge economy.

Even if his reign with its no nonsense attitude; some would even say blunt behaviour, did have its lows, there is no doubt that Sir Anerood Jugnauth has considerably shaped the social, historic, economic and political fabric of contemporary Mauritius and the Mauritius to be.

From a village councilor to a town councilor at his start, Sir Anerood Jugnauth eventually went on to hold the highest political positions in the country. He served as president from 2003 to 2012 and prime minister from 1982 to 1995 and again from 2000 to 2003. Upon taking up the challenge to be elected again as prime minister in 2014, he was 84 years of age and served until 2017.

Sir Anerood Jugnauth’s coming of age onto the political scene took place in the 1950s. He joined the Independent Forward Bloc of the Bissoondoyal brothers who advocated Hindu political empowerment and education as agents of change for the community and for Mauritius. He subsequently held ministerial positions in the pre-independence government, but very quickly, he felt disheartened with politics owing to social and economic anomalies especially in the employment sector to which he could not reconcile. True to himself, he resigned to join the judiciary.

When Mauritius became independent from Britain in 1968, the island was troubled with economic and social uncertainty. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became independent Mauritius’ first prime minister. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam rallied all political parties in a national unity government, leaving a political vacuum for an extra-parliamentary opposition to emerge. It was at that time that the Mouvement Militant Mauricien, the MMM a political party founded by Paul Bérenger, emerged. The MMM fought for social justice among the working class and trade unions. This appealed to Sir Anerood Jugnauth and he joined the party in the early 1970s and soon became its president. In the 1976 general elections, the first post-independence elections, the MMM lost and SAJ became the Leader of the Opposition in parliament.

Year 1982, was the turning point in his career when his political party swept all the seats at the general elections. This was an unprecedented feat known as 60-0 in Mauritius as there was hence no parliamentary opposition. SAJ was appointed Prime minister for the first time, a position he would occupy for an uninterrupted 14 years interspaced with General Elections and alliances. His government faced new challenges and hard choices, such as high unemployment and severe austerity measures proposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank calling for reforms.

Differing leadership styles vis-à-vis Paul Bérenger split his cabinet and party. He left the MMM and created his own party, the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien, the MSM. Just nine months after their resounding win, SAJ dissolved parliament and emerged as the new uncontested prime minister.

The “Father of the Mauritian economic miracle” is often a title given to Sir Anerood Jugnauth. He initiated the diversification of the economy from sugar cane, import substitution industries and tourism with sectors such as the offshore, the freeport, the cybercity and the financial services. Mauritius was classified as a low-income economy when he first took office and moved towards being a middle income one by the late 1990s.

Things changed in the 1995 general election. His coalition party suffered an electoral downturn, his 14 years in political power was over, and indeed the vote of the people is sovereign. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei”

Prior to the 2000 general elections, Sir Anerood Jugnauth and Paul Bérenger, who was the leader of the opposition, signed a pre-election pact that if they won, political power was to be shared between them. As it turned out, their parties won and SAJ kept to his word and stepped down after three years as prime minister, allowing Paul Bérenger to become the country’s first non-Hindu prime minister since independence. With Paul Bérenger as prime minister, SAJ acceded to the post of president of the republic –a position that essentially holds ceremonial power.

Nevertheless, a series of political episodes affecting the party he had founded, led him to get back into the political arena and he resigned as president in March 2012. At the ripe age of 84 years, he swept the polls in the 2014 general elections and once again became prime minister. He eventually resigned as Prime minister and was succeeded by the leader of the ruling party, the MSM, Pravind Jugnauth in 2017. His last battle was at the International Court of Justice at The Hague for the restitution of the Chagos Archipelago to the sovereignty of Mauritius. A symbolic and lasting legacy for future generations of Mauritians with the poignant image of a very old but dignified man standing up against two superpowers for the dignity of the country in terms of completing its decolonization process. David against Goliath. His success in gathering the support of the overwhelming majority of nations of the United Nations General Assembly in supporting the return of the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius bears testimony to his remarkable achievement. His life is a tale of… from impossibility to possibility, an ordinary man… David… against mountains of Goliaths.

Dr Harish Khooblall, PhD
Consultant and Author