The London Days

tower_bridge.jpg (4865 bytes) So, in 1921, accompanied by his two Mauritian friends from the Royal College, Mohabeer Luckeenarain and Abdul Raman Osman, Ramgoolam set sail by the Messagerie Maritime for London with a transit of a couple of days in Paris when he rushed into the bookshop to purchase copies of the books of André Gide and Malraux with both of whom he became fast friends.

In London , while he was completing his matriculation, Ramgoolam took up lodging with the Indian Students’ Association where he made life-long friendships with many famous Indian students in Britain. In 1922, the young medical student took a lead in the reception committee in honour of his Indian hero, Lallah Lajpat Rai, the lion of Punjab, revered as a great Indian national leader, the exponent of Arya Samaj which captured the young imagination of the medical student. Suddenly, he saw himself getting fanatically involved with the struggle for India's independence. And he was always in the forefront of the student movement, even quite ahead of the very Indian students themselves. He was a regular reader of Gandhi’s weekly, "Young India" and he was to talk to Gandhiji on the latter's visit to London during the Round Table Conference in 1932. He was deeply impressed with Gandhi’s method of non-violence, peace and harmony and since then the idea of struggling for the independence of his country in a peaceful Gandhian style had taken firm roots in his mind.

nehru.jpg (15051 bytes) In London, at India House, then the busy hub of so many Indian nationalist agitations, Ramgoolam came to meet great Indian patriots like Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, Vithalbhai Patel, Sinha, Srinivas Sastri and others who left a deep influence on him and strengthened his pride and knowledge of Eastern values. The communist member of Parliament, Sharpuzi Saklat Lava introduced Ramgoolam to the London branch of the Indian National Congress of which he rose to become the president in 1924.

Ramgoolam saw himself immersed deeply into international politics, with Vithalbhai Patel as his political guru. He had the opportunity of proof-reading Subhash Chandra Bose’s book, "The Great Indian Struggle" while the author was in financial difficulty and in hiding in Vienna.

The young Ramgoolam saw the Indian freedom struggle as spearheading the world's decolonisation movement and that all the other colonies in Africa and including Mauritius, shared the same identical struggle and needed to stick together. This was to be the basis of his firm convictions, years later in joining the Non-Aligned Movement, spearheaded by Nehru, Nasser, Tito and Sukarno. He struck up life-long friendships with the many leading African students in London including Jomo Kenyatta,Kenneth Kaunda, the future liberators of Kenya and Zambia. The idea of liberating his country from colonial rule had taken roots in those London days. He was fascinated by the heat of political discussion which he nurtured through membership with the Fabian Society which further initiated him into the secrets of British politics, parliamentary democracy and socialism. He was a keen student of the great Fabian intellectuals including Sidney and Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw, G.D.H. Cole, Harold Laski who were preaching a kind of reformist socialism and the virtues of the welfare state while avoiding the pitfalls of radical socialism or communism. Ramgoolam took notes of the various ways and means to give shape and life to all those bright Socialist ideas into practical projects, programmes and laws.

As a passionate student of British politics and Fabian tactics, Ramgoolam spent considerable time in the British museum, public libraries, attending lectures, debates and conferences which were to fuel his immense experience and wisdom from great Labour leaders like the popular George Landsbury, Jimmy Maxton, Arthur Greenwood (senior and father of Anthony Greenwood), Henderson, Thomas, Fenner Brockway. Later, he was to model his political life on the lessons patiently learnt in London and steer his country slowly and cautiously from the dark age of colonialism, underdevelopment to an independent, democratic, socialist country based on the virtues of a mixed economy and a welfare state.

But as a Fabian socialist with his feet firmly on the ground, Ramgoolam came to believe in the virtues of "enlightened capitalism"and mixed economy, mobilising the enterprise and intelligence of the capitalists as the engine of economic growth and of higher productivity and the sharing of profits with the people at large. As a deep thinker, genuinely committed to the modernisation of his country, in the wake of Jawaharlal Nehru, Ramgoolam held as his central belief that a mixed economy democracy would ensure economic growth with social justice.

In 1926, he sided with the miners during the General Strike because of his profound sympathy for the workers’ rights.

During the 1926 elections in Mauritius, his brother, Ramlall, who had backed up Gujadhur against the all-powerful Pierre Montochhio in Flacq was heavily penalized through the loss of his job and all his privileges, including the sale of his vast property of 450 acres at Belle Rive. Finally, even his house had been broken into with the result that he had lost trace of every document. Ramlall was totally ruined. This was a time when the Franco-Mauritians were still the lords and barons of this country, holding within their hands all the economic, social, cultural and political power and to challenge them was to play with fire. So, Ramgoolam had to face the music as Ramlall who had to leave Belle Rive for Curepipe then Coromandel in Beau-Bassin where he died in 1933, leaving his brother Kewal without finance to complete his medical studies.

For four years, Ramgoolam had to interrupt his medical studies at the prestigious University College Hospital, London. However, his brother, Nuckchadee Heeramun, then a store-keeper at Beau Champ sugar estate sent him some money occasionally. Ramgoolam survived by doing odd jobs, as a columnist in British papers and hiding his poverty from his landlady, Mrs Jacob Finsbury who came to know about the Mauritian student, looking very much like a British gentleman, who went without food from time to time.

In 1932, Ramgoolam met the Mauritian delegation in London comprising of G. D. M. Atchia, Gujadhur, Dr Edgar and Laurent Raffray. The result was that Atchia sympathised with the Mauritian student in difficulty and mobilised funds from home from numerous people to help Ramgoolam complete his medical studies.

After his studies, Ramgoolam turned down the offer to serve in Bengal and decided to return to Mauritius.

By Anand Mulloo 15.9.98