Monday, February 4, 2008

Mauritius PM’s rural roots on radar

A little-known village in Bihar has found fame and is set for a facelift as it has been officially identified as the native place of former Mauritius prime minister Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. Harigaon in Bhojpur district, about 60 km from here, was like any other village in rural Bihar without roads, electricity connection and a health centre.

The Bihar government will now develop it as a model village with basic infrastructure and turn it into a historical place to attract tourists, particularly from Mauritius.

Ahead of Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam's visit to the village Feb 19, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with top officials went to the village Saturday, and announced a spate of measures including construction of roads, a hospital, a school and other basic facilities.

'Nitish Kumar visited Harigaon to take stock of the amenities available in the village before the Mauritius prime minister's visit,' a senior official of the Chief Minister's Office.

Nitish Kumar has invited Navinchandra Ramgoolam to visit his ancestors' village. Navinchandra Ramgoolam will also unveil a statue of Seewoosagur Ramgoolam in the heart of Patna.

Late Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was prime minister of Mauritius from 1961 to 1982. He is considered the father of the nation as he led his country to independence from Britain.

According to experts, his grandfather was one of the hundreds labourers from different villages across Bihar forcibly taken by the British to work in Malaysian sugarcane plantations in 1871.

A large number of people from Bihar travelled to various parts of the world, including Mauritius, in the 19th century to serve as indentured labourers - sometimes referred to as girmitiya - in sugarcane and rubber plantations.

Most of them were from districts like Bhojpur, Chapra, Gopalganj and East and West Champaran.

About 60 percent of the 1.2 million population of Mauritius is of Indian origin, a large number of them from Bihar with Bhojpuri as their mother tongue.

Before Nitish Kumar gets ready to receive the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Navinchandra Ramgoolam, to unveil his father and predecessor, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam’s, statue — he better settle the controversy over the PM’s rural roots first.

Though the chief minister today clarified that according to the Prime Minister himself, Hargaon, in central Bihar’s Bhojpur district, is Ramgoolam family’s ancestral village, people from as many as three other villages in Sahabad district have staked their claim of being the “original” birthplace of the Ramgoolam family.

Nitish stressed that his office had received a communiqué from the Mauritius government that clearly stated that “Hargaon under Bihian paragana in Bhojpur district” was Ramgoolam’s ancestral village. However, villagers of Chhauttupur, especially one Deonarayan Ojha, yesterday sent a fax to the Mauritius Embassy at New
Delhi stating that Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was “the son of one Swayamvar Ojha who had been taken as a bonded labourer to the island nation in 1871 by the British”.

The document also has an “inquiry report” conducted by local civil officials appended with it. Also appended, is a report of a janata darbar that Buxar district magistrate organised to pronounce Chhauttupur as Seewoosagur Ramgoolam’s “original home” on November 18, 2007.

On the other hand, residents of Barka Singhanpura in Buxar are also claiming to know the Ramgoolam family. In 2007 they handed a packet of soil, from land where a deity worshipped by Ramgoolam’s family and the villagers is kept, to Nitish. The chief minister handed the packet of soil to Navinchandra Ramgoolam.

Then there is Keshopur in Buxar. Villagers there have staked their claim on the Ramgoolam family as well. They too have faxed letters to the Mauritius Embassy in New Delhi to support their claim.

Last year when the chief minister visited Mauritius, he had formally invited Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam to unveil the life-size statue of his father and Mauritius’s first Prime Minister in February 2008.

At that time, Navinchandra Ramgoolam reportedly showed keen interest to find out more of his family’s roots. Though Seewoosagur Ramgoolam never visited “his village”, his son wishes to do so.

And since he is ready to offer financial help to boost development in his ancestral land, it’s not going to hurt to be a part of the Ramgoolam root, either. Thus, claimants are not ready to step down.

“We are in touch with the Mauritius Embassy and will request Navinchandra to visit Chhauttupur and not go by false claims,” said Deonarayan Ojha.

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