‘Son’s duties’: The legacy that won Mauritius’ Sir Anerood Jugnauth Padma Vibhushan
Sir Anerood Jugnauth was awarded the Padma Vibhushan – India’s second-highest civilian award – on the eve of the 71st Republic Day for public service. Here’s a look at what led to this award.
Sir Anerood Jugnauth calls the people of his country "children of India". And India too has behaved like a protective mother to Mauritius despite a distance of about 4,000km, across the ocean.
In 1983, when Jugnauth – then in his first term as the Prime Minister of Mauritius – was threatened by his radical rival Paul Berenger, the Indian government planned military intervention. Although shelved, Operation Lal Dora, which has never been officially acknowledged, was enough to scare off the opposition. The Indian-origin politician stayed in power continuously for another decade.
Since then, Jugnauth has remained one of New Delhi’s most loyal allies.
Under him, trade and investment relations boomed between the two countries. India and Mauritius coordinate closely in security matters, with the National Security advisor of Mauritius being a senior Indian security service official.
Mauritius -- where more than half of the population is of North Indian origin -- still cherishes its ancestral ties with India and promotes Hindi and Bhojpuri languages.
These are among the reasons for which 89-year-old Jugnauth was awarded the Padma Vibhushan -- India’s second-highest civilian award -- on the eve of the 71st Republic Day, in the category of public service. In 2017, Jugnauth had handed over the Prime Ministerial post to his son.
"The award comes just in time to celebrate his legacy, now that he holds no official position in government," K.V. Bhagirath, who has served as an Ambassador to Mauritius between 1997 and 2001 told Asiaville.
Signing of DTAA
The most significant legacy of Jugnauth in strengthening the bilateral relationship was the signing of the Indo-Mauritian agreement DTAA (Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement) in 1983 with then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
"The DTAA served both countries well from 1983 onwards and formalised what became the strongest linkage between the two countries, apart from their common Indian ancestry," says Ambassador Bhagirath.
Estimates say that Mauritius accounted for almost a third of all the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) India received between 2000 and 2017.
But the DTAA has also been blamed for making the island nation a major hub of Indian-origin "shell companies" -- businesses that are set up just for a postal address to evade taxes -- and source of black money.
Performance of economy
Fondly known by the acronym SAJ, Jugnauth was a major force behind driving the economic growth of the nation of around 1.3 million, which in the early 1980s was dependent only on the production of sugar.
Riding on the wave of globalisation in the '80s and '90s, Mauritius became a major hub of the textile industry and off-shore banking and finance.
"The textile sector became the engine of economic and social development with its creation of mass employment, visible redistribution of wealth, the emancipation of women, improved quality of life and most importantly, participatory development," says Dr Chandan Jankee, an associate professor in Banking and Finance University of Mauritius. He calls Jugnauth "the father of economic development".
Mauritius has now become a strong, stable democracy. As per the Democracy Index 2019, it is the best performing democracy in the African region. Ranked 18, it has outperformed India (rank 51) by far.
The GDP per capita of Mauritius stands at over $11,000 today, from around US$1,000 when Jugnauth took charge as the Prime Minister in the 1980s. Compared to this, India's per capita wealth stands at around $2,000. India too had a major role in this.
Ambassador Bhagirath recollects a story when Jugnauth came back to power:
"He paid a state visit to India soon after and visited India's cyber cities in Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore. I had accompanied him on this visit. He requested and negotiated a then-unheard-of Line of Credit of US$100 million for building a Cyber City in Mauritius. Today, Cyber City is a reality and was a veritable economic miracle for Mauritius."
Indian Ocean Region (IOR), where Mauritius is located, is a hub of power-play between global powers. It accounts for 55% of the world's proven oil reserves, 40% of all gold reserves in the world, 35% of its gas and significantly, 60% of global uranium reserves. Around 90% of all oil transported from the Persian Gulf region (approx. 17 million barrels a day) passes through the IOR into Europe and Asia.
Under Jugnauth, Mauritius aligned closely with India. India even has a plan to set up a naval base there. Also, unofficially, the Indian Navy has been using the ports of the island nation.
In 2015, the countries signed an agreement to "improve the sea and air transport facilities" at the Agaléga islands and "build an airstrip and jetty facilities".
Jugnauth also maintained a good relationship with all the Indian Prime Ministers -- starting from Indira Gandhi to Narendra Modi. He was in fact among the leaders who hailed Modi’s demonetisation move, calling it a "right thing for the country".
At the 11th World Hindi Conference co-hosted by his country, Jugnauth -- while supporting Hindi to be made the official language of the United Nations – had said that “we are the children of India and India is our mother… In this way, we are carrying out a son's responsibilities”.
Just like his father, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth (who was re-elected as the Prime Minister of Mauritius in November last year for another five years), also keeps a close relationship with India. It seems the legacy of SAJ will be carried forward.