“Mauritius is emerging as the prime destination for global tourists” —Mookheshwur Choonee, Minister of Arts and Culture, Republic of Mauritius
Soft-spoken and down-to-earth Mr Mookheshwur Choonee, Minister of Arts and Culture, Republic of Mauritius, earned name and fame for earnest, pro-active approach in making Mauritius an international destination for tourism. Strongly rooted in cultural moorings of the country, he is striving hard to infuse cultural ethos into the youths for strengthening the value-based society. Highly influenced by Indian cultural ethos, Mr Choonee had been Mauritius’ Ambassador to India from 2006 to 2010. Being a senior popular leader of Labour Party, he had been the Minister for three times in the past too, holding key portfolios. In an exclusive interview to Legal Editor Prasanna Kumar Nanda at Port Louis, Capital of Mauritius, Mr Choonee talked on various issues. Excerpts:
You served as an Ambassador in India. How do you like it? What is the uniqueness you find in the Indian nation?
India is different. It is the world’s largest living democracy. I don’t see there is any other country in the world where democracy is so alive. What is more interesting is you have everything in India. The best thing India has is the young population. No other country in world has such a dynamic and huge population in the world. Even if putting all the countries together, then also India will be distinguished in the above context. China has an ageing population; Africans are slightly better on this count. All other countries are lagging behind in having such young population. Not only India has young population, it is still lucky that they are getting the proper education and training in all spheres that the world requires today. So no surprise that India is emerging as a world’s knowledge powerhouse.
As you know I have worked in India as an Ambassador for Mauritius that’s why, I know the creamy layer of politicians in your country. Irrespective of their political differences, they respect each other even despite their own ideologies. For, they know the patriotic feeling and sense of belongingness among the leaders, which is another uniqueness.
What initiative have you taken for cultural exchanges between the two countries?
Mauritius and India has longstanding bilateral relations since our forefathers. The relationship is so close and strong that it cannot be broken. It’s a special relationship. Besides other factors, what has kept our relationship so close and binding is the bond of spirituality. What our forefathers had got from India, we considered it, worked on it, preserved and promoted it.
When APJ Abdul Kalam was the President he came here, I met him. When I was the Ambassador in India, we met again. Then he said, “Your country is so great and beautiful I want to come again.” Similarly, when Mrs Indira Gandhi visited as a Prime Minister, she was so impressed with the culture prevalent in the country that she said, “Wah! Mauritius is ‘Laghu Bharat’.”
Tell us about the binding factor and culture of your country?
The reason is we have kept our culture alive. Even the Indian languages are still alive and spoken. There is great communal harmony among the citizens. We celebrate Diwali, Holi, Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi and Eid, all under the auspices of the ministery concerned. We also celebrate Christmas with the same fervour. In fact, we have four national festivals, namely Diwali, Eid, Christmas and the Spring Festival.
When Narasimha Rao was the prime minister, he visited Mauritius. Then I was the Art and Culture Minister. We organised a function in his honour in north of our country. He watched a cultural presentation from south India with rapt attention. When it was finished I saw tears started rolling down his cheeks and he said, “These are the songs I used to hear when I was a child. Now I don’t here those songs. You have preserved and kept our traditional culture alive in Mauritius more than that in my country.”
What are the initiatives your government has taken to promote tourism?
Several initiatives have been taken by us. A special organisation called Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) is working on it. As of now, we are getting more tourists from Europian countries. Actually we have a total population of 1.2 million and we are getting one million tourists every year. And our target by 2015 is to get 2 million tourists, i.e. more than our country’s population.
It is a fact that we have not marketed aggressively our tourism in South-East Asia. Now we are chalking out a strategy on it. The reason being Indians can also come between April and June because during that time either you have too much of scorching heat or incessant monsoon but the temperature in Mauritius remains between 18 and 20 degree Celsius, which is very pleasant here. As of now many Indians including from Bollywood are coming for shooting purposes. We feel we have a potential to be a wonderful wedding destination because many honeymooners are coming here. We also trying to organise many innovative competitions like sports, adventure, etc.
What steps have been taken to promote values you talk most about?
We are taking the help of many value-based international organisations like Brahmakumaris. We are geared to promote more value-based organisations. we are encouraging value-based teachings to be with in our citizens. Already Brahamkumaris have contributed a lot. We need more contribution because we have no terrorism problem, but we have other problems like family conflicts leading to more family cases for which we are thinking to introduce a new law on divorce by mutual consent to suit the present trend. It is happening due to the growing devaluation in morality in the world. We are examining how to promote value-based education in schools and institutions.
Do you think that religion is a factor in preserving the social fabric of your country?
Yes, all religions coexist here. Maybe because we all have come from different parts of the world and belong to different religions, we have learnt with time to stay together. We respect each other. This is the reason for strong social fabric of our nation.
When the world is confronted with the threat of terrorism, Mauritius does not even have any army. It is very surprising.
We don’t need it. We don’t have any problem because we consider every country to be our friend, no country poses any threat to us.
Whether there is any influence of Gandhian thoughts on Mauritian?
Mahatma Gandhi’s thought of non-violence has a great impact on Mauritian. During his short stay, he saw the miseries of labourers working in the sugarcane industries. Things were turning from bad to worse as they were being overexploited, which is another form of slavery. In fact, at that time sugar owners were running the country. He exhorted the labourers to do two things—first to get their children educated and then get them to join politics. After that our children got educated and many of them started getting involved in politics and gradually became politicians.
What is your message to India?
I salute India—long live India! We depend on you. You are blessed with everything to be proud of. Nobody can stop you. Everything started from India and everything will come back to India.