Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth’s visit to India to attend the G20 Summit will surely transport him back to the summer of 1983 when he first came here along with his father, the then Mauritius president Aneerood Jugunath, and mother Sarojini. Aneerood Jugnauth, who had just become the Mauritius President, had come to India to discuss bilateral ties. For the Jugnauth family, the high-profile diplomatic trip also had a deeply personal objective.
The Mauritius President and his wife wanted to visit the family home of their daughter Shalini at Arya Samaj Road in Karol Bagh. Pravind Jugnauth, then in his early 20s, used to regularly visit the home of his brother-in-law, Dr Krishan Malhotra.
Recalls Rajesh Vachher, Dr Malhotra’s neighbour in Karol Bagh, “I remember it was a big event when the first fam- ily of Mauritius vis- ited our area. I still r e m e m b e r t h e Malhotras. The Karol Bagh police had made elaborate arrangements to welcome the special guests. The mood in our area was upbeat, even though not many people knew where Mauritius was.”
Before the visit of the Jugnauth family, Dr Malhotra, an internal medicine specialist, had married Shalini Jugnauth Malhotra. Both became friends when they were in England for higher studies. After their marriage, they settled in England and kept visiting India and Mauritius regularly. Dr Krishan Malhotra had done his schooling in Karol Bagh after which he had joined the Maulana Azad Medical College to pursue medicine. He is said to have been a brilliant student.
An old neighbour of Dr Malhotra, who does not wish to be identified, says that the Malhotra family came to Karol Bagh from Sialkot in Pakistan after the Partition. They had to really struggle hard to survive in the capital. Dr Malhotra’s father was a small-time shopkeeper and a social worker. He ensured that his son did well academically.
It is quite unlikely that the Malhotra family or people in Karol Bagh were aware that nearly half a million people, mainly from Bihar and UP, were sent to Mauritius as indentured labourers between 1834 and the early 1900s. About two-thirds of these workers settled down in the island nation. The first batch of these workers, comprising 36 persons, arrived in Mauritius on November 2, 1834, onboard the ship ‘Atlas’. The day is now observed in Mauritius as ‘Aapravasi Diwas’.
The Jugnauth family was known quite prominently in Mauritius. Pravind’s father was a Mauritian statesman, politician and barrister who served as the country’s President and Prime Minister. He was a cen- tral figure in Mauritian politics in the 1980s and 1990s and was appointed the Leader of the Opposition from 1976 to 1982.
He served four consecutive terms as Prime Minister from 1982 to 1995 and again from 2000 to 2003. He was then elected as the President suc- cessively between 2003 and 2012. Following his party’s victory in the 2014 general elections, he served his sixth and final term as Prime Minister, becoming Mauritius’ lon- gest-serving prime minister with more than 18 years of tenure, over- taking Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who held the office for 14 years.
The marriage of Dr Malhotra and Shalini was, therefore, quite an unlikely match.
“When I got married in Karol Bagh in the mid-1980s, virtually everyone knew that a boy of our area had married the daughter of a top leader of Mauritius. Shalini used to stay at her in-laws’ home during her trips to Delhi. Then, some members of the Malhotra family moved to other places. I think some members of their fam- ily still live there. They had a joint family,” says Rajni Gulati, who lives in Karol Bagh’s Faiz Road.
Rajesh Vachher says the Malhotra family still receives gifts from the Jugnauth family on Diwali, which are delivered by the staff of the Mauritius mission in Delhi. It is said that after her marriage to the Punjabi family, Shalini learnt some Punjabi and Dr Krishan Malhotra learnt French, the first language of Mauritius.
Shalini Jugnauth, the only daugh- ter of the late Sir Anerood Jugnauth, never took an interest in politics. She continues to live with her husband and family in England and is said to be a private person who doesn’t interact with the media or maintain a presence on social media.
During his stay in the capital, Pravind Jugnauth will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discuss bilateral ties with him, just as his father did nearly 40 years ago. If his itinerary permits, the Mauritian PM could also take a trip down memory lane to Karol Bagh, much to the delight of the area’s residents.