There may be many reasons to remember Edouard Goubert (1894 to 1979). As former Chief Minister, city Mayor, freedom fighter or a leader who was a contemporary of K. Kamaraj, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
But, the memory of the man whose life-size statue overlooks Bharathi Park and who has the Goubert Avenue named after him is also treasured by historians and the Gallophiles for perpetuating the city’s time-tested romance with French culture and traditions.
On Goubert’s birth anniversary on Tuesday, Chief Minister N. Rangasamy led the floral tributes to his predecessor.
Goubert’s rise to political prominence roughly coincided with the time when New Delhi and Paris were locked in contretemps over the accession of colonial provinces to the Union of India.
A gauge of the Indian mood in those times is best reflected in Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s address to Indian Parliament on February 11, 1949.
“We believe that for a variety of reasons it is natural and proper that all foreign possessions in India should be united with India. We propose to give effect to this policy through friendly discussions with the powers concerned.”
That then Pondicherry, unlike Goa, underwent a peaceful accession can be attributed to two factors — that the French, considerably chastened after the military defeat to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam in the mid-1950s, and that Nehru and his counterpart in Paris Pierre Mendès France forged a friendship.
“Nehru, one presumes, always had a soft corner for Goubert. In fact, if you plot the beginning of Goubert’s decline it was around the time Nehru died,” says historian Dr. Nallam.
Goubert, a member of the Creole community — his father a Frenchman and his mother Franco-Indian — studied law in France before eturning to the city in 1954 where he initially worked in the judiciary before forming a socialist party.
“So fond of cock fights was he that the cock became his party symbol in elections,” says Dr. Nallam.
He became Chief Minister of Pondicherry in 1963, heading a Ministry formed by the Congress, for a brief term of a little over a year. He also served as Mayor of the municipal council.
Apart from his penchant for French systems of education, jurisprudence and municipal administration, he was also a popular leader of his times. “They used to call him Papa Goubert,” says Dr. Nallam.