Saturday, May 28, 2016

When Fiji’s democracy lost the war – legacy of Jai Ram Reddy


Thakur Ranjit Singh

Six years on, I am prompted to dust the pages of an article I wrote after seeing the turmoil in which TISI ( Sangam organisation) in Fiji is now. This great leader, Jai Ram Reddy has been Chief Guest in their past Easter functions and events, and was proud to be a torch-bearer of South Indian Community in Fiji.  We hope those involved in politics and shaming of TISI with its controversy, will take a leaf out of this great South Indian leader, to learn something to bring back the lost honour of TISI. I salute my classmate Sadasivan Naicker, for keeping afloat the TISI Titanic, after it has hit the iceberg of egos of new breed of leaders.

The cover of Professor Brij Lal's "In the Eye of the Storm" which is a very interesting and enlightening reading and is available via Amazon, and I presume some university bookshops.

The missed opportunity – that was the theme of the afternoon and overriding sentiment expressed at Lynfield College, Mt Roskill, Auckland on 30th October 2010 during the launch of Dr Brij Lal’s In the Eye of the Storm by the former Chairman of Fiji’s Constitutional Review Commission and a former Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Paul Reeves.

Jai Ram Reddy with Late Sir Paul Reeves at the book launch in October, 2010. Sir Paul is full of praises for the calibre of this leader: Jai Ram Reddy was the connecting thread through which the book weaves the history of Fiji since his appointment to the Senate in 1972 until his retirement from the Fijian Court of Appeal in 2003.
In launching the book, Sir Paul said that Jai Ram Reddy was the connecting thread through which the book weaves the history of Fiji since his appointment to the Senate in 1972 until his retirement from the Fijian Court of Appeal in 2003. Sir Paul highly ranks the book as well written, an expression of the author’s encyclopaedic knowledge, his analysis and his basic commitment and love of a country of which he is an inseparable part. He said the book is an admirable chronicle; it is a commendable commentary and interpretation of complexity, the lost opportunity and the strength of human spirit which   make up the history of Fiji. He said the following in 1993, and the book begins with this memorable and prophetic quote:

I offer a vision which sees this beloved land of ours united in its diversity, forged out of adversity and built on trust. I offer you a vision of Fiji of which historians will say that, in the midst of tragedy, we found courage and wisdom, and foresight and determination to lead the nation away from the precipice into a prosperous future. I can only hope that my vision for this most wonderful of nations will fulfil its promise.”

Unfortunately this vision could not be fulfilled, because in 1999 while the Peoples Coalition Government won the battle, Professor Lal says Fiji unfortunately lost the war. Then, as political commentator, I had also laughed off Jai as a non-expedient leader engrossed in multiracialism and vision for the nation while the astute politician Chaudhry fought on bread and butter issues and won the battle. However as the history remains testament to the facts, Fiji and its democracy lost the war, as this is evident in the politically embroiled Fiji today. 
Jai Ram Reddy, (left) with two community leaders , media commentators and writers, Rajendra Prasad ( Centre-author of " Tears in Paradise"), and the author of this article, your truly, Thakur Ranjit Singh, at a social function in Auckland. Rajendra Prasad's yet to be publishes sequel to Tears in Paradise tells the tales of Fiji's post- independence  leaders and  a sneak preview suggests Jai (as Mr Reddy is fondly known among colleagues) rates very high.
This theme was again echoed in Sir Paul’s launch speech where he revealed that the book that was given to him, in it Dr Brij had inscribed: “In memory of a Fiji now banished beyond recall.” Sir Paul added that Jai in the book had assessed his life in politics in Fiji as:”It has been a wasted thirty years”. Sir Paul was optimistic about Fiji in disagreeing with both Dr Lal and Mr Reddy. “I want to deny both of these statements. I would say that nothing is ever lost, but in the end-all is harvest. What Jai stands for, what 1997 Constitution stands for, what a free democratic society requires of us, that these will return in some shape or other.”

Two reasons prompted Professor Lal to retell Fiji’s history. The first was the praises heaped on George Speight by some Miss Hibiscus contestants visiting the Naboro Prison where they met this treasonous person and compared him to Nelson Mandela. Professor Lal said he was speechless and mused - what future for Fiji when you have role models like these?
The second was when in a school talk, when asked how many knew Jai Ram Reddy, he was shocked to see that none did and he was astonished at the ignorance in Fiji schools. “I saw writing as an act of resistance against a culture of indifference and forgetfulness, an act of revenge against historical amnesia. And the historian, if he is to be true to his vocation as a guardian of public memory, must find a place at the table of posterity for both the victors as well as the vanquished”, Professor Lal told the esteemed gathering during the book launch.

Indeed it was esteemed gathering and brought back those nostalgic Fiji days of NFP conventions where who’s who of NFP were present. It included the loyal NFP and one time MPs such as Master Shiu Charan, Harnam Singh Golian, father of Aiyaz and Riyaz, Sayed Khaiyum, James Raman, former leader of Opposition Prem Singh, the organiser, Ahmed Bhamji, former Sanatan head, Pundit Harish Sharma, former Fiji Broadcasting executive Pundit Diwakar Prasad and Ujagar Singh, among others. The business community was well represented by none other than Hari Punja, Vinod Patel, Charan Jeath Singh, Shashi Mahendra Singh (Ba Motor Parts) and Y.P. Reddy, among others. From the legal fraternity we had the famous Richard Naidu, Dorsami Naidu, Bhupendra (BC) Patel, Raman Pratap Singh, former Fiji judge, Justice Kishore Govind, NZ Judge Dr Ajit Singh and the MC of the afternoon, Bharat Parshotam. Other notable attendees were trade unionist Pramod Rae, list NZ Labour MP Dr Rajen Prasad,  journalist Kamal Iyer, and of course with my fellow columnists, Rajendra Prasad, author of “Tears in Paradise”  and Subhash Appana.

Nothing on a book launch on Jai Ram Reddy would be complete without the mention of Mahendra Pal Chaudhry who had virtually taken an oath to finish off NFP. He succeeded in doing that, through the removal of moderate Indo Fijian party with visionary leadership, with dire consequences for the nation. Professor Brij Lal did a commendable job of comparing the two leaders with a military analogy.
The Commanding General -Jai Ram Reddy - with an acute understanding of the lay of the land, possessed of a strategic vision, with an ability to forge coalitions to form a broad front. Was he denied the opportunity to show his capability to forge broad fronts and work amicably with other races?

“For Chaudhry, the end justified the means, and the end was the attainment of power. Everything was a secondary consideration. I have used a military metaphor to describe the two men. Reddy could be likened to a commanding general, an acute understanding of the lay of the land, possessed of a strategic vision, with an ability to forge coalitions to form a broad front. Mahendra Chaudhry, on the other hand, could be likened to a great field commander, in constant touch with his troops, inspiring them with his courage and manoeuvres, tactically astute and bold, but lacking the attributes that transform field commanders into successful commanding generals,” summed up Professor Lal.


The Field Commander- Mahendra Chaudhry - in constant touch with his troops, inspiring them with his courage and manoeuvres, tactically astute and bold, but lacking the attributes that transform field commanders into successful commanding generals. Was he made a Commanding General too soon, before he was qualified? Is that the price we are paying now?
Perhaps, looking at Fiji today, it may have been an error to have given the country too soon to a field commander, Chaudhry and the People’s Coalition Government, which lacked the astuteness to become or train anybody else to be as visionary as a commanding general in form of Jai Ram Reddy that Fiji had rejected. As my thesis on Fiji shows, and which I will present at University of Technology in Sydney and at Auckland University of Technology later this year, the current political instability in Fiji could be partly attributed to the lack of visionary leadership of Fiji that was handed over to a field commander in 1999. As I began with the opening quote of the book, I take liberty to end with the ending quote on the final page (720!):
Jai Ram Reddy’s rare achievement was to have witnessed and endured the worst that Fiji had to offer and still find hope  and optimism in his fellow countrymen, someone who rose above the disunity and divisions that afflicted his country and his people, and , for a brief shining moment, managed to make hope and history rhyme.”

Unfortunately, no other Indo Fijian leader in the recent history could rise above the disunity and divisions that have plagued Fiji and contributed to its political instability. 

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a postgraduate scholar (with honours) in Communication Studies at AUT and had his thesis on the instability caused by The Fiji Times during one year rule of the Peoples Coalition Government in Fiji between 1999 -2000. He now runs FIJI PUNDIT blog site and covers article and information that commercialised Indian and Pacific side stream media in our midst fail to cover. Thakur believes in the motto of Satyamev Jayate – truth shall prevail.]