Thursday, November 22, 2012

Failed leadership in Fiji: Mahendra Chaudhry

Failed leadership in Fiji: Mahendra Chaudhry

Guest Post by Rajendra Prasad (Author: Tears in Paradise: Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879 - 2004)

Cover of the historical book, Tears in Paradise: Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879 - 2004, that Rajendra Prasad wrote after seven years of research.

[This article initially appeared in The Fiji Times on 17 September, 2008.

Fiji has had the misfortune of a silent and a selfish intelligentsia, including the academic fraternities who have opted, barring a few, not to advise, inform and guide the nation, using the various forums. They have, if anything, been more interested in securing their own nests while the nation burnt.

In doing so, they have abrogated their moral obligation to share their knowledge and wisdom to transform a beleaguered nation. Meanwhile, the people silently acquiesce to change without adding their voices to it. The educated and informed virtually spawned a nation that relied on the voice of politicians many of who were not fit even for election to the Rural Advisory Councils in Fiji. Yet they made it into Parliament, turning it into a den of unemployed, unemployable and misfits. The Indian political sector witnessed grave degeneration of quality of leaders, selected to represent them in the Parliament. The Fiji Labour Party (FLP), in contemporary politics, is viewed as representing Indian interests. It replaced NFP that was the voice of Indians until 1999 when it was routed from the Parliament when FLP won all the Indian communal seats.

Historically, the life of the pioneer generation was violently consumed on the altar of girmit and subsequently, the Colonial rule treated them with contempt and facilitated massive exploitation of the Indian sugar cane farmers by the CSR Company. The Colonial Government, in a bid to keep them divided, discreetly promoted racism to keep the two major communities divided. When it left, Indians could never escape its consequences. Racism continues to simmer and occasionally fanned into flames and Indians are its worst victims. Sadly, Indians are now the victims of their own leader, Mahendra Pal Chaudhry. He has done nothing to destroy the edifice of racism in Fiji. Through his belligerence and arrogance he helps fuel it into conflagration from time to time.

The FLP leader transformed the party into an authoritarian organisation. He is the darling of simple and gullible sugar cane farmers of Fiji. They see him as their champion and to them he speaks like one, saying exactly what they want to hear. He wields a powerful sword that has left many headless bodies in his trail. Statistical analysis has shown that most of these unfortunate souls were educated, articulate and resisted or were a threat to his dominion. Nationally, he projects himself, as a great advocate of democracy but is bankrupt in practising it. He has trampled upon it and jubilantly joined those who slaughtered it.
Chaudhry's choice of parliamentary colleagues has clearly shown his utter contempt for meritocracy. Indeed, meritocracy is the soul of democracy. The academics, intellectuals and those who could be a threat to his position have effectively been silenced and systematically disabled. It is largely because of the degenerate culture of Indian politics that such people do not want to soil their names. He is the master tactician in the art of playing gutter politics. In two decades, he achieved the pinnacle of success, becoming the undisputed leader of the Indian community but not without chaos and controversy. Chaudhry and controversy remain inseparable. 

Rajendra Prasad delivering his talk during Girmit Remembrance Day in Auckland on May 20, 2012 in Auckland

Chaudhry may have succeeded in achieving his ultimate crown in becoming the undisputed leader of the Indian community but the community paid a very heavy price for their choice. Major issues like land, sugar industry, unemployment and poverty remain unresolved. With his confrontational and aggressive approach, he is not likely to make any positive impact in resolving these issues. Meanwhile, those who are suffering, as a result, continue to suffer with no hope of sun ever shining on their lives. Suicide rate among Indians is among the highest in the world thanks to their leader!

To his credit, Chaudhry does attend a lot of funerals but does not realise that some of these unfortunate lives were lost because he failed them. For the families it is a time of great sorrow but for him it is an opportunity for a speech and shake hands with his victims and delude them further that he is not a villain but a saviour. In this vicious cycle of Indian politics, lives have been lost, families needlessly separated and destroyed and yet they faithfully relied on the wisdom, honesty and integrity of a leader who betrayed them ruthlessly.

Fijians intensely dislike him. In 20 years, Chaudhry has only been able to befriend Tui Ba, a chief with big title but limited influence and beyond him he cannot represent the concerns of his community with other Fijian chiefs and Fijian leaders and get sympathetic audience. He operates with a serious handicap and he cannot deliver and does not give a damn. Since his ascension as the leader of the Indian community, race-relations in Fiji has just ebbed away. What more he has never been able to unite his distressed community and, in fact, keeps them divided so that there is no threat to his domination. Chaudhry has absolutely no understanding of the harm and pain he has caused, as a result, to his community and the nation of Fiji.

The massive eviction of Indian farmers, following the expiry of land leases, was not because the landowners needed the land but because of their support for an insensitive and inconsiderate leader. Chaudhry came from a trade union background into politics and remained like a bull in a china shop demolishing and destroying everything of value. Proudly dubbed the Robin Hood of Fiji by Commodore Bainimarama when he was appointed as Finance Minister in the interim administration, it eventually came to light that indeed he got from the rich but failed to share with the poor! However, he has not changed his tune, continuing to project himself as the champion of the poor and dispossessed in Fiji.
Even in the realm of FLP, democracy does not exist. The master's voice is always projected as a collective voice of the FLP. It is the ultimate refuge for the master from where he recuperates when mauled or launches his missiles on his adversaries. His weapons are provocation, confrontation, deceit, distortions and lies weapons that have failed to improve the plight of Indians in Fiji. As a leader of the Indian community he has done incalculable harm to their image and race relations in Fiji, behaving with arrogance and complete insensitivity towards others.

Chaudhry also cannot work under others, with others and, those under him usually look for the nearest exit. A serious setback? You would think so. He does not think so; as long as he wields power it does not matter. He joined the NFP in 1987 and formed a grand coalition and shafted it, he joined the Qarase Coalition in 2006 and was on the point of derailing it when the military executed the coup. He joined the interim administration and clearly showed he is not a team player but a wayward member who just cannot and must never be trusted. As secretary of Public Servants Association he contributed to the growth of a body disproportionate to its need and wanting in productivity. However, when he became the interim Finance Minister he turned around and claimed that the civil service was too big and too lazy! Hypocrisy? It is an understatement!

Today, Indians' future in Fiji remains critical. Poverty, insecurity and despair hound the community, while their champion has been able to establish a personal economic empire that will remain an elusive dream for many. What Indians need is a leader who can demolish the walls of racism and promote multiracialism, establish harmonious relations with Fijians and gain respect and trust of Fijian leaders. There is no place for politics of aggression, confrontation and provocation in Fiji but politics of cooperation, conciliation and consensus. In this regard, Chaudhry is a perfect contradiction, operating without conscience or compassion. In two decades, Chaudhry has not mastered the basics in dispensing his services as the leader of the Indians and there is no hope that he can or will change.
Admittedly, any person noted for his arrogance, belligerence, aggression and provocative approach can never receive sympathetic response from Fijians. In the Fijian culture, respect, humility and modesty remain revered virtues that must be observed when interacting with them. Ignorance of these communal values on the part of Chaudhry, as the leader of the Indian community, has been the reason for Indians being subjected to hostile and retaliatory measures from Fijians. Relevant to this, a close friend of mine made a pertinent comment that in two decades, Chaudhry was not been able to re-negotiate and restore a single terminated lease of an Indian farmer but he contributed, directly or indirectly, to the termination of leases of hundreds of farmers that displaced thousands of Indians from their land and homes. A majority now lives in the squatter settlements around the country.
Comparatively, observance of basic values had endeared Jai Ram Reddy to Fijians and he had, in co-operation with Prime Minister Rabuka achieved resounding success within a very short period of time, giving the nation the much-lauded 1997 Constitution that was unanimously approved by the Great Council of Chiefs, the Senate and the Parliament. Yet, the same Constitution was repudiated by the so-called champion of the Indians, Chaudhry, claiming that Reddy had sold the interests of the Indians and, yet on his own he was not capable of achieving anything except accelerating the eviction of his supporters from land that they leased from Fijian landowners for several decades!

Sadly, Indians believed Chaudhry's despicable lies and voted for him en masse in the 1999 elections, resulting in Indians and Fiji losing Jai Ram Reddy, now a judge of the International Court of Justice, a respected leader who had the potential to work with Fijian leaders, unite a divided Fiji and help make it the most dynamic nation in the Pacific. There is no political leader now in sight who can resurrect the dream, unite the peoples of Fiji and fulfil the dreams and aspirations of the silent majority.

The hostile reaction that Chaudhry received on a recent radio talk-back show is indicative that Indians have awakened to his villainy and will react with wisdom and courage to face someone who betrayed them mercilessly. It is for Indians now to arise, awake and send Chaudhry into the political wilderness (or to Australia!) and pray that he never returns and there is also peace there! Chaudhry will go down in Indian history as the most controversial leader who failed his people and the nation of Fiji!

[Rajendra Prasad is the former town clerk of the Ba Town Council and the author of book "Tears in Paradise - Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004". The views expressed are of the author and not necessarily of  Fiji Pundit blogsite.]

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