Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fiji’s Lost Opportunity in Rejecting a Visionary Leader, Jai Ram Reddy

By Guest Writer, Dr. Subhash Appana

Dr Subhash Appana, Guest Writer of this article (See his details at bottom of this article)

[Prologue: Thakur Ranjit Singh]

After seeing the turmoil in which Then India Sanmarga Ikya (TISI) is in, I am prompted to dust some historical pages to show egoistic players how one of their great leaders, Jai Ram Reddy worked tirelessly to bring the sanity which they are disrupting now. This great leader 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. 

Professor Brij Lal ventured to write a historical perspective of one of Fiji’s perhaps greatest Indo-Fijian leaders – Jai Ram Reddy. The book “In the Eye of the Storm” was launched at Lynfield College in Auckland, New Zealand on 30th October, 2010 by former NZ Governor General and Chairman of Fiji’s Constitutional Review Commission, Late Sir Paul Reeves.

I wish to present this Part 2 of the article by one of the Anna (brother) – a prominent South Indian academic brother, Dr Subhas Appana. This article initially appeared in Auckland’s Indian Newslink in November, 2010. 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 the new breed of South Indian leaders, who will one day venture to fill the big shoes of this great leader. Are they worth it?

I hope Dr Appana’ s version will go towards educating and inspiring our new generation. 

As they say, we need to look back in order to move forward…Happy Reading from our respected Guest Writer, Dr Appana.

Jai Ram Reddy - Indo-Fijians in Fiji paid a heavy price for rejecting this visionary leader

[Commentary: Dr Subhash Appana]

For much of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Jai Ram Reddy (with Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara) loomed large in Fiji politics. This is the one Fiji Indian leader who continues to be mentioned with respect across the ethnic divide in Fiji. The iTaukei have often remarked about his vakarau vaka turaga (dignified mannerisms and decorum) and veitokoni (cooperative orientation). In fact many still speculate about what could have been if Reddy had still led the Fiji Indian community. 

Jai Ram Reddy (left) and Sitiveni Rabuka - when two diametrically opposed leaders in Fiji rose up to join hands to deliver Fiji the 1997 Constitution, both were rejected by their respective communities. Their vision went to waste and Fiji is still paying a heavy price for rejecting their efforts in building racial bridges that Bainimarama is now proposing and encouraging.

It is therefore, not surprising that a book had to be written about this prominent son of Fiji. And it took no less than renowned ANU academic and historian, Professor Brij Vilash Lal, to take on the daunting task of writing a book on Jai Ram Reddy and Fiji politics from independence when Fiji Indian politics was inevitably intertwined with sugar politics to 1999 when Jai Ram Reddy and Sitiveni Rabuka’s vision of an ethnically united Fiji was derailed by a group of destructively greedy opportunists. [Read Mahendra Chaudhry-Thakur]

That book aptly titled, “In the Eye of the Storm: Jai Ram Reddy and the Politics of Post-Colonial Fiji”, was launched at Auckland’s Lynfield College on Saturday 30th June 2010. 

In launching the book, Sir Paul Reeves as Chief Guest, highlighted 3 significant experiences from his own life as an international conciliator. The first was in 1992-93 when he visited South Africa and met Nelson Mandela, Chief Buthelezi and President de Klerk as the country finally prepared to embrace real democracy. Here he mentioned in particular the courage and pragmatism of President FW de Klerk who realized the need to accept reality in the face of irreversible shifts in the politics of that strife-torn country.

Then he mentioned Guyana as an “ethnically contested country” where it became crucial to “protect the middle ground”. And in Fiji, he presided over often opposed positions taken by fellow constitutional commissioners, Tomasi Vakatora and Brij Lal. In all three cases, he said, the main obstacle was the need for a dramatic re-orientation that would help forge workable political paths in an ethnically polarized society.

Then the author, Professor Brij Lal took the stage and highlighted the key role that a historian plays and how society tends to overlook this importance. He said that the book had been in the pipeline for a long time, but somehow or other he had been putting it off until he experienced two events: one, when he addressed a high school history class at a school in Nasinu. There, as an invited guest, aside from talking about the work of a historian, he asked the 27 students if they knew who Jai Ram Reddy was – not one answered in the affirmative.

The other was a report in the Fiji Times on a visit by a bevy of Hibiscus Contestants to the Maximum Security Gaol in Naboro. There they met George Speight and each one started gushing about what a “great man” he was and how good he was at “articulating himself”. One even likened him to Bollywood stars saying that she’d met a star right here in Fiji. After reading this report, Professor Brij Lal despaired and decided that something was wrong with our school system. Hence he decided to complete the book on a real Great Man from Fiji.

The occasion at Lynfield College was characterized by collegiality as old friends met and mingled. All the NFP old war horses were there and it brought back memories of heated debates and parliamentary brinkmanship. There was Harish Sharma, Ahmed Bhamji, Sayed Khaiyum, Harnam Golian, Maan Singh, Shiu Charan, Vinod Patel, etc. – these were people who had gradually faded out of the public eye as Fiji continued on its tortured political path. Many appeared to have aged gracefully and looked slim and healthy.

Jai Ram Reddy (left) with former list NZ Labour Party MP, Dr. Rajen Prasad at the book launch. In the background are National Federation Party (NFP) old hands Maan Singh and Raman Singh.
The new NFP was also there in Raman Singh, Dorsami Naidu [one of the players involved in the current divisive TISI turmoil –Thakur], Parmod Rae, Prem Singh, Charan Jeath Singh, etc. And the man himself, Jai Ram Reddy or Jai as his colleagues called him, was there looking fresh and convivial as he moved through the crowd and smiled as if he was quietly recalling little events and things that I’m sure will have been missed by the book as often happens in the writing of history. Jai Ram was indeed a reluctant participant who, once he embraced politics, became a key seeker of lasting solutions for Fiji.

In the Eye of the Storm: Jai Ram Reddy and the Politics of Post-Colonial Fiji will go a long way in helping understand and appreciate the greatness of this son of Fiji who has retired as a permanent member of the International Court of Justice.

[About the Author: Subhash Appana is an Indo-Fijian academic with Fijian family links. He has researched and presented papers at international conferences throughout the world. Subhash was brought up in the chiefly village of Vuna in Taveuni and is particularly fond of the Fijian language and culture. Subhash has written extensively on the link between the politics of the vanua, Indo-Fijian aspirations and the continued search for a functioning democracy in Fiji.]

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