“Part II: Leading Indo-Fijians into a political cul-de-sac” OR “The Indo-Fijian Betrayal of Political Integrity. 21 August 2014
Part II “Leading Indo-Fijians into a political cul-de-sac”
OR “The Indo-Fijian Betrayal of Political Integrity. 21 August 2104.
(Part I of this this article on “Choosing between the Military and the Rule of Law” is here)
There is a tough choice for Indo-Fijian voters and leaders: will they give their support to Bainimarama’s military government and Fiji First Party who are offering them many material benefits but squashing the Fijian leaders, or will they support parties which wish to co-operate lawfully and peacefully with Fijian people and their leaders, whoever they are, and regardless of their perceived faults?
For more than a century Indo-Fijian political leaders (AD Patel, Sid Koya, Jai Ram Reddy and Mahendra Chaudhry) and communities behaved with total political integrity towards the indigenous Fijians and Fijian institutions, in fighting for the legitimate rights of Indo-Fijians.
They operated within the law, despite being periodic victims of violence from the military, police, and politically organized gangs of thugs, such as in the coups of 1987 and 2000, which had the undeniable support of the Great Council of Chiefs, the Methodist Church, Fijian political parties and leaders, and many Fijian people.
The motivating slogans then were “the indigenous Fijian cause” or “Fiji for Fijians” or “No Indian can be Prime Minister”. The Fijian governments succeeding each coup duly implemented some discriminatory “affirmative actions” or another.
But since 2006, Indo-Fijian leaders have also betrayed their history of political integrity, by supporting Bainimarama’s illegal coups and government, many for totally selfish reasons.
The betrayal of political integrity by Indo-Fijian leaders
I tried to articulate three years ago why prominent Indo-Fijians from virtually all spheres of social leadership, came out in support of the illegal 2006 coup: the Leader of the Fiji Labour Party (then having the undisputed support of Indo-Fijian voters), High Court judges, ambitious lawyers, the Director of the Human Rights Commission, senior civil servants, most Indo-Fijian leaders of the Hindu organizations the Sanatan Dharam and Arya Samaj, the Muslim organizations, the large business houses of all races, influential Indo-Fijian technocrats who had emigrated, and even university vice chancellors (who thought they owed their positions to the Bainimarama Government).
And it was because of the critical “musical chairs” support of these capable Indo-Fijians, and the equally important support of prominent indigenous Fijians, Europeans, and kailoma, that a military commander with narrow naval training but strategically astute, went from strength to strength to where he is today, seeking to emulate Rabuka as a coup leader who became an elected Prime Minister. This may well have been his ambition since the 2000 coup.
In his well-strategized quest, Bainimarama controlled the government-owned radio and television stations (Fiji Broadcasting Corporation) and a private newspaper Fiji Sun (whose owner CJ Patel, receives millions of dollars of preferential financial benefits in return), as well as the main TV station (operating under a six-monthly renewal of license).
Most of the Fiji media, some owned and controlled by Indo-Fijians, have with the support of uncritical journalists, become ardent propaganda arms (read here) of the Bainimarama Government, assisted by an astute American PR company (Qorvis) hired at great taxpayers’ expense. Other commercial media organizations in fear of government sanctions, have also given unbalanced exposure to the government, while discouraging or simply disregarding any opposing views.
In NZ, Radio Tarana, whose owner Robert Khan has strong links to a clique of Indo-Fijian NZ citizens who have financially benefited from the Bainimarama coup, has largely succeeded with eight years of propaganda on behalf of Bainimarama, disregarding all opposing voices.
Most critically also, there have been many amoral and some blatantly immoral and unethical business leaders (of all races) who have been enthusiastic backers of the Bainimarama Regime, all benefiting enormously through a massive 33% cut in corporate tax (giving them more than a $100 million), but also from many special deals cut with Ministers.
This next three weeks will see Fiji First Party conducting probably the most intensive propaganda blitz ever in the history of Fiji’s elections. Political parties should inform the voters that such large sums can only come from contributions by the largest businesses owned by locals and expatriates , who will, as always, throw a few peanuts at the other parties, “just in case”.
Most of the directors of these businesses already have their savings, families and permanent residencies in Australia, NZ or Canada. They have no stake in Fiji other than their investments, and they have no qualms about playing Russian roulette with the lives of ordinary uneducated Indo-Fijians who have no prospects of ever emigrating.
But, despite the propaganda blitz, will ordinary Indo-Fijian voters blindly follow their leaders?
Why Indo-Fijian voters blindly follow their leaders
It would be useful for political parties and candidates to understand why so many ordinary Indo-Fijians ignore the fundamental illegality of Bainimarama:
1. Of course, as with indigenous Fijians in 1987 and 2000, they blindly take the lead from their leaders;
2. Bainimarama’s message of racial equality for the Indo-Fijian minority, gives enormous emotional comfort to a long-vulnerable Indo-Fijian community;
3. Having had their temples desecrated previously, Indo-Fijians are comforted by Bainimarama’s statements that all religions must be treated equally under a secular state;
4. Many Indo-Fijians are not opposed to Bainimarama’s closure of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) and the suppression of the Methodists, who they saw as supporting the coups of 1987 and 2000 and the violence against Indo-Fijian people.
5. Most important for the poor Indo-Fijians, the Bainimarama Government with elections pending, has delivered many concrete benefits such as in education;
6. Indo-Fijians believe the erroneous allegations that the previous electoral systems were all “racist” and that the new “1 person 1 vote 1 value” proportional system will now be “genuinely democratic” and fair to Indo-Fijians for the first time in Fiji’s political history (I debunk these particular myths elsewhere).
In sum, large numbers of ordinary Indo-Fijians appear willing to support an illegal government and illegal Prime Minister, as long as they themselves receive benefits, whether in education or jobs for a few boys at the top, business contracts, or enhanced emotional security as an “equal citizen”.
This is not very different from indigenous Fijians and their leaders, who supported the 1987 and 2000 coups because they wanted and obtained, material and emotional benefits from the post-coup indigenous Fijian governments, and subsequently voted for the Fijian ethno-nationalist parties whether SVT or SDL.
A most interesting PhD topic would be to examine why entire communities of all ethnic groups in Fiji, tolerate treason by their members, with no social sanction imposed on collaborators.
Fiji has now come full circle in the support of illegal treasonous coups by ALL its ethnic communities (and Europeans, kailoma and Chinese are all in there as well).
But how wise are Indo-Fijians in trusting Bainimarama’s government and the RFMF into the future, despite the opposition of the main indigenous Fijian party and the majority of indigenous people?
The future is firmly Fijian
This is an undeniable demographic fact: With the Fijian share of total population steadily rising as Indo-Fijians, with smaller families, keep emigrating, all future elections based on the principle of “one person one vote” and strict proportionality, will bring in governments elected largely by indigenous Fijian voters, with Indo-Fijian voters becoming more and more marginal as their share declines to 25% within a decade, as I advised in a 2002 Fiji Times article advising the Qarase government that there was no need for affirmative polices based on race (which can be read here.) I reproduce one graph from that article here.
In the grand historical drama that has taken place in Fiji since 2000, the main protagonists and drivers are Fijian, and the central plots are about indigenous Fijian control of power, not about differences between Fijians and Indo-Fijians.
The long line of apparently influential Indo-Fijian coup collaborators (Shameems, Samy, Khaiyum, Chaudhries, Chandras and Chands, etc) will go down in history as mere “supporting cast” providing comic relief to the main plot, as in some Shakespearean plays or the fascinating Korean historical drama, Yi San.
It is surely commonsense that the long term security and well-being of ordinary Indo-Fijians depends not on the RFMF, but on the mutual respect and goodwill of the bulk of the indigenous Fijian people and their democratically elected leaders, whoever they happen to be and whatever little faults they appear to have.
This goodwill had been built up so slowly and painfully by wise political leaders like Jai Ram Reddy, but betrayed and squandered by today’s selfish Indo-Fijian leaders, with the exception of those in the National Federation Party.
Chaudhry’s recent explanation (on Fiji TV’s Close Up program) that he wished for a post-election coalition between FLP and Ro Temumu Kepa’s SODELPA (the successor of SDL) because of the need for Indo-Fijians to co-operate peacefully with indigenous Fijians can be optimistically described as “better late than never”, given that NFP and Jai Ram Reddy in the 1999 elections, had been pilloried by FLP for taking exactly the same approach with the SVT and Rabuka.
It is quite likely that the bulk of indigenous Fijians will gratefully accept the numerous material benefits being rained down on them by Bainimarama, but will still vote for SODELPA or other parties like NFP, FLP and PDP (call it liumuri or political sophistication, whatever you wish).
While many Indo-Fijians (and some less-than-neutral FBC and Fiji Sun journalists) are critical of recent statements by Qarase and Ro Temumu on the primacy of the indigenous Fijians in Fiji and the importance of Christianity to SODELPA, I suspect that these views are shared by most indigenous Fijian people, including the majority of the RFMF and their officers.
Indo-Fijians might consider that leaders like Qarase and Ro Temumu are giving their honest views, and however unpalatable to some, “What you see is what you get”. Not so with some other politicians whose speeches have been written and embellished by astute Qorvis propagandists and writers.
Indo-Fijians, who also have their fair share of racists, need to understand that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which most Indo-Fijian leaders have probably never read even though Fiji is a party to it), allows the special treatment of indigenous peoples, their cultures, their right to group politically around their expressions of cultural identity including language and labels, such as the word “Fijian”. I have tried to explain here the complex issues around calling everyone “Fijian” and that Indo-Fijians do not need that term in order to be treated as “equal citizens”.
Ultimately, even if some indigenous Fijian leaders display some element that non-indigenous people perceive as “racist”, that cannot be used by Indo-Fijians to justify and support treason and an illegal government.
It is a tragedy that this is exactly what is being done so frequently in the Bainimarama-controlled Fiji media through the tunnel vision writings of Satendra Nandan, Thakur Ranjit Singh and Rajendra Prasad, who do this all from the safety of their Australian and NZ citizenship, and who appear to have not the slightest sympathy or empathy for the sentiments, concerns and very legitimate fears of a small indigenous community of half a million people, so unique in the world.
These writers should ask why the Indo-Fijian intellectuals within Fiji (like university vice chancellors or senior academics at USP, FNU and Fiji University or leading businessmen and women or professionals like lawyers, accountants, school principals and teachers) are all remaining deadly quiet on these issues, apart from the fact that like most educated Indo-Fijians, they already have their overseas PR’s or are intending to obtain them.
Whatever they do in the future, all social leaders, Indo-Fijian, indigenous Fijian and Others, have a grave social responsibility to educate their voters that one of the more important political choice for voters is between parties which believe in parliamentary legality and total accountability to the public, and those that do not.
Hope for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
One of the first initiatives of the next elected Parliaments should be a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”.
It is reassuring that in the last week the Methodist Church organized a grand reconciliation between different groups who had split over the support given to previous coups in 1987 and 2000, and justice was finally accorded to the brave Rev. Josateki Koroi.
It is also reassuring that the Catholic Church is beginning to reexamine its own stance towards governments and state policy, and has made a statement about the supposed “personal stance” of the former Archbishop (the late Mataca) towards the Bainimarama Government initiatives such as the NCBBF. They have more to do in relation to some of their priests who give support to treason and illegal governments and Prime Ministers.
The previous national reconciliation attempt by the Qarase Government was unhealthily one-sided with the supposedly “guilty parties” (Fijian parties SDL and SVT) seeking reconciliation with the “innocent victims” (Indo-Fijian parties FLP and NFP).
The next Truth and Reconciliation Commission will have a perverse advantage that there will be no innocent ethnic group, with all our ethnic communities having supported illegal treasonous coups at one time or another.
Did I say “truth”?
We can forget about the “truth” for a long time to come, given the continuing pervasiveness of our cancerous conspiracies of silence (which I wrote about previously and which still prevails today, allowing many politicians and prominent civilians to build their illusory persona of innocence today).