Time for constructive engagement

Australia has again shown its brazen disregard and disrespect for Pacific nations by ‘rescuing’ fugitive Ratu Tevita Mara from Tonga.

As a regional bully, its insolence is reprehensible and its claim for respect for the Rule of Law is meaningless and farcical.

It selectively applies its rules and, if it were China and not Fiji, Australia would not have entered the fray. In dealing with China, Australia, unashamedly, spreads red carpet to welcome senior members of the Chinese Government that has no respect or regard for democracy. It ritually engages in blatant violation of human rights and incarcerates its citizens, opposed to its authoritarian rule.

But Australia and New Zealand delight in flexing their muscles and using the rod in the case of the countries of the Pacific.

Double Standards

Leaders of both countries are highly pretentious when it comes to upholding the sovereignty and dignity of their countries. They hide under their desks when the Dalai Lama, the most respected citizen of the world, arrives in their countries because to meet him would invite the wrath of China.

Yet, both pontificate to the Pacific Island nations on upholding democratic values, morals, ethics, freedom, liberty and rights. As a matter of convenience, they violate these values and selectively apply them, giving priority to their economic and political interests.

In essence, both Australia and New Zealand, selectively ascribe to the much-maligned aphorism that might is right. In accepting this approach, they have embraced the rule of the jungle and have lost their moral right to lecture to other Pacific nations because both have shown moral and ethical bankruptcy. Because of their arrogance, ignorance and bigotry, the membership of Australia and New Zealand to the Pacific Forum may be in jeopardy because the island nations have had enough of their neo-colonial approach in dealing with them.

The Chinese aid, influence and dominance in the Pacific have eroded the power and influence of these two Pacific bullies irretrievably. Just recently, the departing Chinese Ambassador to Fiji fired the first salvo saying that it would treat Fiji as a friend and respect its right to decide on its affairs unlike Australia or New Zealand.

Make-believe Democracy

Yet, Prime Minister John Key deludes himself, saying that China is compliant and supportive of the stand taken by Australia and New Zealand against Fiji.

Fiji’s democracy was anything but democracy. It had become the refuge for the nationalists, chiefs and the elites, as racism, corruption, nepotism and systematic persecution of Indo-Fijians featured high on their agenda.

The house of democracy in Fiji was harbouring self-serving miscreants and their actions were socially, economically and politically destroying Fiji. Their positions were so deeply entrenched that no one could have removed them, using democratic means as they had reconfigured and corrupted the system to retain their hegemony.

The Laisenia Qarase Government dealt a brutal blow to Fiji’s sugar industry by needlessly evicting thousands of Indo-Fijians from their farms in 1999/2000.

It ran a sustained campaign urging indigenous landowners not to renew the land leases held by Indo-Fijian tenants, who became nomads in the land of their birth.

The Qarase Government derived pathological pleasure in persecuting them and treating them as the doormat of the nation.

Land of sorrow

Bush reclaimed those farms. Villages, once echoing with sounds of life and voices of people became lifeless and silent. The homesteads of those who once lived there remained the visible landmarks. The familiar hibiscus hedges, the fruit trees, rotting posts of houses and concrete foundation slabs remain as blank but powerful epitaphs for those whose spirits haunt the environment. In the nighttime, a sense of eeriness descends on these landmarks, as the spiritual attachment of those who left with profound sorrow, sadness and tears, hauntingly reconnects. All this, courtesy of Fiji’s Methodist Church hierarchy and chiefs, sponsors of racism in Fiji and so-called Christians who traded the love of Christ with violence.

Surprisingly, Tevita Mara has the gall to suggest that the Bainimarama Government is responsible for the decline in sugar production.

But most observers claim that the present Government apprehended a worsening situation. Destruction of the sugar industry was a discreet plan of the Qarase Government.

Why would anyone kill the goose that laid the golden eggs? The Indo-Fijians were the backbone of the sugar industry, which in turn was the backbone of the Fijian economy.

Mass exodus

The plan of persecution fitted the dogma of the nationalists who propped the Qarase Government. Displacement of Indo-Fijian farmers was meant to accelerate their exodus. It had its desired impact, as consequent fear and instability contributed to mass exodus of Indo-Fijians from Fiji.

It had other victims too, though often ignored. The rental income to the indigenous landowners, most of them poor, ceased. Their consequent poverty is a legacy of the previous Government. Rightfully, the landowners should seek compensation from those responsible for misrepresentation.

According to many, intervention by the Fijian Army saved Fiji from self-destruction. It was a bold and decisive move to rescue Fiji.

Indo-Fijians could not achieved this since it is alien to their culture. They had borne the brutality of Girmit with dignity and their ability to bear the unbearable and suffer the insufferable was fatalistic. Their descendants inherited the traits of their forebears accepting their fate with grace and fortitude.

Pacifist community

Former President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi acknowledged this fact.

He said, “Our recent history might have been far bloodier and more violent, had Indo-Fijians physically retaliated. They did not do so, not from weakness, but from profound wisdom born of adversity. This allowed them to choose to fight the battles they knew could be won. At a personal level, this conduct underscored the Christian message of turning the other cheek and returning good for evil.”

Yet, some angry Christians who wanted Fiji to be declared a Christian State, moved around threateningly, with the sword of violence, advocating repatriation of the ‘vulagis’ to India! It did not matter to them if the nation was consumed in the fire of racism. Its consequences on them, their families and the community did not matter as long as the vulagis were punished.

Revisiting Democracy

This was the democracy of Fiji that Australia and New Zealand want to protect, promote and defend, ignoring the plight of the Indo-Fijian community.

It would certainly appear that both valued the form and not the content of the Fijian democracy, as racism continued to destroy the social, economic and political fabric of the nation.

History has proved that at times means justify the end.

Australia and New Zealand are engaged in the war against terrorism, resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, including several Australian and some New Zealand soldiers. They pursue their campaign to gain enduring peace.

The same rule applies to Fiji.

Fiji’s corroded democracy was beyond salvage until those responsible were removed and democracy reconstituted, ensuring its safety from such predators.

Now is the time for outside governments to engage with Fiji, helping it to restore democracy that the people of Fiji deserve.

Rajendra Prasad is our Columnist and Author of Tears in Paradise – Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004. Email: raj.prasad@xtra.co.nz

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