|Wednesday, May 24, 2000,
|Drought in Indian polity
The sermonising saviours
by Darshan Singh Maini
THE frightening picture of the drought conditions in several states, above all, in the BJP-governed Gujarat and in the Congress-governed Rajasthan, has darkened the political landscape so grievously as to compel the imagination of indignation to take the battle to the parlours of the sermonising and smug politicians in business. Almost the entire clan, equivocal and evasive, seems to be afflicted by a drought of thought and a famine in their spirit.
Ex-Servicemen: children of a lesser God!
by Satyindra Singh
MANY national dailies on May 12 carried a news item about the abysmal neglect of ex-servicemen pensioners and much more to quote one of them: It was a mockery of the well-settled principle of service jurisprudence that pay and allowances (and pension which is a deferred payment) were compensation for sacrifices made in service. Lack of such appreciation by the Pay Commission in the past was evident from the fact that all of them treated a soldier as a semi-skilled worker.
celebrity of baby Blair
May 24, 1925
DESPITE tireless efforts by the media, the confusion in the Congress refuses to intensify and get worse. True, more non-leaders are airing their lofty views on how to infuse life into the party and re-groom it to capture power. But then it is perfectly in keeping with Indian tradition which encourages everyone to become a doctor at the sight of a patient and reel off a few grandmothers remedies. These baba log want to be heard and reborn as the saviour first of the Congress and then of the country. Anyway, this is the season of heart-wrenching introspection and it is only normal for all to get into the act. Occasionally there is a sliver of solid truth as when Mr Jairam Ramesh confessed that the party could not come back to power for 50 years under the present leadership. That is pretty obvious not because president Sonia Gandhi is not charismatic but because the party has ceased to be charismatic. Its bag of policy and programmes is nearly empty; others, notably the BJP, has stolen its clothes over the years. The Congress can regain its lost ideological ground but only at the risk of looking like a B team of the main rival. This is its dilemma. It cannot move forward, it cannot move backwards nor can it stay put. Each will cut into its credibility. The party cannot shift sideways, say, to the Right or Left. This is a legacy of at least two decades of neglect of policy and it requires much strategic thinking, hard homework and mass mobilisation to regain the lost elan. And the party lacks this human resource. This absence exposed the leadership in a cruel fashion on two recent occasions. It wants to own up economic reforms but is wary of possible popular anger and also the BJP-led government running away with the credit. It wants a minimum nuclear deterrent but is afraid of saying so and finding itself on the same side as the government. It started thinking after these two issues became full-grown problems. Hence the lose-lose position.
Analysts, however, feel
that the Congress is fast slipping into a 1969-like
internal turbulence. As Zhou Enlai told the Chinese
Communist Party congress, There is much turbulence
in the world and that is good. He was not flippant
but was referring to the decaying system which led to
chaos and out of the inevitable churning up would emerge
a new order, a healthy one. Come to think of it, the
Congress emerged younger, attractive and as an
election-winning outfit after the 1969 crisis but then
where is Indira Gandhi and her team of brilliant aides?
That is the crux of the chaotic situation. A party is not
identified only BY the president but is a sum total of a
team of leaders and party men and a set of policies and
problems which reflect the urges of the people. This may
sound like a tall order but it is actually the ABC of
competitive politics with a degree of commitment. Mrs
Sonia Gandhi seems to have a vague idea of renewing the
party by revamping its policies. After Mr Manmohan Singh
declined to head the economic panel, she has managed to
rope in former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to impart a
degree of both continuity and stability to the
organisation. She should extend this effort to other
areas and use the coming party elections to throw up
younger leaders. Remember, in 1969 it was a fight between
the oldtimers and the younger elements and the latter won
THE kind of coverage the newspapers are giving to External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singhs five-day visit to Iran shows that the Vajpayee government is quite serious about upgrading New Delhis relations with Teheran. It is a welcome initiative in view of Irans economic and strategic significance and the geopolitical situation in the region. After the 1979 Ayatullah Khomeini-led Iranian revolution India somehow lost the position it had in the scheme of things of the oil-and-gas-rich nation. Though Iran still remains a theocratic country, the reformists under the leadership of President Mohammad Khatami are gradually strengthening their position. Iran of today, therefore, requires all manner of support from a non-theocratic India. This will enable India to play a greater role in Afghanistan under the Taliban as also to blunt anti-New Delhi propaganda by Islamabad in West Asian countries.
Many developed nations
are vying with one another to build a constructive
economic relationship with Iran, ignoring US
fulminations. Recently Britain and Japan cast their vote
in favour of World Bank loans to Iran without caring for
American sentiments. Ultimately, the USA had to endorse
the independent decision of the two countries. But in the
case of India the situation is entirely different. Both
India and Iran will benefit immensely from each other in
the area of economic cooperation, and New Delhi does not
have to bother about Washingtons wishes. India is
an energy-deficient country and needs to ensure adequate
availability of oil and natural gas for its economic
growth at a fast pace. Iran has nearly 15 per cent of the
worlds total gas reserves. For some time it has
been looking for an assured market for its gas export,
and hence its greater interest in the cooperative
security idea floated by Mr Jaswant Singh. India is
obviously keen on Iranian gas and has been holding talks
for the past few weeks on the ways of its supply. There
are three ways of routing the supply of Iranian gas and
these have been under discussion between the two sides:
by using ships, laying a pipeline on the seabed between
the Gulf and Indias west coast, or having an
overland pipeline through Pakistan. Iran has expressed
its preference for the third alternative as it will be
able to use the overland arrangement for exporting its
gas to Pakistan also. Islamabad cannot say no to such a
facility because of obvious economic gains despite its
adversarial relationship with India. The project will
also enable Pakistan to earn $ 600 million as transit
fees annually, besides providing it diplomatic leverage.
The Pakistan factor is coming in the way of India taking
a final decision. These are indeed trying times for the
government headed by Mr Vajpayee.
THE law recognises the difference between intentional killing and unintentional killing. Across the civilised world if the State is found involved in either of the two forms of killing the result is public uproar. The voices of protest in India are still feeble. Intentional killing is called murder, and most deaths in police encounters fall in this category. Deaths in police custody may be unintentional, but some are not. Both encounter and custodial deaths have now begun to attract the attention of human rights activists. But there are other forms of crimes, which may cause the death of victims or leave them handicapped for life, involving agents of the State for which no one is usually punished. And no individual or private agency usually bothers to question the State. The pity is that the perpetrators of what can be called crimes against humanity are not even aware of their sordid role in the regular drama of deaths due to indifference or neglect staged regularly in government hospitals, asylums or remand homes. The voices of protest are feeble because the victims come from the ever-expanding non-VIP sector. The interest of the media in such incidents does not last long. The treatment of the story depends on the number of deaths or the status of those at the receiving end of the avoidable suffering caused by the indifference of an increasingly insensitive State. Some years ago contaminated biscuits caused food poisoning among school children in the region. But no one was punished. And no one is likely to be even mildly rebuked for the death of six beggars in a remand home in Delhi. A matter-of-fact statement is all that was issued by Municipal Commissioner S.P. Aggarwal. He announced the death of the beggars without betraying any feeling of remorse. In a more aware society the deaths of the destitutes under circumstances in which they died in Delhi would have resulted in spontaneous protests and demand for action against the authorities concerned.
The beggars died because
the water they consumed got mixed up with the underground
contents of the sewerage. In the statement made before
the members of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Mr
Aggarwal said that preliminary investigations had shown
that the chlorinator in the deep tubewell, the main
source of supply of potable water, had not been
functioning since March 25. For nearly two months the
municipal authorities did nothing to ensure the supply of
safe drinking water to the inmates of the beggars' home.
The authorities also did not lose sleep over the frequent
power cuts and the fault in the standby generator. The
inmates were forced to draw water with the help of a hand
pump. The Municipal Commissioner did not betray any
emotion while informing the members that the beggars'
home does not have proper sewerage facilities, and the
lone septic tank was overflowing on the day of the
incident. The underground water drawn with the help of
the hand pump got mixed with the contents of the
overflowing septic tank. The contamination of ground
water resulted in the outbreak of gastroenteritis and 120
inmates had to be moved to the infectious diseases
hospitals. But the six who died evidently had
constitutions not associated with destitutes. If the
Delhi Government cannot provide to the beggars the kind
of dignity Mother Teresa used to provide to the
destitutes of Calcutta, the better option would be to
abolish the law which treats begging as an offence.
Begging for alms is a social offence, but to put beggars
in State-run homes where their suffering is increased and
some are even "killed" through neglect is a far
THE frightening picture of the drought conditions in several states, above all, in the BJP-governed Gujarat and in the Congress-governed Rajasthan, has darkened the political landscape so grievously as to compel the imagination of indignation to take the battle to the parlours of the sermonising and smug politicians in business. Almost the entire clan, equivocal and evasive, seems to be afflicted by a drought of thought and a famine in their spirit. For to allow crores and crores of those already steeped eye-deep in poverty and despair for generations to face, besides the wrath or fury of nature, the cynical stance of the rulers, in general, is to show a streak of heartlessness, if not of sadism. It only uncovers the unconscious of those in power, or out of power.
Thus, in proportion as the battalions of power-hungry politicians multiply, fragmenting the precarious structures of party politics, and setting up principalities in state after state courting all manner of conmen, thugs in white dhoti-and-kurta or in safari suits, the virtual demise of politics per se in that measure could only lead to a further erosion in national character, and in public life. It will, then, be also the death of that dream which the pundits and brokers of globalisation have started selling in the media. The Indian century of their fancy, standing on the stilts of an info-tech, elite-friendly economy, may well turn out to be an Indian tragedy. That, in effect, means that those armies of blank faces and vacant eyes on the TV screen subsisting now on air, wild roots and courage or grit have a date with death unless the rain-gods relentand some not even then. Its a prospect too grim to contemplate, or ponder or project.
The signals of chaos are already up, and the days of reckoning for the powerful and the privileged may look close enough, though as history of this God-owned and God-tormented country shows, a false legacy of Karma and submission to the dialectic of destiny would still keep the progenitors of this calamity safe in their warm seats. Otherwise, there are classical conditions for the upturning of the citadels of power. To be sure, revolutions of a violent nature have, as we now know, a dark and disturbing side, and almost always end up was new tyrannies and oligarchies, but they seldom lose their raison detre or their effects. This is a proven moral for the governing classes. The law of animal hunger knows no rules, no statutes, and respects no frontiers. When the chaos has come in their souls, they may not always go without a huge howl-and a deluge thereafter!
This may strike our elders and betters as an extravagant scenario, but I havent any kind of soothsayers or dooms-day priests in mind when I agonise in this manner. For I believe in the power of man to create, amidst moral eclipses, the energies to secure a measure of the sun on Gods fair earth. For the goodness does abide, whatever the condition of State and society.
So, it may not be out of place to aver that all superstructures of economy and affluence that are raised at the cost of the lower orders or starving millions are inherently unstable. The mentors of macro-economics and trickle-down effect are often found on a wrong track where countries with huge, multiplying populations and limited or depleted resources are concerned.
The concept of sacrificing the present and the following few generations for the good of the country and the nation is an argument which the insightful Aldous Huxley had already exposed for its speciousness as far back as the thirties of the last century in his well-known book, Ends and Means. Its the hungry imaginations of the neo-rich elites and their appetites that wish to offer the marginalised masses of peoples as a bait to the Kali of their creed.
And this brings me to a point where I fear the ongoing argument is going to hurt all those who have evolved a culture of convenience and cultivated a palate for pleasures once they have joined the ranks of the elect. Take only the question of water which right now has assumed alarming dimensions in the devastated areas of the country, and which may trigger a chain of tragedies if matters are allowed to drift in their own blind way. Similarly, the water famine is now on the doorsteps of bastis, chawls, jhuggies and jhonpris in metropolitan cities, and in such other congregates of slums elsewhere.
With such a menacing picture in front, to talk of the lavish and lush golf courses, of huge rolling parks and gardens for the exercise of affluent legs and knees, of the washing daily of fleets of cars and caravans, of palatial lawns and farmhouse pools, among many another hobby and fad, is to invite raised eyebrows, if not trouble. But can anyone in conscience justify this huge waste of water when the nomadic families in the countryside in search of a bucket of water or two, and the harassed housewives in droves with toddlers in toe can be seen out in the sun waiting for a wilderness of hours to receive a pitiful measure of water from the corporation or municipality water-tanks?
The argument of the golfers and their kind would be that no State has the right to curtail fundamental freedoms, and that the curtailment of the water supplied to their pleasure spots cannot be expected to solve the national problem and the crisis, in any case. Perhaps not in any substantial way, yes. But goodwill gestures and a meaningful symbolism can, at least, bring some drops into starving and thirsty mouths, and help sustain the spirit of service in the hour of such horrendous happenings. And the nation needs such a show, if you like, of public-spiritedness. We all love flowers and gardens and lawns, and thats what makes Chandigarh a city of pride and envy, though even in Corbusiers planned paradise, large colonies of water-starved working men and women on the periphery remain now to trouble the eye and the mind. No, our plea is not for the death of flowers or blossoming trees, but for a just and equitable supply of water. Golf courses in pleasure palaces could only be thought of when the national economy has reached a certain level of growth.
Its not, then, a question of robbing Peter to pay Paul, to use a cliche, its really a matter of priorities and preferences, of justice above all. And I take justice to mean not merely ones legal rights or entitlements or franchise, but a human virtue institutionalised in a sacred sense. And no personal freedom which helps support hunger tragedies can ever be absolute, whether you are a Marxian, or a jurist or a theologian. Almost all religious scriptures and I can only talk of the sacred book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth, with some understandingsing of true justice in similar accents. And freedoms are conditioned, and can flourish only in right contexts.
Having enlarged the argument in a somewhat philosophical and ethical manner, I guess it would be proper to come to certain practicable and sustainable measures. For only a pragmatism which has a visionary edge can reduce the huge hills of massed misery to some acceptable levels. And all such pragmatisms, born of necessity and circumstance, are action-oriented. So means have to be found and the strategies of alleviation have to be worked out to create new water resources, whether this effort involves big dams or small local mud-tanks in villages where the water-tables has been falling alarmingly for years, or the harvesting of rain-water from the roof-pipes to storage tanks through a town authority set up for the purpose, as, for instance, in the garden city of Bangalore, now turning fast into a complex of huge new industries and suburbia.
Yes, even here, as experience has shown, the first priority would be to work at the grass-root level, to employ the idiom of social activists. Welcome as they are, all thoughts of Bhakra-type temples are to remain in abeyance till the village water supply through indigenous resources and State help becomes a palpable reality. But one needs the imagination of compassion and ingenuity to make such a manageable dream possible. Our bureaucracy and our political leadership are, as a rule, deficient in such virtues. It is surprising, then, to know that the World Bank, which has a considerable stake in the matter, has accused India of mismanaging its water resources.
To be sure, this unhappy
nation would somehow manage to march on even on
hungry stomach, and survive. Such, then, is our story
down the ages, and such are the sermons that,
in a new idiom, would come from the mounts of
power in New Delhi.
children of a lesser God!
MANY national dailies on May 12 carried a news item about the abysmal neglect of ex-servicemen pensioners and much more to quote one of them: It was a mockery of the well-settled principle of service jurisprudence that pay and allowances (and pension which is a deferred payment) were compensation for sacrifices made in service. Lack of such appreciation by the Pay Commission in the past was evident from the fact that all of them treated a soldier as a semi-skilled worker. Nothing can be more divorced from the realities than to treat a person who is handling Bofors guns, rocket launchers, missiles, tanks and the state of the art missiles like Prithvi and Agni as semi-skilled workers. These were some of the observations made by a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Mr Justice B.N. Kirpal and Ms Justice Ruma Pal. They issued a notice to the Ministry of Defence on a PIL filed by the All-India Defence Service Advocates Association (AIDSAA).
The petition had pointed out many anomalies. While implementing the Fifth Pay Commissions recommendations, the government had brought in a provision directing that full pension at the rate of 50 per cent of the average of the last 10 months emoluments would be paid only if a person had served for 33 years. This may be justified in the case of civil employees, but in the defence forces, there is no common fixed age of superannuation. About 94 per cent of persons retire with 17 to 24 years of service. About eight lakh get 33 per cent of their emoluments as pension instead of the 50 per cent fixed by the Pay Commission.
Soldiers are forced to retire early as we need a young Army. That is a basic fact of life. Fiftyeight-or-sixty-year-old soldiers would have the mandated 33 years service like civilian employees but, even though their temper and spirit would be willing to wage war for their motherland, possibly an Army of old men may not be able to easily handle young Pakistanis and Chinese. A 60-year-old Indian clerk would, of course, be better than equal for any 60-year-old Pakistani or Chinese post office or sales tax clerk.
It has also been stated that low pay, early retirement, service in inhospitable regions and family sacrifices had put the defence forces at the bottom of career choices of the youth. The armed forces had an edge of 15 to 20 per cent over civilians in terms of pay and allowances and pension throughout the world. The pension ranged from 75 to 100 per cent of the last pay drawn by them. This was the case in India till 1947. One of the reasons for the raw deal given to defence personnel in the matter of fixing pay and allowances and pension was the absence of a separate pay commission for them as in other countries. Besides, the commission suffered from The inevitability of departmental bias of civil services towards the armed forces.
This writer was one of the three petitioners (the only ex-serviceman in India) in the pensions case in the Supreme Court in 1982. The judgement is a kind of Magna Carta for pensioners. But the bureaucrats threatened to nullify the judgement by going to Parliament. This is based on my personal experience with the mandarins concerned in North Block. They did not go to Parliament, however, but have otherwise ensured a continuous nibble of pensionary benefits to ex-servicemen.
There is another most unfortunate category of family pensioners: This is divided into ordinary family pension and special family pension, the latter being the entitlement where the death of a jawan or an officer is attributable to service reasons.
Only the other day was referred to me the case of a widow of a sailor, M.D. Oommen, who went down with INS Khukri in 1971 and was awarded the Vir Chakra (posthumous). She had applied for a revision of her family pension at the right time along with various documents, etc. But the truth is while other widows getting ordinary family pensions have already received their revised pensions and arrears, the orders regarding special family pension have not yet been issued by the government. So she waits and waits! Why can ordinary family pension not be given to her in the interim period till her special entitlement comes when our bureaucracy finds time to issue such an edict.
There is the other most pathetic case of jawans who have served the Raj and also put in some service after Independence. One such case referred to me was that of a Sepoy Abdul Hafeez of the erstwhile Dewas State Forces who served from 1943 to 1948 in India and in the mountains of Italy during World War II. As a special case, he was sanctioned an allowance of Rs 9 per mensem on compassionate grounds and he received Rs 27 every quarter. Unfortunately, he lost his pension book three or four years after the sanction, and for that quarter Abdul Hafeez received Rs 26 only. This is only one case from Bhopal. But I know of other cases too, which have appeared in the media, of such unfortunate pensioners in other parts of the country.
Defence Minister George Fernandes on April 10 last year made an announcement at the holy city of Anandpur Sahib that the principle of one rank, one pension had been accepted and , based on this, All India Radio on that night asked me to dilate in detail on the subject which I did. While undoubtedly some progress has been made, the ministers announcement is yet to be implemented. Ironically, those who have a fixed pay like the Chiefs of Staff of he Army, the Navy and the Air Force and the Army, Navy and Air Force Commanding-in-Chiefs have fully benefited, but those who are on a running pay scale have got only a pension assessed on the minimum of the rank even though they had rendered full service to entitle them to the maximum pension of the rank. So, where is justice for the young retired Naik or Major? When will it be rendered to them?
The Supreme Court judgement of December 1982, has a quote which can also be mentioned here. Quoting Cardinal Wolsey: Had I served my God as well as I did my King, I would not have fallen on these days.... And it also quotes in the Shellian tune: I fall on the thorns of life, I bleed....
celebrity of baby Blair
HAVENT you been longing to see the first picture? Baby Leo, that is, the first infant born to a serving British Prime Minister since the 19th century. Is that Tonys nose? Cheries mouth? The Blairs fourth child has arrived to instant celebrity, with the worlds media falling over each other to get that must-have first shot.
For the moment, popstars and footballers can take a back seat. Sunday Mirror led the pack, devoting 13 pages to its souvenir edition pretty impressive for a human being whose biography, to date, would barely fill the back of a postcard. But the really big question, the one nobody is supposed to ask at a moment like this, is why it merits the kind of coverage which used to be reserved for winning a war or a change of government.
Lots of people may have warmed to the Prime Minister over the weekend, as he stood outside No 10 with an unforced smile on his face for the first time in months.Yet until very recently, the birth of a child was a private event, a cause for celebration for friends and immediate family but of little interest to the rest of the world.
Royal babies were different, marked by official announcements, but at least they had some constitutional significance. Leo Blair doesnt. Nor does the Blairs style of parenting have implications for other working mothers and fathers. The Prime Ministers family is unlike anyone elses; in a country with an increasingly presidential style of government, and with British troops deployed in half a dozen trouble spots, Blair was always unlikely to take full parental leave.
By the same token, his wife was never going to experience the kind of care most of us get from the National Health Service: cancelled appointments, lost notes, doctors in too much of a hurry to explain whats going on. The myth that there is an ordinary family living in Downing Street is just that a myth. This is not entirely the Blairs fault, and they have been at pains to protect their privacy, complaining to the watching Press Complaints Commission when they think journalists have gone too far.
But they have also blurred the boundaries. Blair revealed on Saturday that he had already changed his first nappy, a detail seized on by reporters intent on portraying the Prime Minister as an ordinary bloke. The couple have posed with their other children for a Christmas card and even, on one notable occasion, allowed the Downing Street press office to issue a statement about Cherie Blairs weight.
In a recent interview with an American magazine, Blair himself divulged his reaction when his wife told him about her latest pregnancy. These are intensely private matters, which is the line Cherie Blair took earlier this year when she sought a draconian injunction to prevent publication of innocuous details of life in Downing Street which came from her childrens former nanny.
Like all celebrities, the Blairs are happy to invade their own privacy when it suits them. Even the fact that Blair has started to wear reading glasses was revealed in an interview with a womens magazine, providing a fascinating glimpse of the kind of discussions which apparently go on in Downing Street. Should we send more troops to Sierra Leone? Should we give the story about Tonys specs to the Sun or Womans Own? Now there is Leo, an absolute gift in PR terms. No doubt the Blairs will walk a fine line, trying to avoid accusations of exploitation.
Plenty of people noted cynically that news of the pregnancy just happened to leak last autumn in a week when New Labour was getting a terrible press over its handling on Ken Livingstones attempt to get on the shortlist of candidates for London Mayor. But no one should be surprised if the Prime Ministers popularity in the country, which has dropped alarmingly from the partys point of view, bounces back in the next few weeks.
In fact, the Blairs dont need to do anything much but sit out the media frenzy. Woman has baby surely rates, as a non-story, with Man has sex with wife. But it is a wonderful excuse for self-regarding columnists to regale us with their experience of having a baby in their 40s, basking in reflected glory. One of the Blairs old friends, who also became a father again at 47, offers a few words of advice, the Mail on Sunday boasted.
Only a culture obsessed with famous people, simultaneously convinced they are just like us and almost mystically different, could get into such a state about something as ordinary as Leo Blairs birth. Or do we? My guess is that millions of readers would be quite content with a one-paragraph announcement, and they are probably the same people who observed with bewilderment the public outpouring of grief in the week of Princess Dianas funeral.
Tabloid culture, which
is the natural constituency of celebrity human interest
stories, is only one face of modern Britain. It is brash,
noisy and ubiquitous, making many of us fell like
strangers in our own country. But I am certain that
millions of voters would much rather know when we are
going to see real improvements in the NHS than
Sundays hot topic of speculation, the identity of
Leo Blairs godparents. Guardian News
coup leader with a past
ON Black Friday, May 19, 2000, George Speight, a part-European, whose father Sam is a sitting M.P. (member of parliament) in Fiji, took hostage Prime Minister Mahendra Pal Chaudhry and some of his colleagues and announced he had taken over Fiji for the indigenous people.
Who is Speight? Slowly the picture emerges. A one-time Australian green card holder, he has lived in Brisbane. Leaving his de facto wife and two children in Australia, he moved to Fiji where, as CEO of an insurance company, he has been dismissed for missing funds.
Just before Sitiveni Rabukas Government fell last year to Chaudhrys Labour Party, Speight was attempting to sell large tracts of Fijis timber. That takes us back to 1874 when European traders made predatory forays into Fiji for its rich timber resources, particularly sandalwood. Conditions became so bad with the exploitation of the indigenous owners that their chiefs ceded the country to Britains Queen Victoria.
In 1970, Britain gave Fiji independence on a constitution which took us two weeks of deliberations at Marlborough House. We Indians conceded all native rights, gave them (indigenous Fijians) powers of veto on land, tradition and culture, and a constitution which gave weightage to non-Indian voters.
Yet, with electoral swings, when Timoci Bavadra came into power, Major General Rabuka led two coups in 1987, and took over the country. In 1992, a new Constitution was promulgated increasing indigenous voting power, and increasing the parliamentary number of the indigenous population.
In 1999 another election was held but this time under a constitution hammered out under a commission headed by Sir Paul Reeves, a Maori, and one time Governor-General of New Zealand. This constitution was a liberal one, and guaranteed minority party electoral rights and Cabinet posts. But this time, Chaudhrys multi-racial Fiji Labour Party was swept into power.
Chaudhry inherited many problems: a depleted National Bank; expiring leases, mounting unemployment; urban drift; rising violent crime; and investor shortage.
But the major question was whether the indigenous population would stomach an Indian Prime Minister. Over the past six months, some indigenous leaders have tried to win over the indigenous parliamentarians, arguing that if they all united, Chaudhry could be ousted as Prime Minister. But Chaudhrys 18-strong cabinet has 11 indigenous Fijians, and this move failed.
Then came the marches, Indians out of Fiji as the slogan. On Black Friday, 7,000 people marched in the streets, and Speight and a small rag tag band of supporters sporting AK 47s marched into Parliament and took over the country.
Unlike 1987, this time things appeared better organised. Fiji was cut off from the rest of the world.
But does this uprising amount to a coup? Does it have popular support? Prominent civil rights lawyer Miles Johnson, who fled to Sydney to avoid what he saw was coming, has publicly branded Speight a crook. He believes that Major General Rabuka is somehow linked to this latest outrage.
But does Speight have popular support? Do the military which is 99 per cent indigenous and the police one-third Indian support Speight? No one can say.
In 1987, France moved in with a full-fledged embassy and its Ambassador pinned the Legion of Honour on Major General Rabuka. Israel proudly established an embassy in Fiji and its soldiers tried unsuccessfully to take over military training in Fiji. Indias protests at the coups lead to its embassy being first downgraded and later shut down. Significantly, after the restoration of democracy in Fiji France and Israel beat a hasty retreat, while India swiftly sent an Ambassador after Chaudhrys victory.
Coups are the most cynical form of power grabbing. In the end the Speights of the world, the cowboy soldiers of fortune, end up hurting the people they profess to protect.
But who will come to fish in Fijis troubled waters this time? We now may have an uprising which only time can quell. The investors will give Fiji a wide berth only to return when it is down on its knees and, as Miles Johnson puts it, at the bottom of the sink
I knew Sam Speight, the father of George Speight. I acted for him as his lawyer is a little legal skirmish that he had. I would like to ask Sam: Are you proud of George? Is this the next General of Fijians you want? And I hope you look at all the looting, and burning? And your people carrying off the goods and chattels which the Indians have paid for with their blood, sweat and tears? Would you say to George, Well done, my son. I am proud of you.
And as for the Indian farmers, the solution for most of them is to leave Fiji. Already, Australia has shown a willingness to accept Zimbabwes white farmers who have no special expertise. Whether Australia and for that matter New Zealand, or America or Canada, will extend the same helping hand to Fijis Indians remains to be seen.
But this uprising will drive a coffin in the nail of democracy in Fiji and plunge the country into darkness whether the Chaudhry government is restored or not. India Abroad News Service
Sydney-based lawyer Karam Chand Ramrakha, a former member of Parliament in Fiji (1966-1982) is one of the architects of the 1970 constitution.
THE Comrade does not, as a rule, mix up things which are entirely different as it does in its latest issue in a leaderette under the heading The Untouchables and the monopolists of nationalism. We can discover no connection whatever between our comments on its recent leading article on the Hindu Muslim question, and the invitation extended to Mahatma Gandhi to go and lead the Satyagraha movement at Vaikom.
Not only did not that invitation emanate from us, but it would have been easy for our contemporary to have found out if he had chosen to do so that in this matter he and we hold identical views.
We have condemned the
attitude of Hindu orthodoxy in at least as strong terms
as he has ever employed for the purpose, and we have
never indulged in or even encouraged the practice of
calling in the aid of Mahatma Gandhi in the
solution of every problem. How, then, have we
deserved the reproach of having spoken with three minds
on the question at issue at Vaikom?
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