|REDDY AND RABUKA: File pic ex Fiji Times.|
"The failed political ambitions of Reddy are a key piece in the puzzle of why Fiji has suffered so much in the last decade."-George Williams.
In the Eye of the Storm: Jai Ram Reddy and the politics of postcolonial Fiji’ was launched in Canberra on 15 December by eminent constitutional lawyer George Williams, Anthony Mason Professor of Law at the University of New South Wales. He is highly respected in Fiji as one of the leading counsels in the famous Chandrika Prasad case which is internationally recognised as setting the benchmark for judging the success of coup.
Professor Brij Lal, in reply, spoke about the process and perils of writing history, historical amnesia among his people and the fading away of history from school curricula in Fiji. He reiterated the conclusion of his book that if the Rabuka-Reddy project of political cooperation had succeeded, Fiji would have been spared the turmoil it was later to encounter.
When Professor Lal alluded to a recent attack on him saying that the reason why Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry comes out in the book the way he does is because FLP victory in 1999 prevented Lal from becoming the Vice President of Fiji,' the audience laughed at this blatant untruth. As Dr Lal writes in the book, the person in consideration was Sir Moti Tikaram, who confirmed it to Dr Lal.
The book has been widely praised a singular contribution to understanding the dynamics of postcolonial Fiji .
Herein is the speech of Professor Williams: “It is a pleasure to be here tonight to launch Brij Lal’s latest book. I am a relative newcomer to Fiji. Sadly, I have never been to the islands for pleasure, only business, and often for the wrong reasons.
"My first contact came in 2000 when, in the wake of the George Speight coup attempt, I received an unusual call at my office at the ANU law school. I was asked if I would travel to Fiji to argue that the George Speight coup, and the military takeover that followed, breached the 1997 constitution.
"After some thought, I accepted the brief, and spent much of the next year in and out of Fiji working on the case with a formidable team of local lawyers and others including prominent international QC Geoffrey Robertson.
"After hearings in the High Court and Court of Appeal, the case was won. It was the first such victory in a domestic court in overturning a coup in world history. Unfortunately, of course, the result proved only to be a temporary victory of the rule of law and democracy in Fiji, and more recent events have once again proved the vulnerable state of those principles.
"My interest has been so fixed on the last decade of events in Fiji that I have neglected my own understanding of Fijian political history. Given that, I was delighted when the opportunity came to launch this book.
"I was very happy to be asked to launch this book because of its author. I have never had any doubt about the authoritative work of Brij Lal in this field. Rarely has any one person been so intertwined with the telling of the story of a nation. It is, however, certainly the case here.
"Brij Lal has been prolific in telling the modern story of Fiji. His first book appeared in 1983 and, remarkably, the work I am launching tonight is his 37th. Two more are expected to follow next year.
"Even before I first visited Fiji in 2000, I was well aware of Brij Lal’s work. Then and since he has been rightly regarded as the leading writer of Fijian political history. As an academic, you would expect his books to be accurate and well researched. Indeed, there is no doubt that they are.
"In addition, what sets his work apart from others is that he writes with such honesty and insight into Fiji and its problems. He is able to the sympathetic yet open-minded, and writes with authority and courage. It is these qualities that make his works the best in the field.
"Given the way he writes, I was not surprised that he was deported last year from Fiji by the military regime. Brij Lal is willing to speak truth to power. His honesty and willingness to confront directly the problems of Fiji is fundamentally incompatible with the approach of the coup government.
"Brij Lal may have written 37 books, but this one is special. It is not only the product of a decade of research and writing, but it is subject, Jai Ram Reddy, is someone for whom Brij Lal has an undoubted sympathy.
"What impressed me most about this book is that Brij Lal was still able to write such a revealing, sometimes painful, account of this colossus of the late twentieth century Fijian political scene. It seems that sometimes you need to understand a person and their political philosophy to also fully appreciate their mistakes and failings.
"In many ways this book is a tragedy. The failed political ambitions of Reddy are a key piece in the puzzle of why Fiji has suffered so much in the last decade.
"As a lawyer myself, I can understand Reddy’s approach to Fiji’s problems. I am sympathetic to his approach of principled pragmatism. I also share his perspective of the need to reach out across all groups to build a society based upon common values and mutual prosperity.
"It is a disappointment to me that my own involvement with Fiji only began when Reddy’s political career ended do disastrously in 1999. I am proud, however, that my role involved a defence of what Brij Lal describes as Reddy’s greatest achievement, Fiji’s 1997 Constitution. I note also Brij Lal’s central role in the drafting of a document as a member of the Fiji constitution review commission, a body to which he was appointed after being nominated by Reddy.
"The 1997 Constitution remains one of the best ever drafted in the world. It represents an unfulfilled vision for Fiji. It is indeed a melancholy task to speculate on ‘what might have been’.
"This book is dedicated to the people of Fiji, and does them a great service. It is only by understanding Reddy’s career and political philosophy that the last decade can be properly understood. This history, and Reddy’s contributions over the course of decades, must never be forgotten. This book will ensure that this is the case”.
Both the book and Reddy have been acclaimed. The following is a review by ANU PHd candidate Jone Baledrokadroka.
This book is a comprehensive and eloquent re-telling of the story of Fiji politics from independence in 1970 to 1999 through the perspective of possibly Fiji’s greatest living statesman, Jai Ram Reddy.
As a student of Fiji’s post colonial politics the book brings back vivid memories of growing up with the political issues in a youthful nation full of promises and yet dashed hopes. This book is a must- read for all yearning for a better future for Fiji through understanding our past.
It is a decade now that Reddy departed the political scene. I am one with political sociologist Steven Ratuva’s judgement: ‘Jai Ram Reddy was, and still is, the only Indo-Fijian leader capable of assuming the heights of multi-ethnic statesmanship’.
He was the only Indo-Fijian leader ever trusted by the Fijians. He was genuine and humble and indigenous Fijian leaders saw these virtues clearly and related to them. However to quote Professor Lal, “Sadly what was virtue to one community, the indigenous Fijians, was vice to another, the Indo-Fijians”.
Richard Naidu’s broad assessment is enduring of the man: “Jai Ram Reddy, who survived the rough and tumble of politics for more than 20 years with his reputation for integrity intact, without succumbing to the compromises of politics in a coup-ridden country, surely ranks heads and shoulders above any other politician of his generation.”
The final assessment of the Indo-Fijian community by Professor Lal, however, is haunting: “The Indo- Fijian community which Jai Ram Reddy led for a generation now lies hobbled in a cul-de-sac after a brief moment of hope and opportunities in the late 1990s. Accusation fly about who supported and did not support the 2006 coup, which deposed a democratically elected government headed by an Indigenous Fijian.”
And that ... “None of the problems facing it has been resolved… Jai Ram Reddy’s fate epitomizes the tragedy of modern Fiji: a country endowed with enviable human talent and natural resources.. but strangely prone to self-inflicted wounds that hobble its prospects and dent its future , a veritable Churchill’s Russia in the Pacific: a riddle, rapped in mystery, inside an enigma.”
Lal’s apt quote of Proverbs 29:18 in unraveling our present enigma for Fiji’s future befit today’s leaders, ‘Where there is no vision the people perish.’ Jai Ram Reddy is indeed a truly distinguished son of Fiji who envisioned a peaceful multiracial Fiji - yet to come."