The process of healing begins in Fiji

Let bygones be bygones: Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka in a handshake with Labour Party Leader Mahendra Choudhary at Fiji Girmit Day in Suva on May 14, 2023. Mr was ousted from the post of Prime Minister during the May 2000 Coup (Facebook Photo)

Our Leader (Indian Newslink Digital Edition May 15, 2023)
Venkat Raman

Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka can be given credit for owning up to the pain and disruption that his infamous coup (May 14, 1987) caused to the non-indigenous population in general and to Fiji Indians in particular.

While the first coup set the exodus trend, the second coup, later that year, accentuated it.

The third coup, orchestrated by George Speight, on May 14, 2000 began to deplete the Fiji Indian population in the South Pacific country.

Undoubtedly, Fiji Indians have always deserved better status and treatment. The early settlers who were taken to Fiji from India under the indentured system (from 1879 to 1920) suffered misery, ill-treatment and despicable living and working conditions, endured the ordeal in the hope that their children and grandchildren will be lead better lives with their political and other rights secured along with their compatriots.

To his credit, Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama appeased the Fiji Indian community by abolishing many of the policies that were incongruous with human rights and democratic principles. He appointed many Indians to key positions including his Deputy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. As Mr Rabuka came to power following his slender majority in the December 2022 general election, there were fears that Fiji will go back to its divisive days and that a coup was imminent.

The Fiji Forward Declaration

However, Mr Rabuka has shown that he is a changed man. As well as recognising the importance of equitable administration, he has vowed to protect the tenets of democracy.

The ‘Fiji Forward Declaration’ that he signed with his cabinet colleagues and other stakeholders including Mahendra Choudhary (a former Prime Minister who was ousted in the May 2000 coup) was reassuring.

It is clear that Mr Rabuka is a changed man and has accepted the changes that have occurred over the past four decades. The man who ordered the exit of the then-Indian High Commissioner to leave the country (in 1989 after two years of diplomatic battle) is today grateful to India for its diplomatic and financial support and medical supplies.

Mr Rabuka’s apology, seemingly sincere and well-timed, will certainly draw the sting from debilitating feelings of humiliation, guilt and vengeance. Yet at a minimum, owning up to what happened in the past, and learning lessons from it, should benefit everyone.

Even if all sides do accept that an apology is needed, the wrong kind (limited, grudging or insincere) can backfire.

Indigenous Fijians account for about 60% of the country’s population and hence dominate at the ballot box. At the time of the coup in 1987, Fijians of Indian descent were in the majority (more than 50% of the population) but have since the coup settled in North America, Australia and New Zealand.

Fiji cannot afford to lose its Indian population for, they are the major investors, running almost all businesses and hardworking people.

Mr Rabuka must ensure that they remain in the country and equally important, continue to be partners in progress.

His apology could help.

Fiji has begun the process of healing and the coming years could see the country progress.

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