‘Missed Opportunity’ was the theme of the launch of ‘In the Eye of the Storm,’ a book on Retired Judge Jai Ram Reddy at the Lynfield College auditorium in Auckland on October 30.
The last official assignment of Mr Reddy, an icon in Fiji’s judicial system and politics was at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as Judge.
Former New Zealand Governor General Sir Paul Reeves released the book written by Dr Brij Lal, Professor of Pacific and Asian History and Deputy Director of School of Culture at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Apart from Mr Reddy, the attendees included a large number of his friends from Fiji, Labour MP Dr Rajen Prasad and a cross-section of the Indo-Fijian community.
Sir Paul said Mr Reddy was the connecting thread through which the Book weaved the history of Fiji since his appointment to the Senate in 1972 to his retirement from the Fijian Court of Appeal in 2003.
“It is a well written Book and an expression of the author’s encyclopaedic knowledge. His analysis, commitment and love for a country of which he is an inseparable part come through the Book. It is a commendable commentary and interpretation of complexity, the lost opportunity and the strength of human spirit, which make up the history of Fiji,” he said.
I always looked up to Mr Reddy’s methods, and hoped for his moderate and middle ground leadership style for Fiji.
The Book begins with a memorable and prophetic comment made by him in 1993:
“I offer a vision which sees this beloved land of ours united in its diversity, forged out of adversity and built on trust. I offer you a vision of Fiji of which historians will say that in the midst of tragedy we found courage, wisdom, foresight and determination to lead the nation away from the precipice into a prosperous future. I can only hope that my vision for this most wonderful of nations will fulfil its promise.”
Unfortunately, this vision remained unfulfilled, because in 1999, while the Peoples Coalition Government won the battle, Fiji lost the war. Then, as a political commentator, I had described Mr Reddy as a ‘non-expedient leader,’ engrossed in multiracialism and vision for the nation while the astute politician Mahendra Chaudhry fought on bread and butter issues and won the battle.
Indeed, the 1999 Reddy-Rabuka way of multiracialism was a missed opportunity.
Sir Paul echoed this theme in his speech, saying that Professor Lal had written the following personal comment in his copy of the Book, “In memory of a Fiji now banished beyond recall.”
Two reasons prompted Professor Lal to retell Fiji’s history.
The first was the praises heaped on George Speight by a few Miss Hibiscus contestants, after visiting him at the Naboro Prison and comparing him to Nelson Mandela.
Professor Lal rightly asked, “What would be the future of Fiji with such people?”
The second was that none of the students in a School knew about Mr Reddy. He saw writing as an act of resistance against the culture of indifference and forgetfulness and an act of revenge against historical amnesia.
Nothing on a book launch on Jai Ram Reddy will be complete without a mention of Mr Chaudhry, who had virtually taken an oath to finish off the National Federation Party (NFP).
Professor Lal did well in creating a military analogy between the two leaders, in which he likened Mr Reddy to a visionary Commanding General and Mr Chaudhry as a great Field Commander with little vision as a General.
The following statement was a fitting conclusion to the Book:
“Jai Ram Reddy’s rare achievement was to have witnessed and endured the worst that Fiji had to offer and still find hope and optimism in his fellow countrymen, someone who rose above the disunity and divisions that afflicted his country and his people, and for a brief shining moment, managed to make hope and history rhyme.”
No other Indo-Fijian leader in recent history could rise above the disunity and divisions that have been a curse on Fiji.
When Mr Chaudhry was given an opportunity, he failed to safeguard his Government and Fiji’s faltering democracy.
Thakur Ranjit Singh is a postgraduate student in Communication Studies at AUT and has finalised his thesis on the content analysis of The Fiji Times during the one-year rule of the Peoples Coalition Government (1999-2000). He is to deliver his findings in media conferences in Sydney and Auckland later this year.