India Should Move With Caution On The Fijian Coup

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India has done the right thing by reacting in a very cautious way to the coup in Fiji. The statement of the External Affairs Ministry is a pointer to this. The spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, Navtej Sarna, said, “We are saddened to learn about the turn of events in Fiji and hope that the rule of law will prevail and power will be returned to the people at the earliest.” In a brief statement, Sarna said, “India greatly values its relations with Republic of Fiji Islands, a country with which we share historical and cultural links.”

New Delhi’s cautious response to the crisis in the South Pacific islands was based on the fact that this is the first coup which is not directed against the Indian community in Fiji. The issues, which have led to the coup, are two crucial bills the Prime Minister Laisinia Qarase sought to introduce. The first one was to provide amnesty to participants in the previous coup which had ousted the previous legitimate of Dr Mahendra Chaudhry, while the other related to fishing rights in coastal areas being given to indigenous Fijian Tribal landowners. If this two bills were passed it would have resulted in the people of Indian origin becoming a second rate citizen of that country. As land owing and fishing rights would have deprived the Indian community of its traditional business. Granting amnesty to the previous coup participants would have resulted in the political venerability of the Indian community. After coups in 1987 and 2000, over 100,000 Fijians of Indian origin have emigrated from Fiji between 1987 and April 2004, mainly to Australia, New Zealand, US and Canada. Prior to the 1987 coup the Indian community formed 51 % of the total population today it has come down to 44%.

The Indian community forms the backbone of the Fijian economy as most of them are in business related to tourism, sugar industry, plantations etc the rest are professionals. Passing of these two bills would have resulted the total isolation of the Indian community, as they would have become the object of hate and target .Now that the coup has been staged India should play its role well. Shrewd and fine art of diplomacy is the need of the hour for India now in relation to Fiji. India has to tread her path very cautiously as the coup have resulted in the overthrow of a democratically elected government at the same time she has to keep in mind the interest of the Indian community.

Fiji’s multi-government comprised Qarase’s Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) and the Fiji Labor Party (FLP) led by former Indo-Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry. Qarase, in a state-of-the-nation address around the same time as Bainimarama’s announcement, however rejected the military takeover and said that he was still very much in charge. “Let me assure you, categorically, that under no circumstances will I resign as prime minister, or give advice to His Excellency (President Ratu Josefa Iloilo) to dissolve parliament. I am the democratically elected prime minister, appointed in accordance with the constitution, and the general election in May gave my party a clear majority in parliament.”

Already Australia and New Zealand has imposed sanctions on Fiji after the coup .The United Nation has threatened to pull out the Fijian troops from UN peacekeeping mission and Britain has threatened to expel Fiji from the commonwealth. It is now time for the Indian government to act at the international level to ensure that democracy is restored in Fiji soon at the same time India should not loose the opportunity to bargain hard with the military controlled interim government there to restore the traditional rights of the Indian community so that they can get back their previous political and economic space in the Fijian society. The return of the Fijian Indians who left that country after the previous coups also should be settled once for all. Till India is able to achieve the rights of the people of Indian origin she should use all her diplomatic skills to ensure that Fiji is not isolated within the International community including the commonwealth as this could prove to very dangerous for the safety of the people of Indian origin in that country.

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