I am delighted to be here amongst all members and well wishers of Shree Sanatan Dharm Pratinidhi Sabha NSW as you mark the most important event in the Hindu calendar.
It is extremely pleasing to see that Hindu members of our Indo-Fijian community, who have made Australia their home, and indeed other nations, have maintained and continued their cultural and religious activities in a vibrant manner through Ramayan Mandalis and construction of temples.
This is most admirable as you are bequeathing a strong foundation of self-dignity and the virtues of respect and tolerance to future generations
Ladies and Gentlemen: Deepavali or Diwali is the Festival of Lights. It is a time of rejoicing with family and friends. It is also a time for prayer and reflection about those less fortunate.
The lighting of the traditional lamp, Diya, symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and most importantly, truth over evil.
The light from the Diya re-commits all of us to bring light to any place facing darkness. Hindus are very resilient and draw strength from their faith and a sense of solidarity in times of adversity.
The return of Lord Rama after 14 years in exile is a triumphant occasion. Lord Rama is the embodiment of truth, justice, righteousness, honesty, integrity and humility.
The virtues of Lord Rama and the significance of Diwali are extremely relevant in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country like Fiji, especially when we are transiting to democracy after 8 years of dictatorship, which supposedly ended following general elections in September last year.
Ladies and Gentlemen: We have a newly constituted Parliament, which is the highest court of the land. Parliament must make decisions in the national interest. Narrow, sectarian and personal interests must be discarded.
The high cost of living, the decline of the sugar industry, the devastating effects of the drought, rising unemployment, derogations in the Bill of Rights of the 2013 Constitution, regressive and draconian decrees, a regulated media and the deteriorating health system and medical services are fundamental problems that can only be resolved by a display of sound and sensible leadership.
To ignore these fundamental problems would be doing so at our own peril. You are most fortunate as you live and practice democracy in a nation where fundamental freedoms are entrenched and enjoyed by citizens.
However in Fiji, calling everyone Fijians and saying they enjoy common and equal citizenry doesn’t guarantee fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of the media. It does not guarantee job opportunities based on meritocracy, rendering common and equal citizenry meaningless.
Ladies and Gentlemen: These are the challenges we face as a community and as a nation, which unfortunately are not highlighted by the media. This reality may not be grasped by many of you simply because limitations in the Constitution and continuation of regressive Decrees that dilute provisions in the Bill of Rights, resulting in the inability of the media to disseminate such information.
I know that you are not fully aware of the challenges facing our community. This is understandable given lack of media freedom and the restrictive climate of fear a[n]d suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms that we have gone through during 8 years of military rule.
Therefore dissemination of information including the reality and the truth to our people as well as the many thousands of former Fiji citizens living mostly in Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada, has been virtually impossible.
In the absence of dissemination of the reality, mis-information about policies has been vigorously preached. One such policy that has been widely embraced by our former citizens is the common name of Fijian and equal citizenry. The reality is the opposite.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Equal citizenry means equal opportunities. It means economic growth to generate employment; Meritocracy in the civil service and appointments being made at least in proportionate to the population of our ethnic groups; Currently Indo-Fijians constitute less than 25% of the civil service; Also , as a start having a quota for recruitment of personnel from other ethnic groups in the military, again on meritocracy to give it a semblance of multiracialism; Having bipartisan committees to collectively look at serious challenges facing sectors like the sugar industry, health and medical services.
I repeat what I said in Parliament on 23rd November 2015; “Common and equal citizenry in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation like Fiji it is important that common and equal citizenry extends beyond equal vote for equal value and common name. It necessitates the creation, promotion and offer of equal opportunity in all sectors based on meritocracy, not nepotism, cronyism reward for loyalists”.
“We must have bipartisanship to look at reviewing the Constitution in accordance with recommendations of the Electoral Commission and the working committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council”.
“These are achievable but it needs firstly political will and capacity to dialogue with the ultimate aim of finding solutions through consensus. These are the virtues that we as a political party have demonstrated for the last 52 years. We preached and practiced the virtue of talk, not force, of national interest before self-interest, and above all equality, dignity and justice for all our citizens”.
“And we intend to do just that in the remaining three years of parliament”.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I conclude quote from a defining speech given on Diwali day in 1988 by the then Indian leader Mr Jai Ram Reddy who said, “What a Diwali it is going to be if we pretend and fool ourselves that our future is bright, It is not a time to be complacent. We will be deceiving ourselves and living in a fool’s paradise. Arise, sharpen your wits and with Diwali rekindle the flame of your wisdom. Learn from the past and strengthen your future from the experience of the present” - unquote
Ladies and Gentlemen: After 14 years of being exiled from Parliament, the NFP returned to reclaim its rightful place after the elections. As a party born out of the struggle for dignity and justice of all our people, the NFP will continue the struggle for the triumph of truth over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance so that our beloved nation once again becomes a beacon of hope and trust.
I sincerely wish you a blessed Deepavali, good health, prosperity and happiness.