In 2000, our founding Editor-in-Chief VICTOR LAL had written ten series of articles in Fiji's Daily Post, explaining why Chaudhry fell from power. Chaudhry agreed with the general analysis, except for what he termed 'a few incorrect assumptions'. VICTOR LAL did not touch on George Speight's failed coup but had written a three part legal opinion arguing why Speight should be charged with TREASON, and why the Muanikau Accord signed between the then army commander Frank Bainimarama and Speight, was invalid in criminal law. We will chart FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry's journey from 'political saint' to 'currency convict', arising from the debris of the 2000 mayhem
Meanwhile, we produce Part One of the 10 part series from 2000:
Chaudhry was a ‘misguided saint’ flanked by political and racist ‘devils’ in the People's Coalition Government
He won landslide mandate but formed government on bent knees under the 1997 Constitution which required mandatory power-sharing after a general election
By Victor Lal
The deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Pal Chaudhry is a saint compared to many others who claim to be leaders of Fiji's people, and even the claims about his arrogance and insensitivity now fall flat, says Catholic Priest Father David Arms. Chaudhry enjoyed a popularity rating in December 1999 at 62 per cent which was the highest any Prime Minister of Fiji enjoyed before a general election. He did not make himself the Prime Minister by his own decision. He fought an election and his Fiji Labour Party convincingly won 37 of the 71 seats in the House of Representatives, enough to govern alone.
But, as will be seen, he became ‘hostage’ to the former President Ratu Mara’s political and constitutional intervention, and to the new non-racial 1997 Constitution of Fiji which mandated for a multiparty government or power sharing. And his Fiji Labour Party, under the same Constitution, ended up like a ‘Castrated Political Bull’ in a ‘Constitutional China Shop’.
This new untried concept of mandatory power sharing in Fiji, which Sitiveni Rabuka claimed in October 1997 as a challenge to sail into ‘unchartered waters’, so to speak, also led to Chaudhry’s captivity for 56 days at the hands of the failed businessman George Speight and his storm troopers. Put simply, Chaudhry had been constitutionally forced to jump into the political bed with unsuited Fijian political bedfellows. He woke up with his political pants down and was undeservedly and cruelly whipped by Speight and his ‘remote-controlled’ Fijian backers and Indo-Fijian financiers in the name of pseudo-indigenous rights. In the next series of articles we will show why the Fiji Labour Party should dismantle the Peoples Coalition Government, the Electoral System, and make changes to the 1997 Constitution of Fiji.
Meanwhile, the Coalition won even more convincingly because the Peoples Coalition captured 52 out of the 71 seats. Besides the Fijian Association Party (FAP), Chaudhry invited minority parties which were not entitled as of right to be in his Cabinet. And the Christian Democratic Alliance-the Veitokani Ni Lewenivanua (VLV), the General Voters Party, and a few independents joined him. So at the end of the day, the Peoples Coalition had 58 out of 71 members sitting on the Government benches with only 13 on the Opposition. As far as SVT was concerned, it lost 18 of the 23 Fijian communal seats where only Fijians stood and Fijians voted in the May elections. The SVT won only 8 seats in the May elections but was shut out of Chaudhry’s government because it made unacceptable political demands. In any event, most SVT members had agreed with Jim Ah Koy to remain in Opposition. The SVT’s chief coalition partner, the National Federation Party (NFP), failed to win a single seat. It lost all 19 Indo-Fijian designated seats to Chaudhry’s Labour Party. The NFP was completely humiliated and annihilated from the political map.
In his Cabinet, out of 18 Ministers, Chaudhry had 12 indigenous Fijians and only six IndoFijians.
‘Petticoat Racists and Political Punch Drunks’
The Portrait of the Deposed Prime Minister
The former politician and academic Dr Satenda Nandan, the first Fiji Labour Party MP, and who was himself a hostage with Chaudhry in the 1987 coups, had written an article in the Canberra Times of 19 June 2000 about Chaudhry while the elected Prime Minister was still held captive by George Speight. Nandan has reproduced the article in his recently published book, Fiji: Paradise in Pieces.
He wrote of Chaudhry: ‘Mahendra Pal Chaudhry has had a unique political career for an Indian-Fijian political leader in Fiji. He’s been through three ruthless and racist coups, twice taken as hostage in the Parliament. And yet I feel, in my heart of hearts, he’ll survive this baptism of fire (Chaudhry was still held hostage by Speight at the time of the writing of the book). He’s the intrepid leader with contagious courage under adversity, a person of intense grit and grace. It is his political education that stands out in a crisis. The three major Indian-Fijian leaders, A.D. Patel, Siddiq Koya and Jai Ram Reddy, were all lawyers. He has acquired his political acumen and organisational ability by working through people of all races and complexions in Fiji’s small but complex post-colonial society. He’s more a man of action than words, a karmayogi in Indian political parlance.’
Nandan pointed out that Chaudhry’s most formative educational period was spent at Sri Vivekananda High School in Nadi, the first public secondary school established in 1949 for primarily Indian children. It catered specifically for the children of farmers, labourers and small businessmen from the small towns and villages scattered all over Fiji. Indentured Indians had arrived in Fiji in 1879, illiterate and leaderless. The school was co-educational and multi-racial from the beginning. The patron saint of the school was the world renowned Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, a patriot with a tongue of fire.
Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru came under his extraordinary spell and he represented and articulated the best thoughts and ideas of Hinduism and its accommodating ways of life. Chaudhry completed his Senior Cambridge examination from the school while staying in the hostel, next to a temple, on the banks of the Nadi river across which was a thriving Fijian koro (village). Not far from the school was Nadi airport, a symbol of future possibilities and other journeys.
Chaudhry, who hails from a small village near the township of Ba, was born into a small farming family. There are thousands of such farmers all over Fiji, eking out a meagre living from their ten-acre farms, mainly sugar, allocated to them by the CSR Company, and leased from the NLTB (recently described as the Idi Amin of Indo-Fijian farmers). No sensible leader would ever want them dispossessed of their inalienable rights to this land. Chaudhry’s lasting commitment to social justice in a community, according to Nandan, springs from his farming and trade union background. His total belief in a multiracial polity and civil society comes from his work with farmers, labourers, public service unions and women’s organisations. His early education in the west of Viti Levu, the Fiji archipelago’s largest island, prepared him for an emerging multiracial society. The ‘Burning West’, as it’s often described, runs from Ba to Sigatoka and is different from Suva and its surrounds. The farming community’s interaction among the two communities and with tourists has made them more outward-looking. There’s a solidity and deeper cohesion in social interactions and personal relations. And there has been a deepening understanding between the two communities over 120 years of living on the island.
For the past 30 years Chaudhry has been an active and articulate member of several trade union movements nationally, regionally and internationally. It’s no exaggeration, Nandan writes, to suggest that of all prominent political leaders in Fiji, he has the most international connections and is the least communal. Indeed, because of this he is truly a modern leader for Fiji, a man who reflects the increasing interdependence of the communities and their crucial foundation in the tolerance and understanding within the larger society.
Communal politics have characterised Fiji since before independence and have the curse of politics in the troubled paradise. The majority of members of parliament are elected according to their ethnicity. This, of course, has done enormous damage to Fiji politics, mired in a frenzy of racialism at election time. Fiji’s Labour Party was the first party to reject the politics of race and base its philosophy and economics on social needs, equality and justice. This had become an anathema to those whose positions of power and privilege were being undermined.
As leader of the Labour Party, Chaudhry objected strongly to communal representation in the new 1997 Constitution, where 46 out of 71 MPs were communally elected. He pursued this with some passion and political manoeuvring. His shrewdness paid dividends in the last election where he won a comprehensive mandate to be Fiji’s first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister. His determination was seen during the two coups in 1987 and the aftermath, when his house was broken into, his family intimidated, and threatened and he was persecuted as leader of the trade union movement. He never left Fiji during those crisis-ridden weeks and months. He showed a moral toughness that surprised his opponents. And nothing deterred him: he has a special contempt for bullies and thugs, of which Fiji has had a special breed; the military regime had to be politically defeated; multiracialism had to be cultivated for Fiji’s future generation; democracy had to be re-established. Chaudhry’s government was the second time the people had voted for a multiracial government.
According to Nandan, another aspect of Chaudhry’s life is his faith. He’s a thoughtful Hindu in a profoundly spiritual sense. During the first coup in 1987, ‘he was one of the few Indian MPs who could sing a full Hindu bhajan (hymn). Most of us knew only a line or two’. Chaudhry’s wife is a devout Christian. Her parents were Methodists and she belongs to the Assemblies of God Church.
The harmonious co-existence of the two religions in his own house, many believed, would allow Chaudhry to neutralise his political opponents from playing the religious card among the church-going and Bible wielding Fijians.
Personality is a very complex thing. Chaudhry’s Hindu personality may be more perplexing to those who have only judged him by his political personality. Moreover, there is an ignorance of the Indo-Fijian community not only from without but also from within. Indo-Fijians know little of the many things that have made them. We think we have to consider the culture from which they have come to Fiji. And this is where the subject becomes a bit more difficult and requires a bit more than sentimental warmth. If we leave aside our small Muslim population, people who were dispossessed in India by the Mutiny and dispossessed by the overthrow of the Moguls; if we leave this Muslim element aside, the bulk of the Indo-Fijian community comes from the peasantry of the Gangetic plain. The Hindi they brought to Fiji is directly descended from the popular language the Lord Buddha would have heard. But that was long time ago, that was about 600 B.C.
The Indo-Fijians come from a peasantry who were untouched by the great reform movements in India in the 19th Century, reform movements that were a response to British rule and ideas. A response, because one should remember that one of the differences between early imperialism and later imperialism is that later imperialism is an imperialism of things, inventions, machines. The early imperialism made its impact on a country like India because of its ideas-its ideas about man and society and law and the rule of law. Above all, they came from an old ancient world; the world that bred the Lord Bhuddha, the Messenger of Peace and Love, and a world where even Jesus Christ reportedly took refuge for sometime from his enemies and oppressors.
The Chaudhrys, therefore, were a unique gift to the two main religions of Fiji: the Hindu and the Christian one. The Christian religion plays an important part in the destiny of the Fijian people in Fiji. It sounds striking, but it is true. However, the slogan of Fiji-style apartheid has something to do with the theological effort of the churches, pastors, and lay preachers who openly advocate Fijian superiority in Fiji.
The VLP, Religion and Politics - VICTOR LAL
The churches in Fiji, dominated by ultra right-wing Fijian leaders, had played a very destabilising role in race relations following the first coup in Fiji, led by a supposedly lay Methodist preacher Sitiveni Rabuka. He said it was the calling of God to execute the coup, and later argued that Indo-Fijians were pagans who should be converted to Christianity. During his military reign of the country he had imposed a fundamental Sunday ban in the name of religion. In fact, the coup was planned and executed by the help of the Rev Tomasi Rakivi, a cousin of Rabuka’s, and General Secretary of the Fiji Council of Churches, and Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, now an Interim Government Minister, but than President of the Fiji Council of Churches and Secretary of the Bible Society of the South Pacific. The coup was hatched in Epworth House, the offices of the Methodist Church in Fiji, where Ratu Inoke had his office. Rabuka took his Bible and some financial ledgers as treasurer of his church circuit, to cover his going to the Epworth House meeting.
Another intermediary was parliamentarian Viliame Gonelevu, later general secretary of the CDA, who argued with Rabuka from a Christian point of view: ‘This [Bavadra] Government will not be a Christian government. We will be controlled by a government that does not have a Christian point of view.’ He later would be part of a delegation to an anti-Coalition meeting of the Western Tui Association that was organized in Bavadra’s home village of Viseisei. The other delegation from Suva consisted of Civil Aviation Authority executive Jone Koroitamana, Senators Inoke Tabua and Aporosa Rakoto, Jone Veisamasama, Ratu George Kadavulevu, David Pickering and Kubuabola.
The rest is history. Rabuka pointed out to Gonelevu and Kubuabola that the then Commander of the Army, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, now the Deputy Prime Minister in the Interim Government, would not go along with the coup plan because of his firm allegiance to the elected Bavadra government. Nailatikau had already told a passing out parade of recruits that their duty was to support the government of the day. ‘Then you will have to do it’, Kubuabola and Gonelevu told Rabuka.
Kubuabola claims to have given the Apisai Tora-led Taukei Movement of 1987 its name. ‘Up to that point of time, if you read the papers, there was no name and some people were referring to us as the Fijian movement.’ Kubuabola also states that he was the Taukei’s direct link to Rabuka. Kubuabola was also the Alliance Party’s campaign manager in Cakaudrove. Kubuabola recounted the long six-hour meeting he had in his office on 19 April 1987: ‘By four (p.m.) we spent some time in prayer and options and we asked Rabuka to prepare his side of things, you know, the military option. And all the things we were doing were the lead up. We asked Rabuka to prepare that side and when we reach a stage when he must step in, he must be ready to step in.’
So here we have, two of the supposedly God-fearing Christians in the eyes of the Fijian public, privately conspiring to beat and bash the other half of Gods Children in Fiji: the IndoFijians whose only crime in the eyes of the Lord was to exercise their right to political equality. What followed in the name of religion is all too familiar, and utterly disgraceful, that it is not worth recounting through the pages of this column. What is however clear, is that fundamental religion was mixed with politics, and would become a regular feature of Fijian politics, as demonstrated in the May 1999 general elections.
The Veitokani ni Lewenivanu Vakarisito Party (VLV) was formed in direct opposition to the SVT and projected a strong Christian outlook, translating its name as the Christian Democratic Alliance (CDA). The newly formed party had very clear and close links with the Methodist Church, with one of its former presidents, Rev Manasa Lasaro, a strong advocate of Rabuka’s Sunday Observance Decree, announcing his candidature for the party. The VLP saw itself as a potential power broker in the shifting fortunes of political parties as it remained detached from the politics of Coalition. Chaudhry, on the other hand, indicated an interest in reaching out to the VLP, as he declared: ‘We have not thought of joining them yet but if we do, we should have some common grounds for a coalition.’
The VLP had begun to attract some big Fijian names: Ratu Epeli Ganilau, the former military commander, son of the late President Ratu Penaia Ganilau, and son-in-law of Ratu Mara, declared his intention to run for the newly-formed party. He was followed by Poseci Bune, the former Ambassador to the United Nations, who warned that the VLP had been formed to ‘bring an end to the degradation and decay taking place in our country today under a corrupt [Rabuka] Government’. As the election campaign heated up, the VLP could boast a strong line-up of former SVT supporters and ex-senior civil servants. There were some surprise inclusions, notably that of Asesela Ravuvu, now the Chairman of the Constitution Review Commission (CRW).
He had a hand in drafting the 1990 racist Constitution at the behest of Rabuka and others from the SVT days. Others included the former Assembly of God General Secretary Ratu Josaia Rayawa, who was elected the President of the VLP. Ratu Alipate Kubuabola, the interim President, announced the names of some of their candidates to contest the next election, which also included the Army legal advisor Tevita Bukarau, controversial former police officer and a law graduate Naipote Vere, Lautoka lawyer Kitione Vuetaki, and former political activist Salote Qalo.
One of the leading lights was Adi Koila Nailatikau, the daughter of Ratu Mara, and wife of Ratu Epeli, the current Deputy Prime Minister.
Without going into details, the VLP chewed up a sizeable chunk (20%) of SVT’s Fijian votes, and later went into coalition with Chaudhry’s Peoples Coalition Government. They were rewarded with two Cabinet posts (Adi Koila - Ministry of Tourism and Poseci Bune, the Agriculture Ministry). The rest of the VLP remained outside the Coalition, sulking, brooding, and calculating their next move as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Many were seen hobnobbing with George Speight inside the Parliamentary Complex and a few later ended up with him on Nukultraz Island.
Some have joined the Interim Government of Laisenia Qarase. The management board of the VLP has also declared that it no longer supports the Chaudhry Government. A defeated VLP candidate, Ravuvu, is now the chairman of the CRC with the avowed objective of re-introducing a similar or stringer version of the 1990 Constitution, and with strong Christian underpinnings.
A hard core of VLP supporters are now calling for the Christianization of Fiji. Their attitude, in short, amounts to virtual dethronement of Lord Jesus Christ in favour of a political Satan. They have a monopoly of God, and a right to interpret the teachings of Jesus Christ. To them, God, not godliness, is the Fijian’s sole preserve. Therefore, in the name of God, they proclaim Fijian supremacy. Do these followers of Jesus Christ know what colour their Prophet had and where He was born?
Jesus Christ was born in a part of Asia and not Pacific Islands. His philosophy was clearly Asiatic. Being not a European or Fijian, when did he confer the right to supremacy on the Fijian person? Where did he say that Indo-Fijians should be treated as inferior? Now let us hope that Jesus Christ comes back to earth once again to visit his Nationalist Fijian devotees. Then He will realise the intolerable and inhuman injustices perpetrated in His name. He would Himself be declared a prohibited immigrant at Nadi airport as an Asiatic. If he wielded some influence, He would be allowed to land on the scared shores of Fiji on a temporary permit under humiliating conditions.
If He claimed to be Redeemer of Fiji, He would be charged with heresy and locked up with George Speight on Nukultraz Island. He would be charged under the Public Order Act or under the Riotous Assemblies Act for inciting hostility between the Fijian and non-Fijian races, sentenced to a period of imprisonment or even whacked on the buttock with a warrior club and finally deported to the land of His birth in Asia.
The next person these very religious followers of the VLP would single out for punishment would be Mr Chaudhry’s Christian wife. They might, just, allow her into the Assemblies of God Church as a Christian, but prevent her and her husband from sharing the same political kingdom because they are, after all, of Indo-Fijian descent in Fiji.
Religion would be a mockery if it recognised inferiority of man and became an instrument of forging chains for oppressed people. The role of religion should be always one of an emancipator, never an enslaver of the Children of God. Jesus Christ, himself a non-European, would be the last person to proclaim the creed of Fijian superiority. As a prophet, he would never conceive the inequality of man. He was an avowed exponent of human brotherhood. He said: ‘God hath created all men in His image;’ ‘God hath chosen the weak ones of the world to confound the mighty;’ and ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is in all.’
Christianity would never have become a world religion if it were founded on race differences. ‘Every great affirmation of Christianity,’ says Buell G. Gallagher in Colour and Conscience, ‘cries out against distinctions drawn between people on the basis of skin pigmentation. It is not in response to the Christian conscience that we erect colour bars and build racial caste systems. It is not in pursuance of the teachings of Jesus that we nurture race prejudice. It is not in the Bible, nor in the writings of the early fathers of the Church, nor in the great creeds of Christendom, that we find support for the dogma of white supremacy (in our case, Fijian supremacy)’.
Now, a few power greedy Fijians in the VLP and other parties, masquerading as Fijian nationalists, are distorting the Scripture. To be sure, there are men and some women out in our midst who have managed to, and still are, tear a few verses of the Scriptures from their context, and by ignoring all the weight of Biblical and Christian teaching, to erect a fantastic edifice in which Fijian racial supremacy passes as an uneasy existence in Fiji.
We have chosen to highlight the VLP, for its members would have been the last ones to be suspected of turning Fiji, a Garden of Eden, into a Satan's Paradise. The rivers of blood that flowed in Fiji recently is partly to be blamed on these group of ‘holy’ passengers who had embarked from the VLP’s ship called ‘Noahs Shark’. It was not the Chaudhry Government which brought Fiji’s problem to its ugly head but the 1997 Constitution with its provision of mandatory power sharing, which could be declined not by the victor but the vanquished in an election in Fiji.
While the so-called Mr and Mrs 10% of the VLP joined the Kingdom of the Coalition Government, the rest stayed outside to bring it down. Bune, on joining the PCG, had told the nation: ‘We in the CDA [VLP] have adopted a principled approach in this important matter, as in all else. Our Christian principles advise love for our neighbour and co-operation with our fellow human beings. This accords with the principles of the democracy we espouse.’ He said they were dedicated to building a united, multi-cultural nation where social justice, equality and harmony prevailed among all communities, irrespective of race, class or religion’.
As we will show in the next column, some of Bune’s bunch of God-fearing men and women were to be joined by other more overtly racist and politically opportunists ones who were left behind while a part of their kinsmen from the FAP and PANU had entered the Coalition.
The VLP had been formed not to destroy Chaudhry but to defeat the SVT. Chaudhry kept to his electoral promise and got two of them (Bune and Adi Koila) into the Cabinet. Chaudhry, the political hunter- was to become the hunted from now onwards as he began his journey from sugar plantation to the prime ministership.
There was nowhere to hide, even under the umbrella of the 1997 Constitution.
In fact, it was the new Constitution, which was the poisonous apple that whetted the appetite of those outside Chaudhry’s political kingdom to indulge in treachery and bloodletting. The provisions of the Constitution, in short, allowed the religious amorals to meet the political amoral ones in a grand coalition to bring an early and bloody end to the People's Coalition Government.
Some Fijian members inside the Coalition also saw the provisions of the Constitution as a vehicle for their own political agendas and personal ambitions.
To be continued
Where was Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum in 2000? He was busy writing Letters to the Editor in the Fiji Times, complaining about the Fiji Muslim League:
by A S Khaiyum
The claim by some executive members of the Fiji Muslim League ('League') that Muslims support a review of our  Constitution [of Fiji] and demand separate seats merely because the executive says so is a gross misrepresentation of the views of the everyday and majority of Muslims in our country.
The executive lack the mandate to speak as a representative body for Muslims since the League has been and is essentially an administrative institution managing and maintaining mosques, schools, orphanages, a sugar cane farm and real estate.
In addition to the lack of mandate the arguments and justifications espoused by the executive for a review and separate seats are flawed. They are flawed because our  Constitution [of Fiji], in particular the Bill of Rights, namely, sections 38(2) and 35 more than adequately guarantee and protect religious freedom and minority rights. Indeed if an almost identical South African Bill of Rights provision protects the rights of the minority South African Muslims then what is so special about and differentiates Muslims in Fiji?
On the basis that last century the then nascent League made submissions on separate seats, it is argued today that so called Muslim rights will be achieved if these seats as submitted then are allocated now. To refer to a resolution passed some seventy years ago, in an era with its own specificities and dynamics, as justification for separate seats in today's Fiji illustrates a complete ignorance and denial of our political, social and constitutional history/experience as a nation-state.
Indeed if we were to hark back and uphold the standards of 1929 then commoner indigenous Fijians and women would not have the right to vote. Fiji and the rest of the world have moved along. Clearly such absurd referrals to the past illustrate an enormous vacuum in basic critical thinking and analysis, discourse and a general prevalence of obscurantism within the executive.
Furthermore, it aptly demonstrates a complete ignorance of contemporary developments in and interpretations of Islamic law and jurisprudence vis-a-vis constitutional, human rights and international law and conventions. More tragically, however, the opportunism of the executive displays the absence of and lack of belief in justice, compassion, selflessness and basic human decency.
Most Muslims in Fiji know that certain officials treat the League and its branches as their own little fiefdoms. Fiefdoms, where nepotism is known to be rampant at most times; where certain families and individuals have reigned as executives literally for decades; where children and families of well-to-do officials benefit from scholarships which were and are meant for poor students; where chairs of numerous committees are held by single individuals; where businessmen and business interests are over represented; where women,the youth, various provinces and other denominations are either underrepresented or not represented at all; where appeals to religious dogma and unity are utilized in response to queries of administrative/financial discrepancies and where certain individuals view the League merely as a means to acquire access to power, influence and ultimately money - all under the guise of "protecting Muslim interests."
Indeed the absence of proper representation, transparency, accountability and ultimately legitimacy also plague other local institutions in contemporary Fiji.
The executive of the League cannot and does not represent the political opinion, views, philosophies of individuals or the bulk of Muslims in Fiji. These self appointed guardians do not speak for the masses.
Therefore, the current administration and all Fiji Islanders must understand and recognize the majority of Muslims who believe in basic human decency, justice, democracy and constitutionalism reject the idea of separate seats and/or a review of our  Constitution [of Fiji].
University of Hong Kong