A piece by Thakur Ranjit Singh on Pacific Scoop, following the Auckland launch of Brij Lal’s book on Jai Ram Reddy, attempts to compare Reddy to Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry
In doing so, he quotes a military analogy used by Brij Lal in his book titled “In the eye of the Storm”, in describing Reddy and Chaudhry. Not surprisingly, it downgrades the latter’s leadership “as lacking the attributes that transform field commanders into successful commanding generals”.
Reddy on the other hand is presented as the commanding general “possessed with a strategic vision with an ability to forge coalitions to form a broad front”.
I have not read the book yet. However, if the quote above is anything to judge by, then it appears to confirm the reputation that Brij Lal is fast acquiring as an author whose credibility is questionable when it comes to Indian politics and NFP leadership.
He seems unable to rise above his deep prejudices regarding Jai Ram Reddy and the National Federation Party and his well known antipathy towards Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry and his party.
That is fine. Writers have the licence to push their own perspectives and prejudices re a subject matter even when dealing with public personalities. However, such writings can then hardly lay claim to being credible, objective or analytical historical exposès or biographies.
Even in his previous works, Brij Lal (the academic with political aspirations) has shown a distinct lack of objectivity, and even a disquieting disregard for facts when dealing with Jai Ram Reddy and Mahendra Chaudhry.
His antipathy towards Mahendra Chaudhry is understandable considering the enormous loss of face he suffered as a result of Labour’s astounding victory in the 1999 general elections. Brij Lal, albeit an Australian citizen, had campaigned widely for Reddy and the NFP during the elections.
But what is less widely known, was the SVT-NFP understanding that in the event of an SVT-NFP victory in 1999, Rabuka was to be Prime Minister, Reddy deputy Prime Minister and to Brij Lal was to go the singular honour of becoming the country’s first Indian Vice President. Alas, Labour’s victory thwarted these ambitious connivings!
Neither I nor the Labour Party grudge Mr Reddy his moment of glory in retirement. But what is of serious historical concern is the attempt by Brij Lal, further publicised without question by Singh to turn the guy into something he never was.
In doing so, he tends to either ignore the real facts or distort and manipulate them as is obvious from the two quotes from the book highlighted by Thakur Ranjit Singh who should have been more perceptive of the truth having witnessed first hand much of what Brij Lal is writing about.
First, let me point out that anyone looking objectively at Reddy’s tenure as a politician, would find the very title of the book In the Eye of the Storm, a misnomer considering that he had an established record of running away time and again from the ‘eye of the storm’.
There was that notorious case in 1983, when as Leader of the Opposition he abandoned his party and walked out of Parliament vowing never to return again as long as Tomasi Vakatora was Speaker of the House. He was afterwards forced to go around defending his actions when the Alliance accused him, during the 1987 general elections, of “running away from the battle field”.
He ran away again after the second coup in 1987, abandoning his people to the violence, injustices and repressive policies of a military dictatorship, and only returned after some semblance of law and order had returned under the civilian government of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
It was left to the Labour leadership to take up the cudgels against an extremely repressive and authoritarian regime after the 1987 coups and the fight back to some semblance of democracy and constitutional rule .
Brij Lal’s quote at the beginning of the book using Reddy’s (what he calls) “prophetic” statement of 1993 … “I offer you a vision of Fiji of which historians will say that, in the midst of tragedy, we found the courage and wisdom, and foresight and determination to lead the nation away from the precipice into a prosperous future.”
An honest biographer would have examined this to see whether this was not just the mouthing of platitudes or whether Reddy had actually displayed such courage and wisdom “in the midst of tragedy”. As far as most of us know, Reddy had in fact displayed a singular lack of courage by deserting the nation to its tragic fate.
Let’s look at Lal’s final assessment quoted on P720. He says, “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 moment, managed to make hope and history rhyme”.
Again Lal’s glowing assessment is hardly borne out by facts. When was Reddy ever around “to witness and endure the worst that Fiji had to offer”?
But more ridiculous is the claim that despite the worst… “ he could still find hope and optimism in his fellow countrymen”. This assumption is categorically belied by Reddy’s own analysis of his political career as “It has been a wasted 30 years”. What a revealing quote. Where does it reflect “the hope and the optimism” that Brij Lal sees?
Lal describes him as a man “who rose above disunity and divisions”. Yet, an objective look at Reddy’s political career will show a man who is remembered for sowing the seeds of disunity wherever he went – he wreaked discord within the National Federation Party and divided it so irrevocably that the NFP could never again rise to its former strength; he had an extremely acrimonious relationship with former Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
So much so that this leader now lauded by Brij Lal as “foresighted and visionary” reportedly summarily rejected a proposal by Ratu Mara on a government of national unity after the 1982 general elections, without even bothering to discuss it with him.
According to Ratu Mara in his autobiography “The Pacific Way”, the proposal was discourteously shoved “under my door way”. That was the end of what could have been a visionary way forward for Fiji way back in 1983.
Reddy’s backstabbing of SM Koya and other shinanigans that created so much acrimony and infighting among NFP-ites is now legendary among those acquainted with the political history of the Indian community.
I have no idea how author Brij Lal acquits his hero during this tragic episode in NFP history, but it is well known how Jai Ram Reddy along with Karam Ramrakha/ Irene Jai Narayan and their clique used the ALTA debate in 1976 to create a leadership crisis within the NFP which spelled the beginning of the end for this once powerful party.
History has proved SM Koya right in the principled stand he then took on the issue of 30 year leases under ALTA. The NFP in-fighting cost cane farmers the offer of 50 year leases. The resulting rancour split the NFP into the Dove/Flower factions at the time and no amount of plastering later on could heal the deep rift that had been created. The split was so bitter that for the first time in NFP’s history, religious and communal divisions were shamelessly exploited to win support and discredit the Koya group.
The acrimonious power struggle re-surfaced during the 4-day crisis in April 1977 to prevent SM Koya from taking over the prime ministership following NFP’s win in the general elections. This event has remained a blight on NFP history, and Reddy’s role in this whole sordid episode is well known and documented.
It is not my job to recount how Reddy continued to undermine the NFP and create disunity and disharmony within the NFP, even after assuming the mantle of Party leadership in 1982 when he became the Leader of the Opposition. But I wonder if Brij Lal has given an honest account in his book of how Reddy spawned the Youth movement in NFP to oppose Koya and widen the gulf between the two factions; and worse still, his extreme disloyalty to NFP in supporting the candidacy of Devendra Singh from the Youth wing rather than NFP’s official candidate Dr Balwant Singh Rakka in the 1984 by-election for the Lautoka Indian Communal seat vacated by Jai Ram Reddy.
As for Mr Reddy’s vision of Fiji: let me ask what visionary leadership and statesmanship was on display when Reddy as Leader of the Opposition and Sitiveni Rabuka (Prime Minister) connived to entrench the system of racial or communal voting in the 1997 Constitution? Not to mention other serious flaws in the electoral system such as the lack of a vote of equal value. At work was unbridled political expediency rather than any kind of farsightedness or visionary leadership for a multiracial and integrated Fiji!
Reddy and Rabuka had completely reversed the recommendations of the Reeves Commission Report on the electoral system – that Fiji move away from race-based politics by adopting a majority of open seats as opposed to communal seats, recommending a ratio of 45 open and 25 communal. Instead, the two “visionary” leaders agreed on 46 Communal and only 25 Open seats, thus once again entrenching race based politics in Fiji.
From the little evidence we have received to date, it seems futile to hope that In the Eye of the Storm will be an objective and analytical study of Jai Ram Reddy as a political leader. More likely, it is written to create a hero for the school children of Fiji who to Brij Lal’s shock and chagrin had never heard of his “political idol”.
Finally, my advice to Thakur Ranjit Singh, Brij Lal and others of their ilk is: to please show some respect for the will of the people. In three general elections -1999, 2001 and 2006 – the people of Fiji have categorically rejected the National Federation Party and its leadership. NFP’s popularity successively eroded from 35% in 1999 to less than 10% in 2006.
This cannot simply be attributed to the manipulations of Mahendra Chaudhry alone, as they appear to canvass in their writings. There had to be deep flaws and shortcomings within the NFP leadership for such a massive erosion of support for the party. It is time so-called academics and political observers came to terms with this reality.
Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi