March 01, 2010

Back to the Coup of '87: The Questions Still Remain

In following the current political upheaval in Fiji from 2006, it is not hard during the course of various research strands to find oneself confused at the myriad of tell-tale tracks that emanated in the  coups of 2006, 2000 (where there was a coup within a coup) and 1987.

For one, many players have been active in two or more of the coups. Voreqe Bainimarama is certainly in that category and the current CRW soldiers undergoing our kangaroo court processes are also in the mix.

However it does not detract us from the task at hand which is to ensure that Bainimarama and his treasonous lot make way for the will of the people at the earliest opportunity.

We post here some articles of interest highlighting 2 perspectives of Ratu Mara and the coup of 1987. 

The first article is from the Indian High Commissioner to Fiji from 1976-1989. The second article is an unofficial transcript of the late Ratu Mara's interview by Richard Broadbridge on Fiji TV's Close-Up programme.

We look forward to the day when can advocate for a wholistic Inquiry into all 4 coups and bring all perpetrators to justice.
 A colossus who died lonely
The Rediff Special/T P Sreenivasan

February 14, 2005

T P Sreenivasan, among India's most distinguished diplomats, continues his column based on his encounters
with some of the world's most famous people.
Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi were neck and neck in the race for the Man of the 20th Century, but when it came to the Man of the 20th Century from the South Pacific, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara of Fiji had no competition.

He strode the region literally like a colossus, standing head and shoulders above his peers in the Pacific
islands in physical and political stature. He shaped Fijian politics for more than half a century, first as a hereditary monarch of one of the island groups, then as a democratically elected leader and a champion of multiracialism and finally as a willing instrument in the hands of his army and the fanatic Fijians.
He died a sad man at the age of 83, a victim of his own machinations.

A sensitive post at any time for India on account of the Fiji Indians being half the population, Fiji was on
the verge of a revolution when I met Ratu (Chief) Mara on my first call on him as the Indian high commissioner in 1986. I had known that he looked at Indian diplomats with suspicion as he believed that some of them had incited the Fiji Indians against him. He had asked for the recall of a lady high commissioner, alleging that she had interfered in Fiji's internal affairs. Even my immediate predecessor, with whom he had a good equation for more than three years, was threatened with expulsion when he took up issue with Ratu Mara on some remarks he made on Indian democracy.

I also knew that he treated high commissioners as members of his court rather than as representatives of sovereign states.

True to form, he delivered a long monologue about how some Indian high commissioners had fallen into the trap of assuming the leadership of the Fiji Indians and urged me not to fall prey to that temptation. He spoke of exceptions like Bhagwan Singh and A P Venkateswaran and asked me to emulate their examples.

By the time I reached Fiji, the election campaign for 1987 had already begun and Mara was facing the biggest challenge in his political career, when a Fijian, Dr Timoci Bavadra, became the leader of the Labour Party, which was aligned to the Fiji Indian party, the National Federation Party.

He was sore that the Indians wanted Bavadra, rather than him as the prime minister and told me each time I met him that no one had done more for Fiji Indians than him. He would have understood if they had backed an Indian as prime minister, he said, knowing well that previous efforts to make an Indian the prime minister of Fiji had not succeeded.

Our relations were cordial and whenever we met on the golf course and elsewhere, we had interesting conversations on India, Fiji and the rest of the world. Once our conversation turned to Burma, from where I had gone to Fiji. I told him about the proverbial forbearance of the Burmese people, who had put up with dictatorship for more than half a century. He asked me why they were so tolerant of autocratic rule. I speculated that their religion, Buddhism, had something to do with it.

Mara was most interested in the conversation. At the end of it, he told me in a conspiratorial tone, "Why don't you take back all these Hindus and send me some Buddhists instead?" Although he said it in a light vein, his thought process was revealing in the context of Fiji.

Mara and I shared a passion for golf and the game brought us together often. Whenever I went to see the foreign secretary to convey messages to the prime minister, he used to say that since I met the prime minister more often than he did, I could as well give him the messages directly.

Mara set aside Wednesday afternoons for golf and even Ministers and high officials were free to take off from office on Wednesdays for a game. The Nadi Golf Club has a memento of Mara's prowess in golf. He is supposed to have scored a hole-in-one on a par 4 hole, a rare feat indeed. But some cynics believe that it was a hoax by Mara's Indian chauffeur and caddy, Babu Singh.

Mara indeed hit a long ball which grazed a tree close to the green. After several minutes of fruitless search around the green, Babu Singh found the ball in the hole. No one else had seen the ball falling into the hole, but Mara created history, as vouched for by Babu Singh.

As the election campaign gained momentum, I could see that Mara was becoming nervous and irritable. As more and more Indians expressed support to Bavadra, Mara became suspicious of India's role and mine in the whole process, even though we had scrupulously avoided interfering in it.

Mara made no secret of his concern when he heard that I was present at a Hindu convention, which endorsed Bavadra. My explanation that I had also been to the Christian and Muslim conventions did not impress him.

Then came a request from Mara to visit India before the election. Simultaneously, Fiji Indian leaders told me a visit by Mara to India on the eve of the election would be inappropriate as the encomiums that would be showered on him by Indian leaders would be played up at election rallies.

I reported both and I was told that there was no way a visit could be accommodated before the election. Mara was displeased with the news and suspected that I was not sympathetic to his case.

He was totally devastated after his defeat in the election. He barely spoke to me when I met him on the golf course and expressed my sympathy and it was obvious that he believed that India and I personally did not do anything to get him Fiji Indian votes.

He had no qualms about diplomats interfering in the internal affairs of Fiji as long as they were on his side. India's new experiment with diplomacy, the art of maintaining an ambassador in a country, whose regime India did not recognise, was particularly painful for me as I happened to be at the centre of it.

Ratu Mara responded to our policy by his own undeclared boycott of Indian functions and the Indian ambassador. We were at some functions together, even though we both tried to avoid such occasions and then it was hide and seek for several hours.

I was convinced that Mara had blessed Sitiveni Rabuka's coup, if not instigated it, not because I had any evidence to prove it, but because I knew that nothing important could happen in Fiji without his blessings.

He was the greatest loser in the election and he was the bitterest enemy of the Bavadra government. He was increasingly impatient outside office, as he saw himself as the rightful owner of the Fiji throne, which was usurped by democracy, which he once characterised as a 'foreign flower.'

He could not remain outside the military government for long and as the prime minister appointed by the coup leader, he fully colluded with the fanatic Fijians. He finally abandoned his multiracial mantle and revealed his true identity. The only alibi he could offer for his change of colour was that he simply could not see his country going down the drain on account of the coup and its aftermath.

Ratu Mara maintained his links with many among the Fiji Indians, who were with him throughout and many of them tried to bring us together for a dialogue. I was not averse to it behind the scenes, but he was determined that he would have nothing to do with me.

He seized the opportunity of a speech I made at a gurdwara to ask me to leave on the ground that my speech had hurt communal harmony in Fiji. He issued my expulsion orders from Brussels on the basis of a report from Rabuka that my continued stay in Fiji would jeopardise the imposition of a new constitution.

Ratu Mara died a sad man, as he was disowned by his own people. He manipulated Rabuka to his advantage, but he had no such control over George Speight and others who overthrew Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry after democracy was restored and Mara became president.

The fanatics, who took over control of the country virtually exiled him to his Lau island and he died there.

He was mourned by friends and foes alike as no other man had dominated Fiji and the South Pacific for nearly fifty years as he had done. Ratu Mara loved his country, but saw it as his inheritance, which he had to run in his own way.

Independence, democracy, elections etc were necessary evils of modern times, but his own vision of his country was of a Dominion under the British Crown, with himself as the sole custodian of the laws of the land. He expected his people, Fijians and Indians alike, to pay obeisance to him and accept him as the overlord of the islands.

He was an excellent administrator, but he had no patience with dissenting opinion. He saw Fiji Indians as an essential ingredient in the Fiji milieu and he helped them to the extent that they felt comfortable enough to stay in Fiji and generate wealth.

He thought that he had found a formula for perpetual subjugation of the Fiji Indians when they accepted the 1970 constitution, but he was disillusioned by his own people, who sided with the Indians to overthrow his feudalism.

Successive Indian governments saw through his game, but thought that he was the best bet for the survival of the Fiji Indians and played his multiracial game. In an earlier era, Ratu Mara would have been an ideal king, a benevolent dictator; he became an anachronism when the forces of change swept through the islands.

T P Sreenivasan was high commissioner/ambassador of India to Fiji from 1986 to 1989.
Fiji TV: Closeup, 29 April 2001
Unofficial Transcript: Closeup Interview - Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Fiji TV, 29 April

Q: There seems to be some sort of story, where people believed that you were very very rich man and your family accumulated a lot of money in the years while you were a Prime Minister.

A: Yes, I had heard that and I don't know how they could have concluded that. I received my money from the treasury, I used to very early to go the clubs, but when the burden of looking after my children came upon me I tried to live a quite life, and save as much as I could.

Q: Have you ever taken money or have you ever been offered or supposed to be offered money.

A: The first money I have been offered was as District Officer Ba. People of Vatukoula and Lau called me and gave me "Kamunaga" and 7 - was it 7000 or 700 - pounds as a volanitabaco to take with my family overseas. I took the money and the "Kamunaga" to the Governor and said this has been given to me. And he said you take it, it was given to you vakavanua, you take it.

Q: Over the years?

A: Over the years? I have been sustained by cane field, the cane plantation I have. I started the plantation in 1990, eh 1980. I spent a lot of money in it but it was worthwhile bringing me as much as I earn.

Q: Have you ever taken any money that was illegal, anything that was illegal?
A: I was brought up as a district officer and I usually inspect the `tulawanitaukei' provincial funds, co-operative funds. Its part of our work to check al these things. If that is your work, can you turn it around and slip some in and you'll really have the conscious to do the same thing again. I have been well supplied as you can see by my people. As far as food is concerned, it was never a worry. And I, my father did not know where his food was coming from. And I have more or less the same when I come to Lau. When I am in Suva the Lauan people also supply me.

Q: You must have been offered bribes along the years as Prime Minster level.
A: No

Q: Nothing
A: No. I have never been bribed as a Prime Minister.

Q: And not offered?
A: No I have never been bribed or offered a bribe. You find out.

Q: What happened to Bavadra? Obviously, if you look in the photo's you were very disappointed losing the election. This was one I suppose you tried very hard to … This is a testing one for you. If you look in the photos you look very disappointed. What happened to Bavadra? Where did he go wrong? Did he do anything that was wrong?

A: I didn't see anything he did wrong. I was relishing meeting Bavadra as a leader of the opposition in Parliament. I thought I could match him. And

Q: [inaudible - modest in saying match him - inaudible]
A: I had made a remark which probably was probably misinterpreted. The Fijians were running right in Suva almost a week before Rabuka, and we playing golf in Pacific Harbour and we came back to Falo or to Solo's house and I said look its our people that I'm thinking of, all this burning and running riots, who will go to jail, it won't be the Indian, it will be the Fijians. And that was misinterpreted. I say that this is the time for the Fijian to do something. And that I was the brain behind the movement.

Q: Rabuka mentioned in the book that he was sitting beside you on the ground and you as the chief commander then asked the servant the carry out the coup.

A: It was very convenient of him to say that because we were at Yanuca. I was the deputy Chairman of the Democratic Union of the Pacific, and we started at 8 I think and I was called to the telephone and to be told there's a coup, the government has been overthrown - it was round about 9, 10 when the Parliament sat they had done then. I could not believe that. In fact I assured the audience that it was not true that this was only some misinterpretation. What I fear was a military government. With the greatest respect, I didn't think that Rabuka would be able to run a good military government, as he did not get to top of the ladder in the army, not in Sinai.

Q: How did you meet him in the first place? Was that at that golf venue…
A: Yes yes

Q: … or earlier?
A: Earlier? Mainly at Golf.

Q: Why because he played golf?
A: He plays golf.

Q: And that was the only reason?
A: Yes

Q: For you he is just a military officer who enjoyed a game of golf?
A: Yes

Q: [inaudible.. on the coup in 1987, what happened, why did happened, who did it?
A: No Rabuka said something which surprised me. He said the army had come to stop the Fijian fighting the, was it fighting the Indians?

Q: He said he came to do that to prevent the bloodshed.
A: While it was [inaudible] that the Fijians were ready to club the Indians and he came in to stop it. But he is the only with the armour. The Fijians had just cane knives and sticks.

Q: How do you describe what he did?
A: I think it was disgusting. I think it was disgusting. He showed in the 7 years of his… he couldn't run a government.

Q: Your relationship with him today?
A: It's never been good. Never has. I don't think it is going to be good. I think he has something to do with the people coming to the ship to get me out.

Q: We can just go up to that Sir, move on to Mr. Chaudhry's victory as Prime Minister. You say that he could have been one of the best leaders of Fiji….
A: I believe that if he had completed his time, maybe some stern warning from some of the friends not to be too arrogant, he could prove to be one of the best Prime Minister we have had up to this time.

Q: The day that he won and made announcements of his Prime Minister, what went through your mind?

A: Good. Excellent. This is the manifesto. This man is going to benefit the Fijians more than anybody else.

Q: Did anything bother you? About the Fijians .. possible …
A: No, I didn't think that there would be a reaction. Because also in the vote counting there were a lot of Fijians who voted for him. And I thought well good luck let them carry on. And when the three of them came up to see me - Jokapeci Koroi, Tupeni Baba, and Chaudhary, and Baba said that we have unanimously voted him to be the Prime Minister I said that's it. The constitution say that whoever has, whoever I believe has the confidence of the House should be the Prime Minister. And he had 38 seats out of 72.

Q: You congratulated him?
A: Oh yes.

Q: What did you say to him?
A: I said well, I'm glad you have won. You have opportunity now to carry out the manifesto which the people obviously were attracted by and good luck to them, and if there I could do anything to help, and we used to meet every week.

Q: You were willing to help?
A: Yes, that's my job as the President.

Q: You also were watching along the way. Where did he go wrong. Did he go wrong at all?
A: No, I didn't think he'd go wrong. I did not think he go wrong. Talk about these 2 sections of the freehold that are supposed to come to the Fijians, were put into the pipeline by the previous government but I did tell him don't touch the land for 2 years, carry out your manifesto first; when they think you are an angel then you can talk to them about something else.

Q: And you watched him as he tried to push the land..
A: Yes, I think as he developed he got other advice that … swayed him.

Q: Do you think he was arrogant towards the end?
A: I knew Chaudhary as a trade unionist and I used to be his adversary. That description is not far away.

Q: Sir, the day George Speight's [inaudible]. Explain what happened that morning to you, May 19, last year?

A: A really shock and confusion. The first one to contact me was Rabuka, by telephone. I'm ready he said. It was about 11 o'clock. I said what for, and he said you've never heard. Well I said there's something in parliament. And I said come and see me in the afternoon. What really shocked me is that it used to be her Majesty's army but now it's a republican's army. Whatever you call the CRW they were part of the army. They took Speight to the Parliament. Where - the Constitution says that law and order must be maintained by the police. If they need help the army should be on stand by, ready. And now the army has taken someone to go and take over the parliament. Where do we stand!

Q: Rabuka was ready to what - takeover as what?
A: I didn't know what he was ready for. He said I'm ready. To help I suppose. So I got him to come. Two mornings afterwards I… both Savua and I usually called him, Savua and Tuatoko. That Sunday morning Ratu Epeli Ganilau also came to see me and I said you should wait until we hear what we discussed. As soon as they set down, I said you two, I want you to know and I pointed Rabuka and Savua, you have a hand in this thing.

Q: What was their reaction?
A: Oh, you could see it on their face. "Oh I was .. I only went up to the QEB for the celebration of 14th of May and I believe" he stayed on a little while longer and telling humor away. And Savua had a meeting with Konrote and Ligairi that Tuesday before the march and we didn't see any police standing largely you know looking at the sides of the road as the marchers come up. Not around the Parliament.

Q: You still think today that they had a part to play in the coup?
A: Well, I'm telling you the facts. Am I right there were police on the right and left of the marchers, telling, seeing that they march properly? Were there police - there must be intelligence - were there police around the parliament trying to stop people from coming in as they knew that there was going to be, that the members would have been in danger?

Q: You warned the commander the week before he was going. What did you say to him?
A: He said he came to go to let me know that he is going to Norway for a conference. I said do you believe that this is the right time to go and he assured me and said there was some marches in the West a week ago and everything was all right and the reports I get was ok. I said alright, if you think it's alright, you can go.

Then in one of the discussion, I was talking about the Tuatoko in there, I said, I said I think the best thing to do is to invest the Parliament. There was already a number -200, 2000 or whatever it is - don't allow anyone to cross Vuya, Queen Elizabeth and Ratu Sukuna. And see and negotiate, and involuntary Tuatoko said oh.. dave na dra (flood of blood). I couldn't ah… You see the reaction of the man on whom I should depend for security. I - I, well it so happened there did dave , but I didn't think it come out from the Acting Head of the army. So - uhm

Q: So we look at the speeches you were making on Television that time That was the first time we have seen you in a long time making a public address of this nature. Will or as President, for you, were you, it looked like as if you were begging, you were begging for some sort of sense of, for people to actually think this out properly.
A: Yes, its - that was true. I ..I - By that time I had been in touch with a lot of people I thought would stand by me in the front row of the scrum.. didn't know it was going to collapse. So I thought the best thing to do is to talk them into their senses.

Q: You had a child as a hostage. Did that anyway affect your decision as President?
A: No. When I said that I knew when it was already said, daughter was going to be the first to be shot. And I said to myself I already got a son who was dead, not shot by soldiers but killed by motorist.

We will all going to be dead. She preferred to be in there.

Q: Feel proud of her that she preferred …?
A: Very very proud.

Q: You were willing to loose a daughter too?
A: What else can you do?

Q: We go to, why did they, a few days later, how did this removal of you as President come along?

A: That I do not know to this day. They had been out, I think, was it [the day they ransacked your station], they were coming up to the Government house to get me. I just thought it was going to be a good show up here.

I have enough people and I rang up my son actually who is up at the camp and, I said how about the security.

He said there is 80 of us, ready to come down and the next thing I knew is that Jo Brown dashed in and said your family has already moved and you have to move, the boat is ready to take you out. I didn't have time to ask, even ask a question.

Q: Just that you were being evacuated?
A: Yes. I have just been assured that there are 80 people ready there to come down to be.. to stop these people from coming. And they will be [from] a height.

Q: Was Jo Brown acting for somebody else?
A: Well, I didn't know at the time.

Q: Was he loyal to you?
A: I can't even say now.

Q: What happened afterwards?
A: Well we went and then we were told on the way over that either you go on the boat, the Restaurant boat or another landing at Stinson Parade or at the navy. We eventually got off the at the navy. When I got out there my whole poor family was all bundled in the…

Q: the Kiro

A: .. the Kiro. So we went out and anchored at the passage. About 8 o'clock the boat moved, out towards Beqa.

I heard later that there was a boat that was suspicious that was cruising around and they found dynamite or something in it later. And I slept well at night surprisingly. And next morning asked Brad - Any message? He said no. I went up and sat in front, in the sun. About 11 o'clock - any message? No. So I came back and had lunch and then back to my cabin and read. And in the evening, there was a navy boat approaching. And the navy boat approaching, came along side… I think it was Levuka or Lautoka. In it was Rabuka, Savua, the Commander, Ratu Epeli Ganilau and four officers of the army, I can't recall their names now; I believe Vatu was one and perhaps one from Naselesele - I mean I naively thought that that its going to be one of the top guys. [Asks someone else: You know the name?] Naivalurua. And there was a presentation of "Kamunaqa" asking me to stand aside.

Q: What was your reaction to that?
A: Surprisingly very calm, unexcited. I look at these two: here's the Commander with all his army and the police who is going to be with me it I resist. They want me out, they want to abrogate the Constitution and this is exactly what Speight wants. If they belong to Speight and I don't belong to them…

Q: …. Well being the Commander of Chief, didn't it go through your mind that you could have sacked the whole lot of them?

A: And then what? It's an exercise in futility. I thought they know that I was the Commander in Chief, not that I know that I am the Commander in Chief, and they should behave; know how to behave to the Commander in Chief.

Q: You regret now that you accepted the "Kamunaqa".
A: No! "Kamunaqa" is something that you present and then express your view. And if they prefer to do it that way, then yes, I accept it.

Q: You accepted it as a traditional sacking?
A: At that time [tuvakatikitiki ?inaudible] was not sacking. To stand aside. And I said, yes, if you think that I avoid bloodshed by standing aside, then I will stand aside. After all you are two people that are, eh, my men… and I remarked: I will never ever again come back. And I tell you this - to the Commander - that you will never find a President, you will never find a Prime Minister. It will never get a government.

Q: Is that, you still stand by those words that you will never come back.
A: No. I have no desire whatsoever. You know I don't know what I have done wrong. I thought I played everything down the line. And then I saw some scurrilous rubbish written about myself and my wife. Without the man, without the courage to sign and whom - whom might have been the one. Whom am I going to trust if I have to back again.

Q: Now it hurts, it hurts inside
A: I heard something that was very comforting. It was said by Mother Teresa:
People are often in unreasonable, irrational and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spent years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.


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