Flicking through “More Letters From Fiji 1990 – 1994 : First years under a post-coup Constitution” by Sir Len Usher, I was struck by Chodo’s total hypocrisy in his role with today’s post-coup illegal regime.
Usher’s letters sketch Chodo’s movements and machinations at the time. A most interesting pattern emerges.
Chodo preferred weapon of choice is strikes and boycotts. In the course of events covered by Usher’s second book of letters, Chodo calls for no less than eight strikes or boycotts in the sugar industry, Parliament and elections.
His second favourite weapon at this time was to use international pressure to force the Government of Fiji to do his bidding. In the four years from 1990 – 1994, Usher notes Chodo’s travels to India, Europe (twice) and USA. He even tried to use his contacts with Australian Trade Unions to enforce a general ban on all trade with Fiji, a request which was declined.
Usher observes Chodo’s sentiment that having a just constitution was more important than economic advantages like the preferential price paid by the EEC for Fiji Sugar, after his return from Europe trying to persuade them to withdraw their trade concessions from Fiji. In other words, he would rather cripple the Sugar industry (of which he is supposedly the steward) and the economy. You have to be an extremely spiteful person to take this kind of stance to such a degree. In today’s world, such sentiments are commonly declared by terrorists rather than men of State.
Mark Twain wrote “to a man with a hammer, every problem is a nail.” Chodo’s favourite hammer was to hold a strike / boycott. His second favourite hammer was to use international pressure, or to appeal to overseas bodies to do his fighting for him. He does not know how to solve problems, except by creating bigger ones. The 2006 coup seems to be the biggest problem he can create in order to ‘solve’ his other problem of the Rabuka-Reddy Constitution.
So what happened? Why has Chodo gone from being the strike/boycott guy, and the ‘get my buddies overseas to beat you up guy’ to being the coup-de-tat guy?
At some point, he has obviously realised that foreign governments and unions do not ‘cross the line’ on issues of sovereignty. Similarly, he has realised that while regimes that do some wrong things are brought into line, regimes that do truly awful things tend to get away with it.
Somehow, he has found a financier in India. He found a willing puppet in Vore. He found sympathetic ears in with the Mara-Ganilau ‘dynasty’.
At some point, Chodo decided to cross the line. In so doing, he went from being an agitator to a despot, a revolutionary to a terrorist, a politician to a dictator.
What can stop him? What wonderful irony, what poetic justice, if Chodo’s regime were brought down by his three favourite tactics – Boycott, Strike and International Pressure.
It’s a different year. But he’s still the same sh*t.
Capitalised text is my emphasis. I have used contractions such titles as GCC for Great Council of Chiefs, NFP for National Federation Party, where Sir Len has used the full name.
9 October 1990. In the national day message from Ratu Penaia as President he put into words the widely felt wish that some day it will be possible for Fiji to regain the lost connection with The Crown, and he condemned attempts to stimulate resistance to the new Constitution from the outside. The reference to outside intervention arose mainly from a VISIT TO INDIA by Jai Ram Reddy, the grey eminence of the Coalition, Trade Union Congress leader Mahendra Chaudhry, and one of the Coalition’s home publicists, Navin Maharaj. Their object was to try to strengthen Indian opposition internationally to the new Constitution. When they came back, Maharaj admitted that their reception was, to say the least, cool.
21 October 1990…. Having failed to damage the interim Government on the political front – including an abortive attempt to enlist support in India – the Coalition leaders have used the weapon of industrial action, and are well on the way to striking a DAMAGING BLOW TO THE NATIONAL ECONOMY…. Cane which had been cut on Viti Levu could not be milled, and the farmers concerned saw their year’s income disappear. This was the signal for increased burning of cane – allegedly by arsonists with a grudge against the owners of the field. Chaudhry, who is head of a canegrowers organisation in addition to the Fiji TUC, has been doing some DOUBLE TALKING – bemoaning the plight of the farmers on the one hand and upholding the union action on the other….. it has become pretty obvious that there is no great wish on (Felix Anthony’s) and Chaudhry’s part to reach an early settlement.
27 November 1990…. At the conference, a USP group questioned the decision by Chaudhry, Jai Ram Reddy and other party officials to call for a BOYCOTT of next year’s elections. There was doubt about the wisdom of the boycott because it would deprive the party of an effective parliamentary voice, but the main thrust of the criticism was that the party officials were trying to IMPOSE IT ON THE RANK AND FILE WITHOUT CONSULTATION OR ADEQUATE EXPLANATION.
10 March 1991…. Meanwhile, another battle is appearing – on the industrial front, with Mahendra Chaudhry, secretary of the FTUC and the PSA and chairman of the NFU of canegrowers, AS A KEY FIGURE…. the Government intends to overhaul labour legislation to curb trade union powers by de-regulating employer-worker bargaining. Chaudhry is threatening to stage ANOTHER BOYCOTT of cane harvesting when the season begins later in the year, though a similar boycott last year delayed harvesting and led to a reat deal of cane being left in the fields at the end of the season. Rivalry between Chaudhry and SM Koya lies at the back of this. Koya is the elected chairman of the legally-constituted Sugar Canegrowers Council. Chaudhry wants this delay to end forthwith because he SEES AN OPPORTUNITY to replace Koya.
12 May 1991…. The long drawn-out strike at Vatukoula took a nasty turn when fires destroyed mine property…. The Government has appointed a commission on enquiry. The union says it will not co-operate. The fine hand of Mahendra Chaudhry, IMPLACABLE OPPONENT of the interim Government and lead of the TUC, may be at work in the decision. He is also head of the NFU, formed as a rival of the statutory SCGC. He is busy trying to persuade farmers not to harvest their cane when the crushing season begins at the end of May – and many of them are listening to him, though a boycott of the harvest means obvious loss to them and to the national economy.
2 June 1991. Chaudhry has worked himself in a position of power, not only as the force behind the TUC but also through unions in the sugar, gold and civil aviation industries as well as being secretary of the Public Service union. As the sugar mills are just about to start the season’s crushing he has ORGANISED A BOYCOTT of cane harvesting and he has been getting substantial Indian support in spite of the FARMERS’ LOSSES from a similar boycott last year…. (The Government) certainly can’t let the economy be DIASTROUSLY DAMANGED by the loss of sugar revenue through a continued harvest boycott. A highly undesirable possible by-product of the dispute is EXACERBATION OF FIJIAN-INDIAN ILL-FEELING.
2 July 1991…. Chaudhry meanwhile IS IN EUROPE, SEEKING TO DRUM UP SUPPORT from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, of which he is an executive board member.
12 July 1991…. Basic confrontation continues, and is particularly worrying because it is taking on an increasingly racial Fijian versus Indian tone. But I’ll write more about this after next week’s general strike date passes and if a Fijian-inspired anti-FTUC and (anti)-Chaudhry MARCH takes place in Suva.
18 July 1991…. The anti-FTUC (and largely anti-Indian) march in Suva passed off calmly…. Rabuka had his moment in the sun when he asked the President to meet FTUC leaders Chaudhry and Micky Columbus, and he was present at the meeting. Chaudhry initially followed the meeting by A DISPLAY OF BAD FAITH in mis-representing to his followers what had been agreed.
28 July 1991…. Continuing the practice of having a Fijian leader, at its weekend conference the Labour Party elected a retired nurse, Jokapeci Koroi, a prominent figure in the Fiji Nurses Association…. Jokapeci is not likely to be much more than a FIGUREHEAD political leader and the Party’s real direction will assuredly REMAIN IN THE HANDS OF Chaudhry and a close associate.
10 November 1991… Amendments to labour laws proclaimed last week have upset Chaudhry and the TUC. Through his NFU, Chaudhry is threatening to call another cane harvesting BOYCOTT in RETALIATION. A three-day boycott last week to protest against delay in holding elections for the statutory SCC coincided with the Diwali holiday and was only partially successful….. (The new laws) also prevent one person from being secretary of two separate unions. This reduces Chaudhry’s influence as secretary of both the PSA and the NFU as well as being executive head of the FTUC.
15 December 1991…. Chaudhry and his Fiji Trades Union Council have been trying to get the equivalent body in Australia to support their AGITATION against the recently introduced amendments to trade union laws in Fiji. They are particularly agitated about the amendment that makes deduction of union dues by employers no longer compulsory. Chaudhry, as head of both the public employees’ and canefarmers’ union, is personally affected by a ban on holding more than one such post. The Australian Council of Trade Unions turned down a REQUEST FOR A GENERAL BAN ON TRADE WITH FIJI but agreed to a one-day stoppage of air and sea transport to coincide with a proposed one-day general strike in Fiji.
14 January 1992…. In response to representations by Chaudhry on behalf of the Fiji Trades Union Council, the Australian Transport Workers Union held up some flights by Air Pacific from Sydney to Fiji. A Government delegation has gone from Fiji to try and counteract Chaudhry’s influence by explaining the new labour laws which he has been ATTACKING. They are in fact very much in line with similar legislation introduced in Britain, Australia and New Zealand in recent years.
24 February 1992…. the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party (the traditional Indian party) finally ended the Coalition which won the 1987 election. Both said they opposed the new Constitution but the NFP said that they would contest the election and continue the fight from within Parliament. The Labour Party, with Chaudhry’s voice prominent, said that this would be tantamount to accepting the Constitution. They would not take part in the election. Then the Labour Party itself split down the middle. Some of the veteran senior officials announced that they intended to stand for election, regardless of the party’s official stand, and they talked of forming a New Labour Party. To add further complication, elections are to be held next month for the SCC and the Chaudhry-led NFU, in unofficial association with the NFP, hopes to get a large majority. Meanwhile, Chaudhry himself has been charged, under revised labour legislation, with holding two trades union posts – secretary of the NFU and the PSA. He is claiming VICTIMISATION and has said that he is willing to go to prison as a gesture against the labour laws.
25 April 1992…. The Indian election situation has become nicely confused. After a period of uncertainty, the NFP… decided to contest the election and last week announced candidates for all the Indian seats…. (The) Labour Party said that to protest against the new Constitution they would, as a matter of principle, take no part in the election. Chaudhry and his ‘no election’ associates, facing growing disapproval from rank and file trade unionists, have now changed their minds and the party is to field candidates after all. They began by saying that they would think about reversing their attitude if the NFP would promise to BOYCOTT the new Parliament. The NFP said “No way”. They intended to use their presence in Parliament to try to have the Constitution amended. The Labour Party say that any of their candidates who win in the elections will refuse to take their seats until the Constitution is changed. The Party now has to find candidates before May 1, and those contesting Indian seats will be confronting NFP head-on.
10 May 1992. There is rebellion against Chaudhry within the FTUC, and growing talk that he will be ousted as general secretary at the equivalent of an AGM timed for this month. We shall see. He is a formidable survivor.
6 June 1993…. (Rabuka) reaffirmed that in any review of the Constitution or the terms of the ALTA the views of the various Fijian provincial and district councils and of Fijian landowners must first be sought, preparatory to consideration by the GCC. This, together with the continued failure to include any Indians in the new Cabinet, caused Jai Ram Reddy and Chaudhry to declare that their two parties… would have to explore ways of getting together to look after Indian interests. But this is an old story, and whether persistent past antagonisms will be overcome in pursuit of a common cause is something that is yet to be demonstrated.
27 June 1993…. Then Chaudhry made a strong anti-Rabuka speech before all the Labour members WALKED OUT of the House and Chaudhry announced that a party convention would be held to decide whether or not to continue the BOYCOTT and to continue support of Rabuka as PM.
14 July 1993…. Chaudhry, as party leader, has said that patience had run out after A YEAR WITHOUT ACTION…. Jai Ram Reddy says that the committee is at least a beginning and is an indication of the reality of Rabuka’s willingness to make changes to the Constitution. Chaudhry’s retort is that this is eye-wash, concealing the fact that the REAL DECISIONS WILL BE MADE BY THE GCC AND THE FIJIAN PROVINCIAL COUNCILS.
21 August 1993…. The Cabinet sub-committee of Ministers plus representatives of Jai Ram Reddy’s NFP has begun work on how to approach a revision of the 1990 Constitution. A report through semi-official channels says that the Government of India is viewing the formation of this committee with optimism. Chaudhry and his FLP supporters on the other hand will have none of it. He returned last week from a mission in Europe to try, among other things, to PERSUADE THE EEC TO WITHDRAW TRADE CONCESSION FROM FIJI and said that he would carry the campaign TO THE UNITED STATES. His stance at a press conference was “No compromise” and said having a just constitution was MORE IMPORTANT THAN economic advantages like, for instance, THE PREFERENTIAL PRICE PAID by the EEC for FIJI SUGAR. I doubt that view is widely shared by his fellow-Indians, especially in the canefields.
27 February 1994…. Chaudhry’s part in organising BOYCOTTS AND STRIKES IN THE SUGAR INDUSTRY, with consequent loss to farmers, is generally held to have contributed to his FLP’s election losses.
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