Fiji blips on PM’s radar

Fiji blips on PM’s radar

By: || Updated: 25 Oct 2014 05:42 AM
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s four-day Australia visit next month to attend the G20 summit may be followed by a day’s trip to Fiji, political sources said.


The word from the government is that Modi’s touchdown at Suva — the capital of Fiji, where ethnic Indians make up over 40 per cent of the population — is “not yet finalised”. “Various aspects are being looked at, including the feasibility of extending the visit by a whole day,” an official source said.


Modi will leave on November 12 for Nay Pyi Taw and, after spending two days attending the Asean-India and East Asia summits in the Myanmar capital, fly to Brisbane where the G20 meet is scheduled for November 15 and 16. He will spend two more days, November 17 and 18, in Australia, dividing time between Sydney and Canberra.


Parliament will meet for its winter session in the last week of November. Also, with the Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand polls likely around that time, Modi will have to be home to join the candidate-selection process and kick off campaigning.


However, the political sources sounded certain that the Fiji stopover was on. If the plan materialises, Modi will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the island since Indira Gandhi in 1981.


The ancestors of the Indian-origin people in Fiji had — like those in Mauritius and the Caribbean — gone there as indentured labourers mostly from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to work in sugar plantations.


From India and the RSS-BJP’s standpoints, sources said Modi’s visit is expected to serve two purposes: one, beam a “positive” signal to Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama on India’s desire to engage with him despite problems Indian-origin settlers faced in the recent past.


Bainimarama was among the first world leaders to congratulate Modi after he won the Lok Sabha polls.


In his return message on Twitter, Modi said: “We will make India-Fiji relations stronger in the coming years.”


The other purpose is to assure the Indian-origin people that Modi had their interests at heart.


The BJP’s understanding is that unlike some of his predecessors, Bainimarama is a “pragmatist” who “understood and appreciated the fact that businessmen of Indian provenance formed the backbone of Fiji’s economy”.


India and the BJP’s equations with Fiji were called to test in 2000 when a government headed by Mahendra Chaudhry — a Fijian whose ancestors belonged to Haryana — was deposed and martial law imposed.


The RSS and sections of the BJP had pressured then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to be “more pro-active” in saving Chaudhry but India, fearing a backlash on the people of Indian origin, leveraged its position to work on neighbouring countries like Australia and New Zealand to help restore democracy.


Ethnic Indians are barred from owning land in Fiji. In 1977, its Constitution was tweaked to lift the ban on such people from holding high constitutional offices.

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