India-Fiji relations, PM Rabuka’s apology for the 36-year-old coup, what are the implications?

India-Fiji relations, PM Rabuka’s apology for the 36-year-old coup, what are the implications?

India Fiji Relations: India has long had a close relationship with Fiji, an island country in the South Pacific Ocean. Relations between the two countries have been in international headlines since an apology by Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka.

In fact, Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has apologized for a decades-old incident. This incident of May 1987 was related to Fijians of Indian origin. In May 1987, Sitiveni Rabuka carried out a coup against people of Indian origin in Fiji. Now exactly 36 years after that incident, Sitiveni Rabuka has apologised.

Fiji PM Sitiveni Rabuka wrote on Twitter:

,I make this confession on behalf of myself and all those who participated with me in the military coup on 14 May 1987. We acknowledge our wrongdoings, and we acknowledge that we hurt many people in Fiji, especially the Indo-Fijian community.,

Sitiweni Rabuka further wrote:

,I accept our wrongdoings, you have every right to blame us for the troubles you all have gone through. We don’t blame you for being angry with us or even hating us, you are absolutely right in your anger and your hatred. I stand here to confess and ask for your forgiveness.,

Sitiveni Rabuka said these things in the presence of the Indo-Fijian community during an event in Fiji’s capital Suva. He requested everyone that those who were involved in that incident should be forgiven. He also urged people not to carry the burden of hatred forward.

Why did the Prime Minister of Fiji apologise?

Before understanding India-Fiji relations, it is necessary to know why Fiji’s current Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka is apologizing. In simple words, Sitiweni Rabuka carried out a coup in 1987 against the people of Indian origin. While carrying out that coup 36 years ago, Rabuka had claimed that the number of people who had come to work for sugarcane cultivation in Fiji had exceeded the natives there. Based on this argument, he had said that the control of the people of Fiji on their country has weakened.

When this coup took place, Sitiweni Rabuka was a lieutenant colonel there. He believed that the natives should have more influence in Fiji’s politics than the Indo-Fijians who came from India. On the basis of this, he captured the power by a coup there. He forcibly ousted Prime Minister Timosi Bavadra from power in the elected government. Timosi Bawdra was the first Prime Minister to lead Fiji, who had full support from the people of the Indo-Fijian community.

In 1987, Fiji’s Parliament was attacked

On May 14, 1987, Lieutenant Colonel Sitiweni Rabuka, along with 10 masked soldiers, stormed Fiji’s parliament and arrested Prime Minister Timosi Bawdra. Along with Timosi, 27 members of the ruling coalition were taken in a truck to an unknown location. After this, Sitiveni Rabuka announced the suspension of Fiji’s constitution and declared himself the head of the caretaker government until there was a general election again. The very next day after taking over the power of Fiji, Rabuka announced that he was drafting a new constitution of the country, which would ensure that in the future Fiji could never have a government influenced by people from India.

Atrocities on people of Indian origin

Only a few days after this whole incident, on 19 May 1987, riots broke out against people of Indian origin in Fiji. The natives there attacked people of Indian origin on a large scale, destroyed their shops. Meanwhile, in July, an agreement was reached between Timosi Bawdra and former Prime Minister Kamisese Mara, popular among Fiji’s native people, to form an interim government and reform the constitution. As a response to this, the second coup was carried out in September in Sitiveni Rabuka. Declaring Fiji a republic, he declared himself the head of the country in place of the British Queen.

This step of Sitiveni Rabuka was condemned worldwide. India also imposed trade restrictions on Fiji. Many countries refused to recognize him. After all-round international pressure, Sitiveni Rabuka resigned as premier of the Republic of Fiji in December 1987, and a new constitution was later promulgated in 1990, and elections were held two years later to restore the democratic process. Till then Kamisi Mara was the Prime Minister.

Migration of people of Indian origin in large numbers

After what Sitiveni Rabuka did on May 14, 1987, there was a lot of atrocities on Fijians of Indian origin for a few months. Because of that a large number of Indo-Fijian people also migrated. According to an estimate, about 70 thousand people of Indian origin had migrated from there. Rabuka and his associates had created such an atmosphere for this, so that the natives of Fiji would feel that they no longer had political control over the country and that the Indo-Fijian community had come to dominate. At that time the people of Indo Fijian community dominated the economy of Fiji. At that time Fiji had a population of about three and a half lakh people of Indian origin.

Now, 36 years after that incident, Sitiveni has apologized for the atrocities on people of Indian origin in Rabuka. Sitiveni Rabuka became the Prime Minister of Fiji for the second time in December last year. Prior to this, he had been the Prime Minister from June 1992 to May 1999.

India-Fiji have historical relations

After this action of Sitiveni Rabuka, Fiji had a far-reaching impact on its relations with the countries of the world. Relations with India were most affected by this incident. India has a historical relation with such Fiji. Even before independence, relations between India and Fiji were linked due to being a British colony. Fiji became a British colony in 1874. Since then, a large number of people from India were taken there to work in the sugarcane fields. Between 1879 and 1916, about 61 thousand people from India were taken to Fiji. After that the British rule stopped taking people from India to Fiji and in 1920 abolished the labor agreement with the laborers here.

People of Indian origin became influential

Even after the labor agreement was over, most of the Indians remained there and gradually came in the category of prosperous people there. In the 1940s, their number exceeded the number of native people of Fiji. As such, most of the land there was owned by the native people, but on most of the land, the people of Indian origin started farming by taking 99 years lease.

Fiji became independent from British rule in 1970 and Kamisi Mara was elected its first prime minister. Between 1879 and the next hundred years, the influence of people of Indian origin in Fiji’s economy increased rapidly. The result of this was that when Timosi Bawdra became the second Prime Minister of Fiji in April 1987, this government came to be considered as Indian-origin dominated government because the support of people of Indian origin was very important in the formation of Timosi’s government. Till 1987, the population of people of Indian origin there was more than the population of the native people of Fiji, and by making an excuse for this, Sitiveni Rabuka carried out a coup by removing Timosi Bawdra.

About a third of people of Indian origin

Fiji is a small country whose population according to the 2017 census was 8,84,887. In 1977, the population of Fiji was 6 lakh, in which half were people of Indian origin and around 2 lakh 55 thousand were native people of Fiji, while the rest of the population was Chinese, European and people belonging to other communities. However, according to the figures of 2007, the population of the native people of Fiji exceeded the people of Indian origin. Roughly, there are more than 5 lakh people of Fiji origin there, while the number of people of Indian origin is around 3 lakh.

This figure in itself shows what kind of influence people of Indian origin have had in Fiji. About 76 percent of Fijians of Indian origin are still Hindus. Talking about the total population of Fiji, there are about 65% Christians, then about 28% people are Hindus and around 6% are Muslims. People of Indian origin are in abundance in the cities and areas associated with sugarcane cultivation. Hindi is one of the official languages ​​of Fiji.

Mutual relations strengthened after 2014

Kamisi Mara, the first Prime Minister of Fiji after independence, visited India in 1971. After that in 1981, the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Fiji. After 33 years, an Indian Prime Minister visited Fiji. On 19 November 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Fiji and participated in the first meeting of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation Summit in Suva. Since then, bilateral relations have become even stronger.

India always helps Fiji

India has been continuously helping Fiji in the development of infrastructure. Whenever Fiji has been affected by disaster, India has helped it. One such example was seen in December 2020 when Fiji was in the grip of Cyclone Yasa. At that time, India had sent 6 tonnes of disaster material to Fiji. Later, India gave funds for renovation of 20 schools in Fiji. Also sent a gift of 5 tonnes of vegetable seeds and contributed $1 million to the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund. Since then India has been continuously helping Fiji in one way or the other.

Under mutual trade between the two countries, in 2021-22, about $ 58 million has been exported from India to Fiji. India does little to Fiji on this front, but exports a lot of essential items to meet Fiji’s needs.

India is very important for Fiji

Despite being a small country, Fiji becomes strategically very important for India due to its geographical location in the South Pacific Ocean. For this reason, China and America are also trying to increase relations with Fiji. Considering China’s expansionist stance in the Indo-Pacific region, relations with Fiji are even more important for India. Because of the people of Indian origin, Fiji not only has a diplomatic relationship with India, but it has also become an emotional and ideological relationship. Fiji’s relations with China have not been the same since Sitiweni Rabuka became Prime Minister in December 2022. Gradually, the island countries of the Pacific Ocean are beginning to realize that China wants to pursue its interests by trapping them in the debt trap.

S Jaishankar visited Fiji in February

In February this year, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Fiji to attend the 12th World Hindi Conference. At that time, Sitiveni Rabuka had called India an old friend in his meeting with Foreign Minister Jaishankar. He had said that Fiji would continue friendship with India. At the same time, S Jaishankar had said that Fiji appreciates India’s commitment towards the development of the Pacific region through collective priorities. He also said that the cooperation of Fiji and India is very important from the point of view of the future. The joint statement acknowledged that the two countries have shared close and long-standing ties due to people-to-people links.

India can help in climate change funding

People of Indian origin have had an influence in the development of Fiji, along with this, India has directly contributed a lot in its development. The forces there take training in India. The most important issue is related to climate funding. Being an island country, Fiji is also affected by climate change and in the near future, a package of 100 billion dollars is likely to be announced by the Asian Development Bank for these small island countries affected by climate change. Apart from being a founding member, India is the fourth largest shareholder of the bank. America and Japan dominate this bank. Looking at all these aspects, India’s importance for Fiji increases a lot. Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka’s statement on the 1987 incident is even more relevant for this reason.

Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation Summit

Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka’s apology for the 1987 incident assumes significance as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Papua New Guinea where he will attend the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation Summit on May 22. Will take part This forum also includes 14 island countries coming in the Pacific Ocean. Earlier, US President Joe Biden was also scheduled to participate in it. However, later this visit of the US President has been canceled due to the domestic debt crisis.

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