Friday, April 18, 2014

Sangam Speech at Sigatoka, Fiji


I was invited to visit Fiji 25 years after I was asked to leave on account of our non-recognition of the military Government of Sitiveni Rabuka. I had a most delightful visit and people at all levels, including Rabuka himself, received me with warmth and affection. Given below are the speaking notes of my Inaugural Address at the 87th Anniversary of the largest Indian organization, the Sangam. It was very well received by the predominantly Fiji-Indian audience.


Inaugural Address by former Ambassador T.P.Sreenivasan at the 87th Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam Convention, Sigatoka, Fiji on April 18, 2014

National President Sada Sivan Naicker,
Convention Chairman Vijay Narayan,
Secretary General Damend Gounder
Past National President Y.P.Reddy,
Justice Jai Ram Reddy,
Brothers and Sisters of the Sangam,

The first tweet I posted on arrival in Fiji to attend the Sangam Convention was: “Many things have changed in Fiji in the last 25 years, but the infinite beauty of the blue lagoons, the breathtaking serenity of the Fiji sky and the warm hospitality of the people of Fiji have not changed.” I readily accepted the invitation to revisit Fiji, as I knew those will not change and I have been enjoying all of them in the last few days. I am overwhelmed by your affection and regard for an Indian High Commissioner, who worked here a quarter of a century ago. 

I had said when I left in 1969 twenty-four hours ahead of the time given to me to leave, that I would return one day to spend a day here, but I have been fortunate to spend a whole week. I am grateful to the Sangam, the Indian High Commissioner Vinod Kumar and the Government of Fiji for making it possible. I would like to thank by name three of those who made my visit possible and pleasurable---Past President Y.P.Reddy, Secretary General Damend Gounder and Volunteer Pradeep Singh.

“Effective leadership through spirituality and faith” is not just the theme of the Convention this year, but the very essence of the vision of the founder of the Sangam, Sadhu Kuppuswami. The Indian immigrants, who came to these islands in search of the Promised Land, had nothing with them except spirituality and faith. The only prize possession they brought with them was the Ramayana, the story of the ultimate triumph of spirituality and faith. Rama led his subjects through spiritual values such as filial loyalty, duty, honesty, perseverance, valor and compassion and faith in God and the purpose of his own incarnation. No adversity, including exile in the wilderness, pangs of separation from loved ones, extreme dangers and war, could shake him and his eventual triumph was the triumph of spirituality and faith. No other path is possible for a people, who hold the holy book close to their hearts and work tirelessly.

What the Sangam leadership has achieved since 1926 is the strengthening of spirituality and faith through religious practices, education, healthcare and social and cultural development. The building of Fiji as their own homeland and the loyalty and support that they gave to the other communities was the ultimate demonstration of spirituality and faith. India is proud of their children in Fiji, as they have remained faithful to the culture and civilization of the motherland.

I am not an official representative of the Government of India anymore, but having been an envoy of India to several countries, I can assure you that India is alive to the welfare and interests, not only of the people of Indian origin, but also of all communities with whom they live, because peace and prosperity are indivisible. India and the overseas Indians had rediscovered each other under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had begun to see persons of Indian origin as a source of strength for India, but the position India had taken at the time of the coup of 1987 and later was guided only by the vision of "Fiji as the world should be", a multiracial, multicultural state, free of all kinds of discrimination. The 1970 constitution itself was a social compact, encouraged by India, to maintain racial harmony and equal opportunity.

I would like to look forward rather than grieve over the past, but we should not forget that the breach of that constitution and the turmoil in Paradise resulted in the grievous loss of valuable time and resources. I am glad to see after I have talked to leaders of various communities and interests in the last few days that there is genuine regret over those developments and Fiji is well on its way to securing the goals of democracy and equality.

The elections under the new constitution in September will be a real test whether the citizens of Fiji will rise above narrow considerations of race, religion and origin and act in the best interests of the Fiji of our dreams. Fiji will be called upon to establish, as Abraham Lincoln said, “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom---and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” India will, like the rest of the world, look forward to the verdict of the people, not because we have any prescriptions for Fiji, but because we want peace and prosperity of Fiji, in which India has an abiding interest.

I am glad to see that even after a long gap, India and Fiji have developed a robust relationship once again. We have earnestly worked with the present Government in its efforts for nation building as well as to hold elections. I understand that India is committed to share its resources and rich experience in holding free and fair elections in Fiji. I also notice that the relations between India and Fiji have become robust and mutually beneficial.

My meetings here with a broad range of opinion makers in Fiji, including Justice Jai Ram Reddy, whom I consider the Gandhi of modern Fiji, the Attorney General and the Minister of Health in the present Government, the Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Sitiveni Rabuka, who played golf with me before his coup and leaders of various communities and others have convinced me that they do not live in the past. Antagonisms of the past are giving way to a new realization that the future lies in reconciliation and harmony, not recrimination and acrimony.

I cannot wait for another twenty-five years for my next visit to see a resurgent Fiji, nor can Fiji wait much longer before it steps into the wide world to become part of the new architecture of a globalized world. Countries, big or small, cannot escape the effects of globalization even if they want to. The opportunities and challenges of globalization must be met. The power centre of the world is shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific and every nation in the Pacific has to play a role in the emerging power structure. There has been a rebalancing of the US forces in the Pacific and one can even see the emergence of a new cold war there. Democracy is breaking out everywhere, as was seen during the Arab Spring.

For Fiji, building democracy is only the first step. Development is also essential, not only in terms of GDP, but also in terms of Gross National Happiness that Fiji enjoyed for a long time. The technological revolution is bewildering because it came without a user’s manual. New frontiers of knowledge are emerging everywhere. We cannot anticipate what technological tools will be in the hands of people in two or three years. Future wars may be fought with cell phones and tablets rather than guns and bombs. China has already stepped on to the revolutionary world of 3-D printing.  Fiji must be part of the technological revolution without losing its identity. Fiji has been adding sugar to the world, but it must invent new ingredients of technology to sweeten the globe. Fiji must benefit from the demographic dividend by educating the young people to shoulder global responsibilities. Fiji does not have the enormous problems that face other countries such as pressure of population, urbanization issues and environmental degradation. You still have fresh air, the legendary Fiji water, relished around the globe, and the blue seas around you. Modernization of Fiji is achievable with united action.

You must usher in a Fiji, where, as poet Rabindranath Tagore said, “ the mind is without fear and the head is held high,--- where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.” Together with Tagore, let us pray, in conclusion, “Into that heaven of freedom, my Father’, let my country awake."

Thank you.

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