(As always, vinaka Kamal and keep ’em coming)
“Of all people who appeared before me, A D Patel was outstanding; intellectually the most brilliant, as a character the most honourable, and as an advocate the most persuasive. Quick in mind, fluent in speech, he stood out above all.
He even outshone Mr Brennan (who later became Chief Justice of Australia). It was his persuasive advocacy that led me to my report which was in favour of the growers and against the millers”. Lord Denning, an eminent judge who presided over an inquiry that led to the Denning Award giving justice to cane farmers in terms of sharing proceeds from sale of sugar. The Denning Award formula has been incorporated into the Sugar Master Award currently in force.
“There were deep political differences between me and Mr Patel but he had personal qualities deserving of utmost respect his sincerity, his dedication and his devotion to the causes in which he believed. Patel was an eloquent and forceful speaker skilled in parliamentary procedures and set a standard of dignity and courtesy worthy of his highest parliamentary traditions”. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara – former Chief Minister, Prime Minister and President of Fiji
Yesterday was October 1. On October 1, 1969, the founder leader of the National Federation Party, Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel (AD Patel) died at the age of 64. Just before he died, AD Patel, wrote a speech titled “Hail deliverer”, which he was supposed to deliver at a gathering to mark his idol, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday which falls today October 2. The speech was published posthumously in The Fiji Times.
AD Patel used Gandhi’s principles to lead the struggle for Fiji’s independence. His struggle for political, social and economic justice is similar to Gandhi’s activities in South Africa when he struck the first important blow against apartheid in South Africa 100 years before Nelson Mandela led South Africa’s liberation from apartheid in 1994. While many pieces of literary work and opinions have been written about Mahatma Gandhi, only renowned academic and historian Dr Brij Lal has accurately written about Patel and his struggle for political dignity, equality and justice for his people.
Many have and are distorting Patel’s ethics and achievements to suit their own personal and political agenda and deliberately ignore the fact their descendants and even themselves have benefited from his achievements that have become permanent milestones in Fiji’s history. Many critics claim AD Patel came to Fiji for self enrichment because he was Gujarati and our Gujarat community, who recently marked their centenary have often been labelled as a community who arrived in Fiji with the sole purpose of making money. This is a blatant lie.
AD Patel, who was born in the Indian state of Gujarat on March 13, 1905, was sent by his parents to England to study and graduate as a lawyer and return to India to join the struggle for independence. But Patel’s quest and zeal for independence of all Indians, either citizens or migrants of the sub-continent, resulted in a change of plans. He decided to come to Fiji and fight the injustices the British Colonial administration was subjecting the Indian population to, despite the end of Girmit or Indenture in 1916.
AD Patel was persuaded to come to Fiji by Henry Polak, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, to come here and take up the struggle of the Indian community. Critics deliberately ignore the fact that AD Patel not only championed the rights of Indians, the poor and the down-trodden, he was a generous person who provided free legal services to many who couldn’t afford a lawyer and also made his talents available to anyone who required them to enhance their livelihood.
A good example of this is the fact that AD Patel voluntarily became the manager of Sangam schools in Fiji. The founder of The Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam (TISI) Sadhu Kuppuswamy in 1926, established the first Sangam school in Fiji in 1930. AD Patel gladly accepted the offer because he saw Sangam schools were promoting genuine multiracialism the cornerstones of a united, harmonious and stable Fiji.
AD Patel was sincere about multiracialism unlike the current promoters of pseudo-multiracialism. AD Patel first entered the Legislative Council in 1944 and served for three years until 1947. After losing three more elections, he was re-elected in 1963 and served as a Legislative Council Member until his death on October 1, 1969.
When the membership system of government was introduced in Fiji in 1964, AD Patel was made Member for Social Services. Ratu Mara became Member for Natural Resources. There were critics who claimed Patel joined the government purely for financial gain but he said he took this decision of honestly serving Fiji.
Patel said, “I have accepted this responsibility … I will consider the interests of this country, the interest of the community and the interest of the coming generation and if those interests need my services, I shall give it unstintingly and willingly. The question of my resignation is only for my conscience to decide. The day my conscience tells me that I am of no use to my country by occupying the seat on the Government, I will vacate it without any hesitation. It is easy to be a ranting politician. It is difficult to be a statesman in a government to steer the ship clear of all rocks. A statesman has got to look at the next generation. A politician looks usually to the next election … If it ever comes to choosing between sacrificing my community, and the interests of the country, and sacrificing myself, I would rather sacrifice myself.”
As Member for Social Services in March 1965, AD Patel moved a motion in the Legislative Council calling for social security for workers. AD Patel said, “We owe it to the large and growing body of wage earning workers and their families and children to initiate action which will give them some hope of security in their old age and in times of social difficulty … It is my conviction (belief) that a national provident fund scheme is a vital part of government social welfare policy. In doing so, we shall achieve two objectives; on the one hand a measure of social security for wage earning employees throughout Fiji, and on the other hand further funds for local investment and economic development of Fiji”.
The motion field by AD Patel led to the establishment of the Fiji National Provident Fund when on May 27, 1966, he tabled a Bill in the Legislative Council, which was passed four days later on May 31, 1966. AD Patel strongly advocated for legislation on land tenure providing security to tenant farmers. This led to the enactment of Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTO) in July 1966 providing for a minimum period of ten year leases and ten years later Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA) was enacted providing for 30 year land leases. The establishment of the University of the South Pacific in March 1967 was another realisation of AD Patel’s vision. As early as 1956, he advocated the need for a university saying, “We need university education in Fiji and most seriously think about starting post secondary education in Fiji”.
Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel was a giant amongst men. His intellect, ability, understanding and perception of the problems facing Fiji were second to none. If our current leaders try to emulate at least five per cent of AD Patel’s vision, they will do justice to the offices that they have or are forcibly occupying.
Fiji Times, 2nd Oct, 2008