“WITH humility and honesty, that is part of our living tradition, we must serve the people of the land. That challenge is for all of us. National development plans must ensure that the interest of our masses become paramount. If our ordinary people lose faith through unfair and inequitable policies, then the future is fraught with uncertainties. Our Coalition must restore the faith of our people in democracy, in the government of the day, and above all, in Fiji”
– Dr Timoci Uluivuda Bavadra – 1987
DR TIMOCI Uluivuda Bavadra stating the basic principle of the National Federation Party/Fiji Labour Party Coalition in 1986 as it prepared to contest the general elections scheduled for April 1987.
Today is November 3. Exactly 19 years ago at 4.30pm on Friday November 3, 1989, Dr Bavadra, Fiji’s second Prime Minister and Leader of the NFP/FLP Coalition Government, that was ousted from power at the barrel of the gun on May 14, 1987 by the first military coup led by Sitiveni Rabuka after only five weeks in office, died at the Lautoka hospital.
He had returned to his Viseisei home in Vuda from New Zealand in the early hours of Wednesday November 1, 1989 after eight weeks of medical treatment in Auckland. A medical practitioner himself, Dr Bavadra obviously knew his fate after being told by doctors in Auckland that he had only a few months to live after being confined to wheelchair following extensive radiotherapy to his spine for cancer.
He was only 55 years old at the time of his death.
His funeral on November 8, 1989 was undoubtedly the largest gathering ever of a multiracial crowd. About 30,000 people packed into Viseisei village and its surrounding areas on the day of the funeral and a similar number passed through the village a day earlier to pay their last respects to a noble son of Fiji.
It was one of the most tragic days in the history of our country. The outpouring of grief for a person who symbolised national unity and humility is not likely to be repeated.
Dr Bavadra, who was simply known as Doc to so many of us, was a man of wisdom, courage and integrity who fought till his last breath to uphold democratic principles and values.
Soon after the military coup when a journalist asked him if he could forgive Sitiveni Rabuka and other perpetrators of the coup, Dr Bavadra said, “Forgive yes; Forget no”.
Essentially, he could not forget how democracy had been overthrown at the barrel of the gun.
For Dr Bavadra, genuine multiracial harmony was the cornerstone of his and the NFP/FLP Coalition policies.
He knew no racial barrier and was looked upon by both the young and old as a true leader.
Dr Bavadra’s fight for equality and justice saw him enter politics in 1984 and on July 6, 1985, the Fiji Labour Party was launched and he became the party’s president.
More than a year later, the FLP and NFP formed a coalition to fight Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara’s Alliance Party in the 1987 elections.
He became the Coalition leader and together with Jai Ram Reddy, led the it to a stunning 28-24 seat victory over Alliance, ending its 17 year post-Independence rule of Fiji.
The Coalition’s victory was largely due to its platform of social justice and democratic values, as well as the charisma of the leading campaigners – Dr Bavadra and Mr Reddy.
No wonder pre-coup protests saw banners and placards with the words “Bavadra the boat; Reddy the captain”.
Such was the magnitude of hatred displayed by nationalist Fijians against the two men.
It resulted in the firebombing of Mr Reddy’s law office in Lautoka and an attempt was also made to firebomb his Lautoka home.
Immediately after the two coups of 1987, Dr Bavadra launched a campaign for the restoration of democracy.
This was his only purpose until he died.
The 1970 Constitution had been abrogated by Mr Rabuka and Fiji was declared a Republic in October 1987.
The interim regime led by Ratu Mara wanted a new constitution and work had started on formulating what would become the racist and unjust 1990 Constitution.
The 1987 coups were seen as entrenching Fijian political supremacy and relegating the Indian community to second class citizens in the land of their birth.
Against this backdrop, Dr Bavadra preached, “There is no future for Fiji without multiracialism and those attempting to set up racial pyramids are short-sighted. And if any race in Fiji thinks it can hold another in perpetual slavery, is blind to the lessons of history. A multiracial vision is not only keeping with the best of the ethnic Fijian tradition but in which we have allowed waves of people to come to the shores of Fiji and settle here. So recognising that the Indians have a permanent place in Fiji is not only keeping with our tradition but indeed is a pragmatic approach.
“One cannot push a community against the wall and expect that community not to retaliate. Fijians who have called for dominance at any cost and have resorted to brute force are fortunate that they have been dealing with a group of people whose own best tradition is grounded in peace, forgiveness and love”.
In perhaps one of his last speeches at a rally, Dr Bavadra addressed more than 2000 people at Saivou, Ra in June 1989. It was predominantly Fijian crowd. Dr Bavadra told the rally: –
“The nation is determining whether an island community of Fijians, Indians, Europeans, Part-Europeans and Chinese is to integrate into a new society or whether it is to be divided along racial and linguistic lines. Fiji today is either deciding an attitude or will have an attitude undemocratically imposed upon it. Indians, Fijians, Europeans, Part-Europeans and Chinese have a responsibility to ensure that constitutional sanity remains”.
Dr Bavadra spent the last few years of his life in an important but traumatic period in Fiji’s history. He was a firm believer of the philosophy that life is more satisfactory if it is dedicated to selfless service humanity.
The greatest lesson that I learnt from Dr Timoci Uluivuda Bavadra is this: Display courage to stand up unflinchingly for one’s convictions, beliefs and cause even in the face of adversity.
BY KAMAL IYER
Monday, November 03, 2008, F/Times